The girls make a boat on the front yard. They gather old two by fours and sheets of splintered plywood, lay them in a crooked rectangle, cover it with blankets. They collect snacks- rice cakes, nuts, unpeeled carrots. M. forms a small mysterious pile of sand in the middle of the blankets. When I come by with a bag of chips for their voyage, their chattering stops, turns to polite thank yous. They watch me till I’m safely back in the house, then return to the loud and serious business of sailing, staying afloat and well-fed.
I sit on a cement step and watch M and J in the pool, two puddles of reds and pinks in the middle of blue water, blue sky. They are in the deep end, sitting on a shared pool noodle, wobbly and determined. It sinks so low they have to turn their faces up to breathe, small giggling islands.
Two African Firefinches land on the terracotta bowl we usually fill with birdfeed, find only the shells of seeds, soggy from the rain. I want to apologize, feel like a bad host, notice their feathers are the colour of the beets I peeled last night, the stew they became. I think of my Russian grandmother having fingers stained the same colour as African firefinches as the birds disappear into the grove of banana trees.
When M recites her Bible Verse on the way to school, I misunderstand her, hear “Blessed are those who grieve for they will be Pumpkin Heads”. We laugh as we walk down the driveway, imagine grieving pumpkins, step on purple jacaranda petals wet from last night’s rain.
J holds a small square of paper in her hand as she waits for her friend to arrive. It is a list of their sleepover activities, written in careful pencil letters: mak pancaks, skip rop, yur choyc. She cups both hands together, protects the paper from the wind, runs to the top of the stairs and listens for the crunch of tires on gravel.
P buys watermelon gum with her allowance money, distributes it by halves to everyone she sees, writes love notes on purple paper and tucks bits of gum into the envelopes.