The Emptiness

The Emptiness

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She thinks that maybe it’s time for them to go back home as she watches the two of them bolt across the pavement and into the bushes. The younger one laughs at something the older one says. The older one reaches out and pushes the younger one and she moves her hands up to stop him, to punish him, but they are too far away and it doesn’t matter because the younger one is still laughing. He thinks it’s funny and he rolls through the leaves scattered across the ground. He stands, grass in his hair, and the older one pushes him again, and this time they both go down laughing. She smiles at this and continues walking towards them.

They start digging in the packed earth at the base of a nearby tree. Shards of wood mulch fly through the air towards her and stick to her skirt as she rushes over to stop them. They look blankly at her as she places her hands on their shoulders, both confused for a minute about how she is suddenly there. Then, the older one screams with anger, and the younger one copies him, and everyone around them looks towards her, alarm in their eyes. Their stares whisper at her that a better mother would know how to make them stop. She closes her eyes and hushes them, pulling the two boys into her as they scream and push against her chest. Finally, she promises them ice cream if they will stop, and they both fall immediately silent, eyes wide and shiny with tears. She stands up, brushes them all off, and grabs a small hand in each of her own, leading them towards the stand where the man is selling ice cream for a dollar a cone, fifty cents extra for sprinkles.

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She orders two cones, and the two boys bounce on their toes as they watch him scoop the ice cream. He hands one to each of them and they both lick their treats, trying to stop them from melting in the sun. They can’t eat fast enough, and ice cream runs down their cheeks and chins and makes webs between their fingers. The younger one has ice cream in his hair, and his nose is covered in sprinkles. He goes cross-eyed as he catches sight of them. Suddenly, they both take off again, cones in hand, ice cream wobbling dangerously as they move. The younger one trips and his cone flies from his hand. Instead of crying, he stands up, grabs what’s left of the ice cream and sticks it in his mouth, covered in dirt and leaves. He swallows before she can stop him. She manages to grab the cone that has rolled through the grass and tosses it in a trash can before he sees it. The older one offers him half of his own cone and they stand there crunching the fried waffle for a minute, the sun on their faces. She notices they still have leaves in their hair, but she decides to leave them, deciding that the fight it would cause wouldn’t be worth it.

She lets them run their fingers in the fountain to wash the sticky goo off of their hands. They splash each other until she tells them it’s time to go. They are angry and don’t want to leave, but she makes a game out of who can get to the car first, and they are distracted. The oldest one wins and gloats as she buckles them both in the backseat, the youngest one bucking against her as she tries to pull his arms through the straps of his car seat. His cheeks are pink and his hair is sticking out in spikes from sweat and ice cream. They both fall asleep on the car ride back, their heads tilted to one side. The oldest one jerk awake at a stoplight, but settles back in, eyes fluttering open only momentarily. They look so peaceful and small as she watches them in the rear view mirror. It is hard to believe they are no longer babies, that she no longer carries them around in her stomach. Sometimes, at night, when she is half asleep and half awake she thinks she feels one of them kick her ribs, and she reaches for her belly, only to remember it’s not swollen with a baby anymore. She remembers how it felt after she gave birth to the oldest; how empty she felt, how alone.

The Renovations

The Renovations