At first the new babies were fascinating and you poked their fat bellies and stroked their eggshell heads and when your mother wasn’t looking you pressed your thumb, not too hard, on the soft indent in their skulls and pulled back at the jumping pulse you felt there. They listened to your stories and could be dressed up and made up with the lipsticks you found in the bathroom drawer but your mother didn’t like when you did that and look, she told you when she had to throw out the tubes of broken color, you had wrecked them all.
You noticed the babies changed her, your mother. They changed the way she looked at you and talked to you. You were no longer her sweet girl because her sweet girls were now in matching carriers and you wondered what had been pulled out of you while you slept, what had been subtracted or stolen, and given over to your sisters and their tiny spoons and jars of pureed peaches the color of that sunrise at the beach before the babies came when your mother had swung you by the arms, your feet swirling in the cold foam where you were sure there were sharks and your mother said no, no, there weren’t but just to be safe she would never let you go.
And when the babies started walking, prowling through the house, tearing up your best things, ruining them, biting the head off your only Barbie and chewing up your wax souvenir from Ocean World like candy, the once-smooth dolphin mangled by all those rows of sharp new teeth, you complained to your mother about the injustice of it all and when she told you look, it isn’t easy and you said yeah and she said she needed you to just be helpful, to be smart like she knew you were, because babies were a lot of work and not everything was a five-alarm disaster, you said yeah and you guessed that made sense but you still didn’t think it was fair and you grabbed their favorite crochet blankie when no one was looking and stretched it until there was a foot-sized hole in the middle and you buried the little red mallets to their toy xylophone in the backyard, and that felt better.
And when a snowstorm came and you and your mother worked together afterward to build a fat snowman, your sisters gathering pebbles for eyes and a mouth and helping in this tiniest, flimsiest way, and you all stood back and smiled and then your mother said it would be funny if she lifted you on top and your sisters said yes and you said yes and up you went and really, everything from up there was changed and wrong, you sitting over the middle section, clinging to the snowman’s head, your sisters’ grey snowsuits churning the snow like surf, and you told your mother no, you didn’t like it and wanted to come down and needed to come down and your mother said it was time you grew up and you felt the cold moving up from your feet like water and tried not to cry because you were sure if you moved too much, you’d fall and it was so far down, your own eggshell head would pour out on the snow in warm spoonfuls the color of sunrise and peaches and your mother crossed her faraway arms and said what the snowman really needed was hands and produced the little red xylophone mallets from her pocket and jabbed them in the snow somewhere beneath you while she laughed and your sisters clapped and from above, you were pretty sure you felt the earth tilt you farther away on its axis until all you could see was three gray shadows circling close together through the snow.
Theresa Boyar’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in The Florida Review, Poet Lore, Juked, and Tar River Poetry. Her essay “Peaches” was selected as a Notable Essay of 2000 by the editors of the Best American Essays series, and her chapbook Kitchen Witch was published by Dancing Girl Press. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two very barky dogs, Darla and Cooper.