M and her new friend tiptoe to the edge of the brown river that cuts deep into the ravine. They find a place to push through the bramble at the waters’ edge, lower themselves slowly into the cold water, take sharp intakes of breath as the water reaches their bellies, their shoulders. They swim across the water, work against the current that pulls them towards the rest of us, the shallows where younger siblings are splashing rocks. They are determined to cross the moving water, set themselves apart as brave and capable, reach the ledge on the other side that no younger siblings have touched. When they scramble on the far shore, they look small against the tall edge of the ravine, crouch in the dirt near some rocks, all elbows and knees pressed side by side, play tic tac toe in the dust.
We squeeze into the shade at the edge of the river, hand out crumbly scones and warm white wine. We listen for hippos, remind the children to beware of the current, pass around a ukelele.
P doesn’t want to go to school, cries and refuses to stand up when we start to leave. She wears a green bow in her hair, polka dot socks pulled high up her shins. I pick her up though she is too heavy, this baby of mine that has become a tall girl. She wraps her arms and legs around me like a small monkey, buries her tears in my shoulder, allows me to carry her up the hill.
There is a crowd of children playing tag in the backyard. Night has fallen and their shapes are blurry in the darkness, though their squeals and shouts are magnified. I watch the outline of J dart through the shadows, dodge the reach of the older kids. When she reappears at the edge of the pool of porch light, her hair is wild, her forehead glistening with sweat, her smile proud.
We sit on the porch and eat spicy olives that I’ve marinaded myself, my surprise for Phil after his long day. The dusky light slides through the leaves of the banana trees, through the blue and green glass beads hanging in long strings from the roof, through the Moldovan wine bottle Phil brought home from the store. The girls are playing at their friends’ houses. The yard is silent, the day folding in on itself for another night.
M wears a purple hoodie, lies beside me as I work, reading a book she’s read a dozen times already. She looks up every few minutes to comment on the sky, the ivy, the taste of her tea. I think of Rilke reminding us to love the things as no one has thought to love them.