You were a young mom, then, but as much an old crone as you were in childhood. You lived in a strange town, an empty, rain-gray place painted blue at the edges. You scuffed behind your family through the sand that edged up to broken sidewalks. Behind you, the gray waves softened their approach to earth. They soothed and caressed, rather than raging and stealing everything in sight to carry back to the belly of open sea. The waves seemed to sigh, “Sh, sh. She’s still asleep, don’t wake her.”
In itself, this was disturbing, though you couldn’t determine when the flow had changed. So you joined it, in last place, behind a bear of a man at the head and a row of stair step children who wore faded jeans washed out by the gray and blue air. You looked down, and you followed their scuffed white sneakers, off-brands all. Collectively, the children declared they were hungry, but they made their appeal to the bear at the front and not to you. In fact, the children didn’t acknowledge you at all. Were you there with them? You looked back at the sea, and its edges faded. When you directed your gaze forward again, the bear-man held a door open for you, and you entered into the foyer of a restaurant. You weren’t invisible to him; he wore a gentle smile that expressed his deep understanding of your soul. As you brushed past him, he tried to gaze into your eyes, but you dodged him because the connection felt too intimate for a public place, more obscene than anything that could occur behind closed doors.
The dining area had a broad empty floor of blue tiles, and it triggered a deep memory in you of how fast food restaurants used to appear before the common days of chemical substances and bad oil. Back then, in that fictitious time of memory, fast food providers were family-happy. Their food was simple, soft bread and grilled meat coated in chopped onion and pickle relish. In those days, fast food nourished the body and soul in steamy booths. You didn’t like to be tricked this way, but how could you protest? The children–your children–needed sustenance and ice-clicking drinks sucked through colored straws. They needed hydration, and the bear pulled out his billfold and paid for it, and you said nothing. You tasted the yeasty bread and savored the pickles, while the brightness of the drink awakened your senses. This was the memory–this was it! This was nostalgia in a red booth bolted to a blue floor.
After eating, the children ran outside in the gray-blue air, and you could see them tagging each other in the lot. The bear waited for you, his large hand holding the door, and then he led you out, back to the car so the children could fetch their roller skates. They exchanged their white sneakers for the old-fashioned kind of four-wheeled skates, and you reluctantly did the same. Then they formed a chain like a conga line, each small set of hands on the blue windbreaker of the one in front. You counted them: one rugged man-bear and four children of indeterminate age and sex, too skinny in their faded pants and old skates. How could the children of this burly man be so insubstantial? He resembled the weight of earth, and his hair was wild and dark. In comparison, the children were wisps. They were wind, hair so white-blonde their heads disappeared into the edges, much like the soft sea.
“Aren’t you going to join us?” The man yelled, his voice as growly as a bear’s.
These were your children. Yours. And they ching-chinged away from you. You didn’t want to skate on such an uneven sidewalk that buckled and cracked as this one did, but you grabbed for the tiny waist of the child at the end, and you capped off the line. This exhilarated you. You were a part of something. You were complete, your own four children between you and the solidly human bear-man at the front. You had five children–count them again. One, two, three, four. Panic clenched in your side, in the same spot where cold air and exercise and fast food stabbed you. Panic clenched you because you knew with certainty that you had five children, and where was the fifth? Had you left the fifth back at the house? Was this unnamed child alone in the sand? Would the deceitful waves grab for it and pull it away for the sea to eat?
No, no. The child was following behind you. You could feel it. The child was a bright blue jay with wings spread and tail feathers fanned into a blue arc, and it flew at your back. It followed in your wake, desperately trying to catch up to you. You dropped the thin waist in front of you and halted, which caused the children to fall backwards in a reverse domino, laughing all the while and banging you with their bony elbows. You fell down with them, feeling as if you were, after all, a bruised mother. The dark man lent you his hand, and when he pulled you up, you teetered against him, and your physical presence together with his startled you with its heaviness. Was it possible for a solid man to desire an old crone such as yourself? It seemed unlikely to you–you were spirit and soul, and he was body–an unlikely match.
But where did your missing child go? You spun around as best you could on dinged-up wheels because you caught a flutter of its brilliant feathers. You reached for your child-bird, and its life dropped from it as a kite drops without wind to bear it aloft. It dropped, a skeleton lacking bright feathers. It crashed, head first, to the buckled walk. You reached for it, even though you couldn’t salvage it. You cried and nobody cared. Your family screeched and skated off. At the head, the bear-man beckoned for you to continue. You’ll miss out, he called to you. You’ll miss all the fun!