by Lacey Haynes
I had rounded the corner onto Dover when a woman took my shoulder as she passed. She led three balloons bobbing on strings. A little girl trailed closely behind. Suddenly, in that moment, everything became you: that little girl, her lemon yellow balloons. The girl was your age – the age you will always be – face to the sky, watching the balloons bounce as she tiptoed the cobbles. Her face, it looked so soft and I could feel it right then, really feel it, the curve of your cheek and the dimple in your chin.
In the yard, your daisy sheets flapping on the line, you sprawl across my chest. Mama, show me how to fly the kite, you say. Your chin rests on my teeth with small hands, wet and warm tickling at my sides. I smell your hair. You smell like grass, I say, like a little kid’s sweat. Smiling, I search your head with my nose for that soft milk trace; the scent of baby. But you’re growing up now.
Then, as if perfectly placed in this symphony of memory, the smell of tomato soup, it came blowing from a vent or a window or a take-away container and then you were really here with me; the radio singing, two bowls of letters in tomato sauce with carrots, crayons rolling across the table. You asked me why Bowser always slept on the windowsill. I told you that the sun was our kitty’s blanky. You smiled, and laid your head against his tummy, your face aglow in the midday light.
I move a little and you slip away, the woman and the little girl almost gone from view. I see a flag in a shop window and see you in the buttercup gingham dress you wore for your last birthday party. You picked it out and paired it with a cream floppy hat – such a big girl, I told you. I still have that dress. It’s faded now though, the yellow squares gone, as if absorbed or dissolved. With all these passing years, I get left with only the pale visions of you. Drawn out of thought, I look up. There’s a balloon sailing on the breeze. The little girl must have let it go.