by Julie Weiss
The air swirling around her empty chair regards you at roll call. Occasionally she materializes, but not really, and your voice catches on your breath.
The playground has doubled in size. Like the duckling in the story, you waddle from pair to pair, seeking a way in.
Most days, you sit on the edge of the sandbox, perfecting the letters of her name, minutes scattering off your fingertips.
Except for her, no other four-year old has ever reached the sky, so you alone scale the pyramid to the top, bang the bell with two hands.
You play in the plaza between cycles, riding scooters, scooping up bugs, screaming each other´s names when, like absentminded clouds, you drift too far apart.
You´ve rehearsed the words you´ll holler in her defense should anyone laugh at her bald head, snap her mask.
Words can´t carry germs along networks, so mostly you babble behind phone screens. You try to color in the silent spaces with schoolbook tales of monsters and pirates, unaware that want can kill.
When silence comes anyway, you cackle about caca, pedo, culo, pis, as if her illness had never severed the joke.
You glare at the yellow hearts you´ve drawn, dozens of them, vowing to hate her favorite color until she heals, your expression going up in flames.
You draw more hearts.
At your insistence, she breaks free from her mothers´ arms, darts into your apartment complex, hides under the slide where wasps build their nests. Three summers ago, you watched, horrified, as they swarmed out to attack her.
Maybe if I paint a picture of your breath with stingers attached and her body as a balloon, you´ll understand why you can no longer share a plate of pasta.
You see her face flickering atop all five birthday candles, but when you turn around, you realize it´s the ghost of a memory, teasing you with scenes from a former life.
There are a thousand emotions spreading across your face. I know what you want to say: why bother unwrapping a new year when all you´ll find is an empty box?
Julie Weiss´s debut chapbook, ‘The Places We Empty,’ will be published by Kelsay Books in July 2021. In 2020, she was a finalist in Alexandria Quarterly´s first line poetry contest series and for The Magnolia Review´s Ink Award. In 2019 she was a Best of the Net Nominee. Recent work appears in Better Than Starbucks, Praxis Magazine, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, and Anti-Heroin Chic, among others, and she has poems in many anthologies, as well. Originally from California, she lives in Spain with her wife and two young children. You can find her on Twitter @colourofpoetry or on her website at https://julieweiss2001.wordpress.com/.