P walks into the room holding a small cardboard box in front of her, arms straight like a ring bearer. “I have a surprise for you,” she sets the box, covered in sparkly stickers, beside me. I open the lid and find nine red-orange cherry tomatoes. They are dusty, still warm from the sun. P grins at my amazement, smells like the garden. Later that night as I sit down on her bed, she leans over and kisses me and I say, “What a wonderful surprise.” Her face stays close to mine. “As wonderful as tomatoes?”
The girls drag stones into a circle at the base of the green slide, collect seed pods for soup, run to the school bathroom to fill an old plastic bottle with cooking water. At suppertime I find them, comment first on the dirt smeared across foreheads, caked between fingers, streaked on legs. M asks why I care so much about being clean. I’m ashamed at how far I’ve traveled from enchantment.
A jacaranda tree blooms above the driveway. I climb into a car covered in purple flowers, feel regal and celebrated.
J wears white tights trimmed with stained lace, gaping holes at both knees. I make a silent commitment to throw them out the next time I find them in the laundry. A moment later, she walks on tiptoes and announces that these are her favourite pants. Then I remember my own jeans shredded at the knees, long arguments with a mother who wanted to throw them away, remember writing in my journal that when I died, I wanted to be buried in the jeans with the holes in the knees.