This one has been in the sand. One with it, really. A simple brushing-off won't do.
Time to go inside. I ask her to say goodbye to her buckets and shovels and trucks and she waves wildly, spraying my shirt with sand. Her legs dangle from my hip and her feet leave wet prints on my jeans. Halfway down my thigh these days. She's getting so long.
I turn on the kitchen tap and catch fragile quick fingers between my own and rub them clean. The sand disappears down the drain. I linger with her in the trickle partly because she likes it so much but mostly because I do. Cool warm big small over under brimming overflowing in my hands.
I had a dream, once, that she was choking. I couldn't help her. She turned blue before I could shake myself back into the quiet darkness folded around me. Her midnight waking was a relief for once.
Just the other morning, I tell her about a funny dream I had, something about cleaning the whole house with the toy mop.
I had a nightmare she replies. I was somewhere and I couldn't find you.
Today it comes true.
Dress rehearsal. Everyone is wearing the right tights and costumes and knows where to stand. Time to run through the final bows. A hundred dancers fidgeting in line, unspent energy raising the temperature of the air. Their noise rolls like thunder down the narrow hall. At least that's how I imagine it sounds to her.
My hands hold both of hers. She is shaking all over. She didn't know where I was.
I will find you right away this time. They have to walk across the stage again, this time with lights and music, dark and loud and fast. I leave her with her class at stage right, then dodge dancers and darkness until I reach the doorway at stage left. She crosses the stage. I'm right there but she doesn't see me yet. She's sobbing again.
We go through this again and again until every class understands how the finale should look. She cries every time, hanging on to her fear. Her nightmare. I can never reach her fast enough.
We're walking to the bus stop, the last week of school. She often walks ten paces ahead, pretending that she's allowed to cross these streets alone. But today she slips her hand in mine, no reason given.
This girl was a clingy toddler, fearful of other children, loud sounds, strange places. I remember thinking of her fragile grasp as a tiny bird's nest cupped in my hand. Crushable. Now her fingers wrap halfway around the back of my hand. Capable. In the fall, I might, might, might let her walk alone. I'm thinking about it.
Last night, I woke from the worst nightmare I can remember. It was a jumbled haze of chasing and fear and hot adrenaline, confusing scenes. I held her cowering in my embrace, hiding her from a faceless attacker. But something drew me from her and the next scene was filled with blood. It took me a long time to fall back to sleep after that. The shadows held terrible secrets.
I'm taking a walk with three girls, a stroller, and a dog. A neighbor smiles hello, surveying my scene. My, you've got your hands full.
I laugh. I guess so.
But that's not really it at all. My hands aren't full.
It's my heart.