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Renewal

Four Years Old

The backyard is caked with large patches of dirt between the shabby yellow grass and rocks. Tommy loves the backyard best when all of the rivers of water and mud appear after a good rain. He is thinking of one very late night, after a long thunderstorm that had kept him awake, Tommy slunk outside; flashlight and bath boat in hand and how he played until sudden stomping thunder almost made him pee his pants. Even though he banged the backdoor too loudly getting back in the house, his mother hadn’t heard him. He was pretty sure it would have been okay anyway. Momma never said no to the backyard.
Today though the backyard is hot and the bees are testy. The air is heavy with arid moisture, the kind that doesn’t reach the back of the throat when you breathe in. The only shade comes from an overgrown lilac bush, but at this time of day the shadow has fallen in on itself. Tommy sits close to the bush anyway and hopes for a breeze to make the leaves flutter their wind at him. Sissy has given up running laps around the fence line; the sun blazes too bright, and she flops on the ground beside him. He watches her, now flat out on her back, as she rocks her legs across the sharp grass. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and… The grass is starting to scratch red at her tender legs. “Stop it, Sissy,” he says, but she isn’t listening to him right now. So he says even louder, “Stop it, Sissy. You will get blood on your legs.”
“Okay, Tommy,” she agrees and stops. “Blood hurt.”
They both need a drink, but they won’t go into the house again until Tommy wants to and he isn’t ready to. Not yet. If he goes in, then Momma might see what’s in his pocket. He is filled with nervous excitement and worry.
Sissy begins to whimper, low and pleading, like a disgraced dog, “Firsty.”
Large dandelions poke through the fence from the empty lot behind their home. “Do you want to pick more flowers, Sissy?” he asks.
“Flowers. Flowers. Oh! Water. Yes. Flowers.” She scrambles and sits herself upright.
"No, no water, Sissy,” he tells her.
She throws herself back on the ground and screams: Waaaaaaah, Waaaaaaah, while she slams her pink legs hard against the ground. “We can make ninja belts,” Tommy suggests, but Sissy is back to not listening to him, she just keeps screaming the word for crying and she is getting louder. “That’s so annoying, Sissy,” he says, when she takes a deep breath to let out her next wail. “You’re not even for real crying.”
He watches then as her eyes go out-of-focus and begin to turn red like Momma’s and Tommy knows she is going to start screaming for real. He feels like his heart will wrench right out of his chest, it pounds so loudly; he has to shut her up. He digs the heels of his dusty sneakers into the dry earth and raises his bum off the ground to pull the pack of yellow patches out of his back pocket. He’s watch Momma do this a hundred times.
“Look, Sissy. Wanna see the lights? Lights, lights, lights. Sissy. Lights. Lights…” He rips out a stick and wipes it quickly across the black stripe on the back and it takes, he holds the pale flame cautiously in his fingers and exclaims, “Sissy! Lights! I did it! Lights!”
Sissy's head bobbles up slightly to look at him, and then she brings herself up to her knees fast. She sighs, “Oh, Tommy. Happy Birdday."
“Yes, Sissy, yes! Happy Birthday!” Tommy encourages her, “Blow out the candle, Sissy. Do it.” He watches her and the match carefully as she leans forward, he won’t burn her. Her small fingers stretching through the dirt. Her lips curling up to blow. A thick drop of spit as it drools out from between her baby lips, landing wet and thick and then sliding down her leg. “Again! Again!” she laughs, clapping her hands and laughing. So Tommy lights match after match, until the last one. “Hey, Sissy, let’s light this grass on fire,” he says to her. “O.K. Tommy! Fire!” she agrees. And Tommy grins at his baby sister, his heart jam-packed with all the love he feels for her.


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