She watched him lurch through the water, his hands trailing through the spirals of water popping up around him. He dipped down, splashed in the puddles around his feet. His tennis shoes were soaked through, his shirt and shorts sticking against him like a second skin. He marched along the pavement, wet shoelaces trailing behind, leaving trails like a snail. She sat at an aluminum table in the shade, felt the sweat drip down her temple, her back. It was summertime in Texas, and the heat bounced around them like sheets of rain. The shade provided an illusion of relief, made it almost bearable to sit outside in the middle of the day when the sun shone directly above and whitewashed the buildings with its rays. Her husband chased their youngest son, walked alongside him as he slowly made his way down the steps toward the Riverwalk below. He bounced from one side of the walkway to the next, back and forth like a pinball, moving as close the edge of the river as he could before her husband herded him back towards the wall on the other side. They moved along like that while she watched, fanning herself with her phone, her hand, a piece of paper from the backpack they used as a diaper bag.
He moved with such abandon; it fascinated her. He made every choice with unending interest -- fearless. She couldn’t remember the last time she had done something for the sheer joy of it, the rush that comes with doing something unknown. She was bound to her phone, to her email, to the mundane tasks that made up her everyday life. It had been her husband’s idea to walk over to the fountain, let their son soak himself in the sprays of water, clothes and all. She had been hesitant, unwilling to deal with the inevitable mess that would come afterward, the dripping clothes, the waterlogged shoes, the exhausted screaming as she peeled his shirt up over his head. She was glad he had thought of it though, cajoled her into letting their son be little. She was the one who dreamed of the days when he would grow up, when he and his brother would play together, and she could relax, maybe drink a cup of coffee and read as they entertained one another. She knew she was wishing this time away, and that she would look back in regret, but at the moment the desire for alone time was so strong that she couldn’t help it. It felt like her very being depended on having time to herself. By the end of each day, she was exhausted. She couldn’t stand the thought of someone touching her, someone needing one more thing from her that she couldn’t give.
She had always relished time alone. When she and her husband first married he worked weekends, and those two days would stretch out before her like gifts, empty shells to be filled as she pleased. She could sleep in, read for hours, eat cereal straight out of the box. She could stay in her pajamas all day, taking a shower and getting dressed only right before he came home. Now, she stayed in her pajamas all day because she couldn’t find the energy to change. She would find herself cooking dinner, still in boxer shorts and a big t-shirt smeared with bits of whatever food their youngest son had been eating that day – multigrain bars, peanut butter, sweet potatoes. Somehow everything he ate made its way to her shirt, the edges of her shorts, their navy bedspread. She would find crumbs of crackers mixed in the toys, pieces of pretzel hidden underneath her bedroom curtains like he was saving it for later. Sometimes, he would pack his granola bar into the windows of his trucks and let their dog lick it out. There was food smeared across every kitchen cabinet, the bottom half of every wall. She would scrub for days, moving through the house slowly and deliberately. It was only as she finished that she would realize that every bit she had scrubbed was covered once again.
The water gurgled and splattered before her; the sun grazed the tops of her thighs. Her son and husband appeared once again from the Riverwalk below, their heads slowly materializing as they made their ascent. They were both flushed from the heat, their cheeks red, foreheads sweaty. Her husband dipped, grabbed their son, water blooming across his shirt where their son’s wet clothes pressed against him. She could see the tears welling up in her son’s eyes, his mouth scrunching, his body going slack in protest. Her husband ignored it all, gently held him as he bucked and marched towards the car. She followed them both, her son’s cries of disapproval echoing across the yard.