M and I walk on the nature trail, stop to touch the trunks of trees, rub leaves, assure the drooping saplings that the rains are coming. She tells me the trunks of the tallest trees look elegant like marble. At the prayer labyrinth she walks slowly, crouches down to touch the clover, then begins to dance, spin, raise her hands, kick her legs. She is floating and twirling around the labyrinth and I am trying not to cry, not to move too closely to her prayer. When we sit at the centre cross I press my head to the earth and she sings soft words that drown in the sound of a passing jet. I think about the ancients naming thin places.
Long after I have tucked her in and pulled the door gently shut, P appears at the kitchen door. She wears her sister’s pink flannel pajamas, the legs puddling over her feet and on to the tile floor. When I crouch beside her she whispers into my hair, “I just need to know one thing.” I wait. “What was Santa Claus like as a kid?”
I lie beside M on the top bunk. It is late. Her sisters shift and cough in their sleep. I sing the lullabies I used to sing to her when she was a baby, am surprised by tears sliding down my cheeks. She presses her head close to mine. Her hair smells like almonds.
J knows I am in a hurry, have friends waiting in the living room. I turn out the light and begin to close the door when she calls me back. One more question. “How do we go to heaven when we die if our bodies are in the ground?” I smile at this least quick of all questions, kneel by her bed. We whisper about dying and being safe in God’s love and hoping we can meet people who have already died. Then with wide eyes and excited grin, “Do you think we’ll meet Fred Penner there?” I am still smiling as I walk down the hall toward the sound of laughter and clinking glass.