Swear

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She swears there’s a constellation in the shape of a butterfly cresting the corners of the moon. She also swears she’ll pick you up at two and she will take you to the zoo. You wear the pink dress she bought you and lace up your new shoes. Can’t wait for her playful scold: “Tennis shoes with a dress? Oh baby, how does your father let you leave the house.”

She says, we’ll stand like flamingos and get chocolate dipped ice cream. She tells you to remember your sun screen. She calls at 2:30, says she is running late, got a flat, but don’t worry, those sea lions slap their hands all day long.

She used to tell you there were butterflies in your hair and pretend to catch them before dancing a shiny wrapped candy before your eyes. She had the most beautiful smile. You couldn’t wait to see all those white teeth, to feel her hand stroke your hair like a well fed cat.

Dad tells you to come inside and eat lunch, but you stomp your stubborn feet and say you’re holding out for ice cream cones and caramel corn.

She used to warn you about telling lies and pulling the wings off of butterflies. Don’t destroy beautiful things: like truth, like paper.

You dig your toe into the dirt and pretend not to hear the telephone. You pretend not to hear your father’s huff and exasperated sigh, pretend not hear his sharp tone: “She’s sitting outside waiting for you,” waiting, waiting, waiting for you.

You stare intently at little white butterflies swarming the lemon bush. You haven’t smiled in hours.

She told you once, when she was braiding your hair, that the sun wasn’t really setting, it wasn’t really going anywhere; we were the once spinning and we were the ones always moving. Sometimes so fast, it is hard to see faces clearly, like the flap of a butterflies wing. Sometimes we had to be pinned down, held under glass, sprawled and fixed to keep still, to be watched.

You told her butterflies are prettier when they are flying and she agreed.

You’re cold now. Father sweeps you up from the concrete steps. You rub your face with a sleep fist, too tired to admit you’re hungry.

“Princess, time for bed.”

You croak a stubborn, “No,” but your body rolls easily into his arms, knees to chest.

It is not the first night he put you to bed still wearing pink laced tennis shoes. You pretend not to hear him when he mutters under his breath, “I swear, this will be the last time.”

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