You are laughing, moving through the crowd, cheeks red from sunshine and sweat. Your hand reaches back towards mine. I jog to catch up, to grasp it, small and hot. I’m afraid your fingers will slip through mine, that your body will be swallowed by the sea of legs and torsos around us, that I’ll look up to find you gone. You’re shouting out words that I can’t hear because there is no wind to blow them backward. There’s a cart selling lemonade such a sticky shade of yellow it makes my mouth pucker to look at it. I buy one for us to share, but after the first sip, you tell me that I’m all done and drink the rest of it yourself.
We move along with the crowd, swept up in the electric excitement of all those bodies crashing together. We find ourselves in front of a large tank full of water. Blue-grey dolphins zip past us, their skin glinting sunlight. You ask what it feels like, their skin. I tell you I don’t know because it looks like rubber but somehow soft and worn. You press your hand against the thick wall of glass between you and them, then the entire length of your body, as if by force you will be able to walk through it. I imagine you swept up with the dolphins, carried along by their endless motion, their noses pressed up against your own.
In all honesty, your hand is not so small in mine anymore. Your whole body used to fit along my torso, was once squeezed between my ribs. Now, you shout out words as if you have always owned them. As if they have been yours from the beginning. As if there was never a time when your only method of verbal communication was crying. You don’t search for me the way you used to, eyes frantically skidding along fences, across yards, through the limbs of bodies. Now, you walk straight ahead without the weight of my hand guiding you, instead, you are usually pulling me.
The day is still and so heavy with humidity that beads of sweat collect at the ends of your hair. There are pieces of it glued to the back of your neck, across your forehead, down the slope of your cheeks. Flecks of sunscreen peek out from behind your ears and the sides of your nose. You don’t notice the heat coming in waves off the sidewalk, the sun roasting above our heads. I jam a hat on your head, but you won’t keep it on. The bill either faces the side or is plucked up like a duck’s open mouth. We stop in front of the alligators in their gloomy water, their eyes resting, unblinking, on top of the water. No matter how many times I point to them, you can’t see them, mistaking their lumbering bodies for logs. It’s not until one of them glides closer that you finally notice, mouth opening in a silent “o.”
When you spot the splash pad you take off, without looking back, the echoes of kids shouting and water pounding against pavement calling to you. You find a spot where the water falls against the top of your head, and you close your eyes with relief. The scent of chlorine is so strong it burns the back of my throat, but you don’t seem to notice. I watch you from the edge, only the smallest splash of water against the tops of toes. Suddenly you open your eyes and look around, frantically swiveling your head back and forth, eyes flitting from adult to adult, not seeing me. I smile and wave, shouting your name above the roar of the water around your ears. When you see me, your face cracks open with relief. You run towards me, hair and clothes dripping. I scoop up your not so small body and press it into my own, the cool relief of you against my skin.