They march and march and the grass nibbles their ankles. They can’t convince it to stop so they laugh and pull it into their fists, clods of dirt dangling between their knuckles. They want to pull all of it up: the fence, the slab of patio, the trees, and rocks, and garden beds. They want to run free in the mud, endless and slippery. They can’t decide what to do next, so they kick the peeling silver soccer ball into the sky and watch as it comes back down, heavy as the moon. They want it to pierce the sun and send the rays scattering across the tops of their heads like seeds. They fall to the ground as the ball does, and its thud echoes in their small chests like the sound of the front door slamming the night before as their dad left. They lie there and pretend that the clouds will fold them into their warmth.
Last night, after their mother made dinner, she smelled like spice and salt, her apron splattered with still warm grease. When their father came home, they handed him the cards they had made full of the pictures they had drawn for him and the great big pizza they had crafted from rolls of playdough that morning. They had left playdough stuck in the carpet and piled in the bathroom sink, leaking bright rivers of teal and orange and red. When their mother found it, she had scrubbed the porcelain basin so hard her fingers looked raw. The air outside pokes at their skin, tickles the whites of their eyes until they leak like rain. They want to open the gate, go around to the front of the house, knock on the front door, and make their mother laugh, but they can see her through the window with her head in her hands, her body swallowed by the couch cushions.
They are worried that she is broken; last night, she screamed and screamed and never stopped. They want to dig a tunnel for the three of them to escape through before their father comes back home, but the mud is thick and hard and when they shout for rain, no one seems to hear them. They hear the sound of their neighbor’s hose, and their mother opens the back door and yells at them to turn it off; she doesn’t understand that it’s not them. They watch the spray of water over the top of the fence. They see tiny reflections of rainbows in the droplets that make them reach out their hands involuntarily, wanting so badly to touch one.
Last night, their mother’s face had tensed when she heard their father’s car in the driveway – the low rumble of the tires snapping rocks underneath them, the sound of the engine choked off mid-sentence that had them running for the door, shouting. Their mother wiped her hands on a dishtowel, bottom lip between her teeth as she opened the door for their father, scanning his face as he walked up. Their father threw them in the air, their limbs flying out, twisting and spinning above his head. Their mother had put one hand to her mouth, her eyes wide and lurching, her other hand pressed to her side like all she wanted to do was reach out and grab them. They had woken up later to the sound of shouting below them. Out their window, the stars looked big and shiny. They could hear their father’s growl, their mother’s yips, the banging and banging of their words against one another. They had stayed in bed with their fingers twisted together.
A crashing sound had woken them up again. Their hands were numb and tingly, and they had had to shake them around their heads to wake up their sleepy limbs. That was when they heard their father leave, their mother screaming. They gather sticks from the yard to build a fort, but the sticks keep falling over like dominoes. They can hear the neighbor’s dog through the fence, and they press their palms and their eyes against the wood, splinters threatening to spear their fingers and cheeks. They can smell the dog’s spit, feel the sharp tap of its nails against the wood, hear the sound of its whine, feel its small pink tongue daring through the cracks to lick the sweat from their fingers. They go inside and find their mother in her bed. They press their small heads into the crooks of her arms and let their hair soak up her tears and the three of them fall asleep, listening for the sounds of their father.