He sleeps next to me on the big bed, so I can nurse him without really waking up, although I am awake now, in the dark. I am always awake in the dark. The cat cleans herself at the edge of the bed, perks her ears, eyes flashing for a moment when my son’s foot rustles under the white sheets. I think, how long can a person live without sleep before she disappears entirely? He rolls, again, cries to nurse.
In the morning, I will take him outside, underneath the lemon tree. I will kick away the rotting ones. We will smash a few of them with our feet, make them pop and ooze, and for me this will conjure the ocean—the sand littered with bulbous kelp covered in flies, how they would take flight as I jumped. The satisfaction in the pop. Of ripping something open, all the inside air escaping.
I will let him hold a hose until there is an entire muddy ocean underneath the lemon tree. He will make me count down from five, again and again and again, jumping when I get to blast off. He will start out in boots and shorts and a shirt, but by the end of it, because this is how it always goes, he will be down to his diaper, brown and bulging. I will be covered in little flecks of mud, and when I pick at a spot on my knee, he will notice, and want me covered completely, like him. He will come after me with muddy hands, and I will run away and scream, and he will love this, this chase, but I will be done by then, ready to clean him, ready for him to nap. I will end the game too sharply. Scold him when he doesn’t stop. But he will not back down.
So I will sit beneath the lemon tree and let his hands cover me in mud, and if I close my eyes I will fall asleep, right here, and let my son and the sun mummify me in mud. Let it build and build, layer upon layer, and when he is finished covering me up, he might mistake me for a rotting lemon—or bulbous kelp, lost, a long way from home—from the purple urchins nibbling at my stock, the otters weaving through me, my foliage moving softly with tide, filtering the light—and maybe he will jump on me then, let me crack and delight in the pop, nothing but air escaping, bursting up quietly, softly, barely there at all.
Anna Gates Ha is a writer and part-time English instructor in Northern California. She earned her MFA in fiction at Saint Mary’s College of California, and her writing, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Harpur Palate, The Citron Review, Milk Candy Review, and Watershed Review, among others. You can find her at www.annagatesha.com and, sometimes, on Twitter @annagatesha.