Friends come for supper. We eat thai food on the porch, drink white wine. When it grows dark we light candles. The girls dress up like magical creatures and dance around us, faces covered, waving wands.
M helps lead the singing in chapel, she bounces, smiles, waves her hands. Later she says she was nervous before it started but when she got on stage she realized it was fine.
P wants to ride her bike so she doesn’t forget. The other girls are eager to ride bikes that have been getting repairs for a month. So after supper we go to the track, the light is dim, it is quiet. J leaves the track to ride back and forth over bumps, grass, anything for an extra challenge. M falls and scrapes her ankle, insists she cannot move, but soon is riding fast, pushing past fear to fly down the hill. P works hard, tries to start by herself, whimpers for mom. When we get back, their feet are red, their bodies smell like the hard work of childhood. So we fill the bath with white bubbles, and they soak side by side while I read George MacDonald. J says her Homework Bible Verse. M holds bubbles to her lips. P creates a kitchen, pours water over the floor.
Tonight the air is perfect. Clear. Warm. We can’t stop noticing it, can’t bear to bring the dishes inside and miss even a moment. Light falls in horizontal lines through the banana trees, then slips away while we watch. We light candles stuck in old wine bottles. The girls sing songs from Frozen, songs from chapel, songs they make up about colours. We laugh and clap, lean back on embroidered pillows, watch the silhouettes of bats.
The girls strike dramatic theatre poses, like opera stars, the candle spotlights giving them confidence. Their voices carry across the valley.
M walks without sound down the hall. Her sisters are asleep. Her eyes are red. She stands by my chair in a white tanktop, pink pajama pants and waits. Nothing is wrong, she has no questions, she just needs to be near me for a few minutes before she can face the night again. I kiss her shoulder, smell her hair. The faint smell of vinegar and warmth.
We celebrate the week with pasta and gelati. Clink glasses after toasts to P’s bike riding and the older girls’ happy weeks. P and M spin circles by the tables. J curls in Phil’s lap, her stomach hurting, his arms big enough.