After school, J is quiet, mopey, answers my questions with shrugs. Later she comes into the kitchen to ask if she can please bake something. I set down the paring knife, pull out frozen strawberries, rhubarb. She reads a recipe my grandmothers served at a hundred faspas in their Canadian farmhouses, directs her little sister to measure out baking soda and pale brown Kenyan sugar. By the time the squares are in the oven, J is dusted with flour and beaming. This mixing, pouring, creating brings her a joy I have never found in the kitchen. I wipe the juice of Limuru strawberries from the countertop, fascinated by this person who once hid behind my ribs.
P is starting to read. I type poems in 40 point font, capital letters. TOM CAN RUN, DAD IS FUN. She reads them loudly, looks at me after each word, amazed at the way she is making stories take shape, a grinning, lisping alchemist.
I sit at a long wooden table and draw the round shape of a matroishka doll, dip my brush into dark red ink, think of my parents walking the streets of St. Petersburg.
M appears at the end of the hallway in the pre-morning shadows, says “Good morning sweetheart” to me before her eyes are fully open. She sits beside me, rests her head on the table, her hair lying in thick ropes twisted from last night’s bath.
P wakes me in the middle of the night, asks why the bathroom light isn’t on. Outside the rain falls heavily, sounds like the roar of the ocean.
We eat paneer fried in ghee, dip carrot sticks in Phil’s first batch of hummus. The girls make faces at the hummus, are still damp from playing basketball in the rain, forced to come in when they could no longer see the rim in the sudden nightfall. Phil makes a comment about playing in the dark, then fishing in the dark, and soon we are all singing along to the block letter lyrics on his phone as we listen to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I see M trying to frown, teetering between enthusiasm and embarrassment. She grows older while I reach for another carrot.
A friend arrives at the door with a tall sunflower in her hand. I plant it in an old wine bottle filled with water, bring it to the porch where we talk about Advent and Desmond Tutu. Later P will stand beside the flower, as tall as she is, and exclaim at the extravagance of the gift.