The boys pile leaves that have fallen into their yard from the neighbors’ trees. They laugh and throw themselves into the piles, opening and closing their arms and legs in great, swooping arcs. “Leaf angels!” they tell her. When they stand up, they crunch through the leaves in their bare feet until broken bits stick in between their toes. She can see dirt and leaf pulp in their hair, clinging to their shirts and pants. She tells them they could be trees themselves which sends them into hysterics. The younger one runs across the yard in circles, his hands thrown out to his sides shouting, “Tree! Tree!” The older one joins him, and she thinks how they really do look like leaf angels now.
The sun leaves warm trails of light across their faces, sends sparks shooting across their hair. They show her how to make mud by sprinkling dirt into the giant hole right off their patio that’s always full of water. She watches as they gather leaves and sticks and pick blades of grass and toss everything in. The older one stirs the mixture with a giant yellow shovel while the younger one forages through the yard looking for more ingredients. When he comes back, he grabs a shovel as well and they mix the sludge and talk about what they are making. The older one calls out directions and the younger one follows them as best he can and she wants to fold herself into the world they’ve created, but she can’t figure out how.
She can see their pink cheeks where the cool wind has bitten them. She can hear them shouting and laughing at one another as they kick a miniature soccer ball around the yard. She can see their smiles and their small baby teeth still bright in their mouths. She lets them play until the sun is low and swollen and the dark is creeping across the grass towards their toes. They ask her where the sun goes when it sleeps, what the stars eat for dinner, if there are huge colonies of earthworms wriggling unseen beneath their feet. They ask her why the trees are so empty during the winter and what happens to the clouds when it rains on them. Whatever they ask she makes up answers that feel like cotton candy in her mouth, answers that spin a spell around the three of them until it feels like the whole yard is shining.
They have macaroni and cheese for dinner. The boys toss noodles at one another while the dog paces and pants below them, snatching every piece before it reaches the ground. The younger one dumps his bowl on the dog’s back and the dog runs in circles trying to chase down every noodle, his fur stained a sticky orange. She gives them a bath and finds the same orange stains behind the youngest one’s ears and wrists. He wriggles when she tries to wash him until she gives up and hands him a cloth full of soap and lets him scrub himself. She can see streaks of dirt under his neck when he finishes, but she lets it go. They splash and throw water out of the tub and it lands in her hair and soaks into her jeans. She asks them to stop and the oldest one tells her they are making rain and that rain goes where it wants.
When her husband gets home, they are naked and making giant loops around the house. They run from the front door to the back door both shouting “I win!” each time they touch one. They don’t notice him until the younger one runs into his legs and shouts, “Daddy!” The older one comes running and they hug his knees before bouncing off him and getting back to their race. He kisses her on the cheek and says hello and she tries to tell him about the leaf angels and the mud and all their questions, but it comes out wrong and he nods his head in the exaggerated way that she hates. She’s done it wrong and the magic of the afternoon is slipping from her palms. She tries to catch it, hold it a little longer, bottle it up in a small vase for later, but she knows it’s too late.