It’s the first warm day of the year and they’re in the backyard, actually wearing shorts. The four-year-old is delivering a busy narrative concerning his activities with a wooden train and a slow-to-melt mound of dirty snow. Something keeps happening to the train, something terrible and cataclysmic, a crashing and plunging into the snow, and his voice reaches a high, ecstatic peak. He looks at her expectantly. His voice stops for only a few seconds and she takes in the purity of that moment’s silence, the smooth glassiness of the day. Then the train is pulled from the snow, resurrected, and a new storyline begins all over. In the background, there’s a resurgence of shuffling noises from the bushes and the treetops. The birds are back, and one of them squawks a little cry that sounds exactly like the word “help” over and over again.
Today is Lincoln Logs and Legos, felt skylines and marbles that double as meteors. On his bedroom floor, she moves a toy car around but forgets to make the accompanying noise. She is told no. She is told start over. She is told pick who you want to be.
She could be the baby abandoned on the doorstep. She could be the teenager screaming in the forest while a moss-toothed man slides in and out of her. She could be the woman forced to give birth in a tree, the water around her muddy and laced with snakes.
Here, he says, this is you. You’re the mom. She’s a blonde with a ponytail and a plastic blue dress. She’s smiling so tightly her eyes are painted into slits. She doesn’t even notice the silver flash of marble streaking across the black felt sky. She can’t see that it’s heading directly toward her.
In the kiddy pool, he sloshes water in his yellow bucket, pours it over the edge onto the lawn, onto her toes. Some of the trees have already begun to turn. Rust, vermilion, migraine yellow. There’s a sudden obliteration of sky as sweeping currents of migrating birds pass overhead. He’s dragged upward in their wake until he’s pointing at them, arched on tiptoe. The sky is alive with their squawking, an alien purr that rattles her through. Neighbors come out of their houses to look, murmuring that they’ve never seen anything like this.
She sinks her toes deep into the saturated ground, staring only at the boy’s small back, starred with water, the innumerable constellations glinting on his skin.