by Alicia Lawrence
The pouring rain forms luminous, storm-gray pools in patches along the concrete. Raindrops are like silver firecrackers in my path. People walk past dressed in Easter colors, pale lilac umbrellas and Mediterranean blue coats, peach rubber boots. I ignore those lambs whose serene smiles dare me to let in the chill. Instead, I hunch my shoulder and pull my coat tighter around my chest. Heaven is a closed door, and I don't want to catch a cold in this damp.
I am thinking about warm woven blankets and huddling with my daughter on the couch surrounded by music and movies and books, feeling that who I am is all I need to be. I know when I get back to the apartment, the walls will be a messy bare eggshell where she has taken down the posters and framed magazine pages, and she will likely be texting, her feet kicked against my laptop on the cluttered coffee table, too sick for school and too well to listen to me.
I hang my soaked parka to drip in the alcove, and discover my daughter curled up on the plush chair in the living room. She is surrounded by a sea of strewn papers and broken pencils, and looks up at me when I enter the room. Then she looks back down at the homework in front of her and screams at it. “Fuck you!” And she starts to cry.
I take two steps toward her, but stop. Without looking up, her windmill arms hurl crumpled balls of paper and rejected erasers in my direction. I retreat, choosing to make tea in the kitchen where I wait for her tears, blotted on the sleeves of the Black Sabbath t-shirt that is older than she, to slow.
I think about the time a year ago, when we walked through the neighbourhood where we lived when she was first born. As dusk fell, the streetlamps cast a rainbow-edged golden light along the shadowed creep of vines snaking the walls of three-story apartment blocks. Shadows were traced against the cement porticoes guarding blue glass doors to modern high-rises. I sensed the hum of lives in motion far overhead, while autumn leaves broke underfoot.
“This place is amazing,” she said to me. “It's so beautiful here.”
My feet felt elevated from the sidewalk, and I imagined hers must too. I agreed.
“It was like this when you were born, too,” I answered.
“I know I was born here!” she exclaimed.
As we crossed the street, I pointed out the building where we used to live.
When I walk back into the living room, I carefully place my cup on the mantle and far out of harm’s way. Then, I ask my daughter if I can help.
“Yes! I need you to help me.” Her hands are balled in soft fists and slam vainly into the chair cushions.
I sit next to her and let her explain, through her frustrated curses, her school assignment. I wait through her lingering sobs and her conviction that the work can't be done in time, and after not too long, I find myself patiently holding her textbook upright in front of her as she requests. Forgetting her torrents of emotion, my daughter begins to make diligent notes on lined paper. Eventually, she takes the book from me to read more closely. I stand and leave her to her studying.
Cooled cup in hand, I sip and watch for a minute from the other side of the room as she works. Her face is a whirlwind of expressions, determinedly sporting headphones. She is contained energy and focus, though in her mind, she is still small with sniffling resolve. Seeing her, I sense that my shadow may be thinner and showing more the angle of bones than my daughter is aware. I hope she will guess what I am feeling from the pages of her textbook. When she looks up again, we will have healed from this and other things, we will have repaired all distance between eyes and voice. She will pass her test, we will be able to speak to one another again.
I wonder at the reasons we help each other, whether we become smaller in the tug of war of giving. Is reduction the result of perpetual offering, or does this that is ‘us’ sustain us somehow? We close our eyes; only when we open them again, are we stronger.