In the gray morning, she wakes. The room is full of soothing silence and she feels numb. It is six thirty and she rises from her rest and finds herself in the big bed. For just a moment, she lets herself shrink. Wraps her arms around her shoulders and squeezes everything into a tight knot. Arms, knees, ankles, hands. She is all here.
She remembers that there are stickers on the calendar. It is October 5th and she cannot be so small today. In the half-dark, she brushes her teeth. Her feet find the carpeted hallway to her son’s room. A tiny form buried under a mound of stuffed creatures. Like her, he sleeps with his hands tucked under his chin. His body swells and dips to the rhythm of tiny blue breaths. A pacifier hangs from his mouth. She kisses his forehead to wake him, and his hair is damp and curly with sweat.
In the kitchen, they eat marshmallow cereal at the round table. During the week, he sleepily sifts through the cereal, picking out the messed up marshmallows, but today his eyes are wide and awake. He looks at his mother looking out the kitchen’s small square window. The neighborhood outside is quiet and full of sleeping cars.
Do you know what today is? He nods, excitedly. Colorful milk dribbles down his chin, and she melts that he is hers. She gives him a napkin and two hugs and a glass of orange juice. He beams. Do you think the other little boy drinks orange juice too?
She places the plastic container full of all 16 of his pacifiers into her blue striped backpack. They thread their arms through too-big coats and she pulls on his strap-on shoes. She turns the top lock and shakes the door handle just to make sure. They step into the vacant street. The sky is too soft, and it whispers that it could swallow them up.
She takes his hand and finds that his little fingers are still wrinkled. Last night, they had stood at the kitchen sink and washed the pacifiers. She had plopped him on the plastic yellow stool and he had handed them to her one by one. The water was scalding, and she had burned her hands at first, but soon the sink was full of suds and little pieces of plastic sparkling with newness. So the other little boy will know they are a present.
They walk, hand in hand, chattering.
Do you think the other little boy also likes dinosaurs? Probably.
And does he have to hold his mom’s hand on the sidewalk too? Yes.
Does he have a dog? Maybe.
And a dad? —
The walk is long but familiar. They pass two cats and no people. When they reach the park, their sneakers are wet. They walk through long grass and past an old couple sitting on a bench. The boy asks to hold the bulky container, and she takes it out of her backpack for him. The rocky bank of the river calls them.
She watches the water, bubbling downstream. When they moved here a couple months ago, she had balked at the green river. How strange, she had thought, to live in a town where rivers were the color of moss. But the peculiarity has grown on her. Today as she stares, mesmerized, she forgets that other rivers are blue.
She glances down at her son, cross-legged and clutching the container in his hands. Doubts float up from her chest. Without the comfort of the pacifiers, he will not sleep for weeks, but this is what the doctor had insisted. Some bullshit about development and peers and milestones. That god-awful word – abnormal. She sits down beside him.
Do you think the other little boy will find them? Of course.
And for a moment she lets herself imagine too. A little boy, identical to her own with ashy brown hair, crouched by the river downstream. He scrunches his face like her son does in concentration. Scrounging for shells and coming across glimmering treasures.
Her son tosses the first pacifier in. They watch it dance idly in the current, bobbing up and down. Their eyes track its journey and they lose it somewhere under the bridge. She throws another. This one hits the water more forcefully, making a satisfying splash, and quickly disappears into a wave.
Soon, they are hurling them in, jerking their arms in spasms of energy. They shed the pacifiers like memories they have outgrown, flinging them until they are out of sight. She lets out a small shriek.
A procession of plastic and an empty container. This is how they ring in the morning.