To escape the grey evening, no lightbulbs, no shortcuts to homemade meals, we opt for Ethiopian food. We leave candles by the door for our return, wrap scarves around our necks. At the Ethiopian restaurant, there are small mugs spread out in a tray on the floor, striped red and green and white, surrounded by bougainvillea petals. Smoke that smells like Ethiopia floats up from hot charcoal. J stands by the jiko, waves the smoke over her clothes like a Jewish mother, a private self-blessing. We ask geography trivia questions while we wait, slide slices of lemon on the edges of our glasses. When the food arrives it is colourful and hot, piles of grilled meats and pureed beans, dark red on fermented bread. The girls tear small pieces of injera, reach across the table for hardboiled eggs and shiro, the food staining their fingers with spice.
While I wash dishes, puree cashews, slice mushrooms, there is a row of small girls climbing along the garden walls outside my window. They are on an urgent adventure, calling to each other, slipping onto my lilies. They argue over imaginary ages, giggle at chosen names, scrape their shins on the rough rocks. None of us realize yet what this means- a childhood of unending playmates, small girls showing up at the door unannounced, quick to don shimmery dresses, muliplying like the cells of a neighbourhood organism, too close to examine.
At the back of Phil’s skull there is a groove, wide as my two fingers, that before this evening I’ve never noticed. All these years and I never even knew the shape of his head. The landscape of his bones.
I wake in the blue light of before morning. Security lights across the valley blind me, distract my night vision. I wait for them to disappear, but by then the light has spread, another missed chance at darkness. J moves into the room, silent like water, fits into the hollow of my side, whispers that she loves mornings.
P in a pink nightgown, ponytails standing up like an alien child, butterfly baby, stands on tiptoes to close the bedroom door, rubs her eyes before finding her way to my lap. I rub her back, the bones that lie flat under her skin beside the base of her spine, so many bones I never noticed in my loved ones. I trace mosquito bites on her legs, breathe the smell of her waking.