By Amanda E.K.
There was a stream by the shed at the house where we stayed in the summer. Wildflowers grew where the mower never reached, and we’d pick them, inventing names for fun: yellow bellies, blue cocoons, and Peter Rabbit’s noses. If a dandelion yellowed your chin it meant that you had cancer. Cancer, a word we knew from Mom and Dad, who used it at the table. They said it with a frown, so we knew that it was bad.
We’d hunt for toads and crawdads and wade to the other side. I’d hold your hand to scale the rocks, and kiss your tender bruises. You once tripped while climbing and cursed me, swinging out with tiny fists. I laughed it off and helped you up, though scared I’d been too reckless.
One day we came upon a clearing where trees as tall as towers made a circle in the woods. A rabbit hopped away to hide and we ran ahead to catch it, rolling down the soft green hills, forgetting where we came in through the trees. You looked at me, your eyes so wide, and I looked at you the same. We had no watch, no clocks. No sense of time except the sun. Parents were the ones who told us when to eat and sleep, and when we’d played too long. So we shrugged and found more rocks to climb. We played princess in the castle and goats up in the hills—our little billy feet squishing in our little jelly sandals.
The sun slipped lower down the sky as we tried to find the exit out. You started crying, thinking we were trapped. I wrapped my arms around you and said we’d find a way, then bundled fallen branches to make a little fort, telling stories for distraction from the darkness swallowing us up.
Dad found us in a huddle inside our makeshift shelter. He didn’t yell or say he’d warned us, just picked us up and kissed our heads. He held my hand, but you he carried on his back. You, the fragile one, the sleepy one with drooping eyes. Your hair a sheen of moonlight reflecting the speckled sky.
That night in bed we whispered from the safety of our sheets, flaunting our adventures, denying we were scared. Tucking the excitement of the day into the folds of our collective memories.
It wasn’t until later, the fall after you’d passed, that I thought back to that summer, wishing and praying with my whole heart that the dandelion hadn’t marked you, but me.