Sarah sighed, sitting hunched on the maroon-painted cement front porch, awaiting three generations of maternal relatives. Late-morning June sunshine warmed full-leafed trees and bushes, releasing a mildewy, metallic odor from yesterday’s spray against biting flies and mosquitos. If she made herself, she could hear Dad pushing her younger brother Roy on the tire swing in the backyard, the rope on the maple branch creaking. From farther away came soft thumps as her older brothers Greg and Ben sent pop flies high above the field. In this pause, a comma splice between independent clauses, she rested her eyes on luscious-green, freshly manicured grass and swaying birches.
All too soon a grumpy engine whine and crunching gravel interrupted her reverie. As if escaping, Sarah loped to the backyard which soon swelled with people, cousins outnumbering grown-ups three to one. Younger kids became a shrieking, careening swarm while the teens sorted by gender into whispering clusters with ten-year-old Sarah inbetween.
After the more foolhardy attempted swimming in the puckering-cold spring water of Grass Lake and after everyone feasted on hamburgers, hot dogs, and sticky red Kool-aid, Sarah tiptoed into the house, a dark, cool cave breathing an unnatural silence. Up a flight of stairs, she slipped by the half-closed door of her bedroom into its lavender calm and crept to the far side of her full-sized bed. Atop her ruffled bedspread with its field of irises and violets lay her pillows in their decorative sheaths encircling a lump, who was the youngest cousin of them all, Pamela, only three months.
The baby’s head roiled with dark curls. Sarah’s resentment flared at pink lips speckled with milk froth soaking into the bleached-white diaper under Pam’s head, threatening to stain and sour Sarah’s delicate spread (the one she was forbidden to sit on). Pam’s petite fisted arms were tucked slightly under her stomach, her bottom tenting the variegated purple-and-white afghan Sarah’s grandmother had crocheted to match her room.
Glancing out the window, Sarah looked down on the mothers, sisters and sister-in-law, arm motions swirling sun-dust through which she squinted while Jerry slid without sound to home plate, the cousins and uncles split between gleeful dances and frowning faces, right arms a muddle of “he’s safe--out.” Concentrating, Sarah could hear chattering, cheering, and chuckling mingling into a faint discordant tune swallowed by the house.
Sarah became intensely mindful of some heavy spell enveloping her, conscious of each moment clicking into the next with deliberate rhythm. Strangely detached, bleakly alien in her own room, she stared at the slumbering infant. How odd she felt, large yet dwarfed, separate, out of proportion, slightly anxious from the immensity of whatever now joined them in the room. Her teeth worried her inside cheek; her face scrunched with an Alice-in-Wonderland awareness.
Sarah noted the two-bunk lilac doll-bed slightly behind her, rarely-disturbed dolls tucked in neatly, above and below. Her fingers tingled as she compared Pam to her stiff doll April in the upper cot, whose movable eyes were frozen in half blink. Despite prickling premonition, Sarah yearned toward Pamela’s pliable curves, longing to replace the faker with Pam.
Sarah observed herself shove aside pillows and carefully lift Pam, arms juggling her as she fought to swing Pam over the sideboard, horrified when Pam slid with slippery speed through her arms just short of the upper bed whose unfinished edge of splinters shredded and pierced delicate pink-white skin. Groaning a weeping sorrow at an egg-cracking thud, Sarah gazed at her empty ruddy arms molded into cradle position and understood the box was a coffin. She trembled in the darkness yawing about her.
Pamela softly sighed, the sound stinging Sarah’s rapidly-beating heart until she found Pam still lying on the big bed, wriggling her nose, eyes fluttering. Utterly relieved while wary of herself, Sarah watched entranced as Pam bloomed luxuriantly to life, tiny muscles rippling under unmarred skin.
Into the moment stepped exotic beings, her mom, her aunt, mouth aflutter. Whatever-had-been whooshed from the room, leaving sound in its wake. Her brain cramped as if translating a foreign tongue.
“Sarah, honey, how nice of you to watch over Pamela. What a lovely little mother you’ll make. Would you like to hold her?”
Her head shaking a fiercely desperate no, Sarah fled past her mom, whose warm hand unconsciously mirrored her aunt scooping Pamela to her breast, a hand naturally, gracefully cupping Sarah’s head, creating an iridescent gossamer of sweet connection that grounded and embraced her.
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