She wants a cookie, chocolate chip. But she can’t eat just one. If she starts, she’ll devour the whole box so she decides to go for a run instead and goes into the bedroom to change into her ‘running’ clothes — t-shirt, sweat pants and sneakers. It is still cool out so she grabs a light jacket too and then goes into the kitchen for a bottle of water and tells her husband she is going out.
Then the little boy wants to go too. He is three and so that means there will be no real exercise, she can’t even fast walk or slow jog with him and instead it will be a stroll and probably she will end up carrying him home.
Then the girl, who was seven now and much more agile, decides to go too but she wants to ride her bike so the bike has to be brought out from the garage and one tire is flat and her husband goes back into the garage to find the pump and that means a delay and by the time they get going, by the time she ambles down the sidewalk swinging a bottle of water in one hand and her son’s hand in the other, it has already turned from late afternoon to early evening and the sun has started to descend into night.
She follows the horizon or the narrow strip of it she can see at the end of their street. They live on a cul-de-sac in a two-story house with a sloping front yard and a mortgage they can’t really afford. The street is twilight quiet; most of the young families like theirs that live on the street are busy having dinner. Today is the vernal equinox, the day when winter gives way to spring, the moment of equal possibilities; when past and future share a present balanced on the pinpoint of the ticking clock and she couldn’t stay indoors. She wants to see if the first buds on the lemon trees are opened yet or if not opened, at least awakening.
It’s spring in Florida and the weather beautiful but spring heralds summer and she cannot tolerate the humidity and the heat. Her house isn’t well ventilated and during the long, hot summer her children will hover around her like bees seeking succor from a last clutch of sunflowers. She loves her children so much that it hurts and she can feel her heart seizing up at the thought of anything happening to them and yet almost equally, like when days and nights are exactly the same length, she wants to run screaming from the house, to throw off their sticky hands wrapped around her neck and keep running.
From morning to night, their bodies are touching hers. The girl now goes to school but in summer she will be mostly home along with the boy. She might be in the kitchen cooking and the children will sit on the counter, touching her arm or coming up behind her to hug her back when she hands them cookies — and resists eating one herself. Then later, on the sofa if she’s folding laundry or if she’s gone to the bedroom to nap the children will come and fit their warm, soft bodies around her, snuggling against her naked back where she’s taken off her shirt in order to cool down from the heat. They sit on her lap at night as she watches TV or tries to read a book and even when she’s in the shower, the boy will stand at the edge of the tub, holding the curtain with his hand and telling her about his toys or a cartoon he watched.
Right now, as they saunter down the street, she wants to whistle but knows this will annoy her son who is not on the spectrum but almost and so she hums instead, a quiet, soft tune that matches the quiet, soft evening and the boy picks up her humming and hums along too which surprises her because usually he talks nonstop. He’s talking now, about dinosaurs, space and the other boys in his pre-K class that wouldn’t share and how he had spaghetti for lunch from the cafeteria and he hated spaghetti but at least it wasn’t hotdogs and why were hotdogs called hotdogs because when they went into the school cafeteria and got their trays and lined up and the hotdogs were in buns but they were always cold when he sat down at his table with Freddy and Ahmed and they didn’t look like dogs, not at all.
“Are they made from dogs? I mean am I eating dog, mommy?” he asked and she replies,
“Huh? What?” because she hasn’t been listening as he rambled on but instead has been floating down the street on the handlebars of her daughter’s red bicycle and feeling the cool wind billowing through her shirt, against her naked skin. She can smell the lemon-scented gum trees leaning over the street as she rushes past them and she sways with the turning of the bike as her daughter veers left and right along the curves in the road so that she won’t have to slow down and won’t fall off.
“I’m hungry, mommy,” the little boy says again and pulls on his mother’s fingers until she turns and looks at him, her eyes blank at first and then adjusting as the streetlamps come on.
The thought flickers through her mind: Run! Run! Then the urge rises like vomit at the back of her throat and she wants to turn and flee.
But instead she calls to her daughter and together, the three of them turn around and head home.
Jamie Etheridge is an American journalist and writer living in Kuwait. Her creative writing has been published in Inkwell Journal, Potomac Journal, Red River Review, Mothers Always Write, Wild Word magazine, Wordhaus and is forthcoming in Running Wild Anthology #4 (summer 2020).