At quarter to six last night, I realized I had only enough butter left in the freezer for one batch of sugar cookies. I’ll be in Fairbanks in two weeks, but, last night, I was looking down the barrel of a long two weeks without butter. I tucked myself into my gear and crunched my way over to the store, hoping they were open, hoping i wouldn’t leave the girls stranded in the cold, hoping they’d have butter at the store, hoping they’d be able to break a fifty.
The store is four short aisles of dry goods, a couple of coolers and freezers, and a half-shelf with some bruised and spotted and wildly expensive fruit. There’s always stuff for sale hanging from the low ceiling on coat hangers. This week, the gloves and hats were interspersed with hand made red and pink paper hearts. The whole store could fit easily in the house Sean and I shared in Arkansas. It feels like a miniature gas station and general store, the kind you find on the roads out of town back home in Maine, only moreso. I snagged a couple of pounds of butter and set them on the counter. “That’s fifteen dollars” the girl said. I handed her a fifty, and she had to clean out the register to make change for me. I felt like a jerk.
I made it home by six, and Shannon and Jake dropped by to leave the nine colors of icing that Shannon had made for us to decorate our Valentine’s Day cookies with. After they headed out, the phone rang: C, calling to let me know that the girls would be late. “Helloooo,” she said in a silly, squeaky voice, “this is Shelleeeeeyyyy”
“Hi Shelly, what’s up?”
“Do you have any coooookiieeeess?”
“Not yet, but I’m planning to make some later”
“Can I have some?”
“Sure, Shelly. There’ll be plenty to go around”
“It’s just me!” She said in her normal voice. A giggle dam broke on the other end of the line. “We have to eat dinner. We’ll be late. Maybe… seven?”
“Sounds like a plan. Get plenty to eat so you don’t eat up all the cookies – Shelly!” This clever comment brought down the house and their laughter bubbled up through the phone until C hung it up. Click. Silence.
The girls showed up at seven.
P is thirteen-year-old agony in full bloom: she’s experimenting with makeup, crushing on an awful boy, bending the truth badly, and dancing to Avril Lavigne in front of the (my) bathroom mirror. It’s painful and wonderful. This is the one who wears snowpants all day. I can’t get over that. Snowpants and smudged eyeliner.
S is new to the group. Quiet and reserved except when she’s not, like a braces-smile, she doesn’t get as silly or open up as easily as the others, but she’s cracking her cool shell a little, and I like her quirky teeth and honest questions. She seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t mind their eating raw cookie dough, playing their own music, and lounging on my couch.
C is the youngest. She about peed her pants laughing on my kitchen floor when her older sister walked in with eye-makeup last night. She spent minutes screaming in gales of giggles, clutching her belly and rolling under the table. P looked stricken for an instant, then rolled her expressive eyes at the two older girls and sat down like a lady. C got up and rolled her eyes at me, then started making silly faces, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue and squinching up her nose. I made silly faces back, and she lost it again.
A is like cotyledons. She’s like toes dipping toward a still pond or a palm testing the air around a wood stove. “Ms. O, can you check this?” She’s my strongest student in math, and my most needy. She loses her cool when she has to be creative. She loves grammar, and hates writing. It’s like she’s on the cusp of something, and just needs a little push to get there. “Did you like the poem you made me write? Why did it have to be fourteen lines?!” “Listen to this!” Improvements. Her smile is almost as bright as she is. A is the thinker. “Did you notice?” “Oh, do you think he meant…?” I think she’d throw herself off a cliff for me. I’m going to push her, and she’s going to fly.
Pop music, courtesy of DJ P, bounced off the walls. The sisters created some sort of complicated partner dance and practiced it to critical acclaim in the living room. We mixed and baked and frosted cookies. The girls gave me some of the latest news from the village: One of my male students was punched in the face last night by a drunk guy while he was out Walking Around (that’s what the kids do for fun). “Poor Guy!” “Do you’ll think he’ll have a black eye?” We decorated dozens of sugar cookies (enough for the whole school) with sprinkles and candy hearts and nine colors of icing until the girls collapsed on the couch in a frosting-streaked heap. They’d have stayed there all night if I hadn’t sent them away at 9:30.
The days are longer, now, and full of full-sun. I can no longer see stars on my walk to or from work. Used to be I couldn’t see anything else. I miss the romantic twilight of January, but I like the feeling that the world is growing every day, and gaining speed: I see some new shadow, or something newly in full sun, every time I leave the house. Last weekend, I saw the sun touch the ground for the first time, like a spill of sugar on an off-white carpet, and now it’s everywhere, an eggshell world accelerating toward the limit of daylight, ready to crack and spill yellow on everything.