looking (2021)

Blue horse, blue horse
Won’t you come to me?
Blue bird, blue bird
Won’t you cry for me?
Blue mommy, blue mommy
Won’t you come to me?

Winter is dry and fire sweeps the plains. Gunshots and hard winds shake the city. I pile boxes and bags into the compact SUV, wondering at the luxury of my life. In the parking garage, I load the things into the wagon. She helps me pull, she has to push all the buttons. We unload it into the apartment and she climbs into the empty wagon. I pull her down the hall, into the elevator, back down to the parking garage.

My hands are dry and nothing seems to help. Tents and huddled faces line the streets. She chatters in the backseat and if I don’t try to follow what she means, the sound of it is soothing. Time expands and contracts and holds still according to nothing. I pull into the parking garage and think of the only person I met who might have seen my son the last time I went looking for him. There was a snowstorm and she said he asked where she was sleeping. He followed her to the parking garage, she said, and they sheltered there for the night.

The woman’s story might have been a fabrication, but remembering it, my heart breaks open and falls out of my face as I maneuver into my space. My daughter is still babbling in the back and I convulse in the dark, swallow it down.

What are all these things loaded and unloaded, purchased and put away, lifted and dropped and hurried around. At the end of the hall is a window and through it we can see men digging a hole in the earth, a city block size hole, I guess. She sits in the wagon and I kneel at the window and we watch them work. We theorize about what’s happening. I know some of the ingredients of concrete and what rebar is for, and that’s about it. We’re fascinated. We’ve never seen such a thing from this angle. We’re watching people move the earth.

Back inside our new apartment, she colors and sings while I unpack. All the animals in her song are blue, but the colors she chooses are bright reds and oranges and pinks.

Unpacking. What are all these things for. Just play with me, she says. I don’t know how, I want to say, but I sit down beside her. She’s built a tunnel of empty boxes, a labyrinth. I must go here, I must go there. I must be the teacher, I must be the student. I dig out her tiny pink electric lantern and drape an old sheet across the tunnel of empty boxes to the stack of still-packed boxes and crawl inside. There’s just enough room for both us. We look at the light through the worn sheet and I make her laugh and laugh and laugh. I don’t know how to today, but I watch her and remember.

And the snow falls, and the year ends, and I look at her face and want to live.

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