In the middle of the night, when the house is dark and the fans are humming—the AC, the humidifier, the noisemaker—your youngest, Leo, comes up next to you in bed. You have earplugs in and a t-shirt over your face to block any noise or light from the outside world. The weight of Leo’s body against you is what jiggles you awake; you slip out one earplug and uncover your face so you can make kissy-kiss sounds. You put your right open palm up so Leo can nuzzle his face into it; he’s been doing this since he was a kitten, all parts of your body turned into his missing real mother’s belly. His deep purrs thrum into your hand and for a few moments, he relaxes.
“Mama,” he says.
“Yes baby,” you whisper, so as not to wake up anybody else.
“I’ve been having a hard summer,” Leo says, his nose smashed into your palm.
“What’s the matter?” you ask.
“Well, for as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve been the baby, and it just seems like pulling your heart around in the wagon is taking up more time than it should.”
You know exactly what he’s talking about: the heart that you have not been able to detach yourself from, beating now warmly and softly next to the bed, swaddled in the wagon, still connected to your belly button with a sinewy fiber that you take care to wash every morning and every night, patting it dry. You heart has gained color in her ventricles and no one would know anymore that she’d been broken.
Leo has been walking in slow circles next to your head as you have whispered these explanations. Soon he is curled against your head, deep into his kitten sleep. You have lost track of your earplug for that ear, but Leo works instead. You leave your t-shirt off your face just in case anybody else wants to have a conversation in the next couple of hours.
Leo is gone when you realize you are awake again. Your heart is stirring in the wagon. You take a tiny peek and can tell from the light coming from the windows that night is over, but day isn’t really here yet. You close your eyes for a moment before your eldest, Sara, starts break-dancing with a Q-tip on her side of the bed. “Sara, what are you doing?” you ask.
She is so deep into her glory-dance of the morning, she can’t respond. You watch her somersaulting until the rising light brings your middle child into the bedroom as well. She is the quietest by far and simply wants to sit between the shoes you wore yesterday so she can smell your feet, undisturbed for at least a minute.
“Hi Lucy,” you say, leaning far over and off the bed in hopes of scratching her neck, but she is shy and pulls farther away. “Mother, I too have an issue,” Lucy meeps with her black eyes.
“Yes, my sweet,” you say, pulling back too. This is your gentlest one.
“I feel that it’s been very noisy around here lately.”
You curl up under your sheets and comforter, your eyes open, only natural light coming from the windows. Lucy has never understood the Fourth of July or monsoons, her mother’s sobbing, a loud TV, or the telephone ringing too much. She is not your brave vacuum girl, and the buzz saws being used in your neighborhood to cut down the trees from the storms have been deafening. Plus, somebody got a new dog.
She has a hard time explaining all of this to you, especially with Sara break-dancing on the bed, Leo racing himself up and down the hallways, and your heart flopping around in the wagon. You do the best you can at a time like this, which is to get up. You put your clothes on, find the Q-tip and throw it away. You put your hair up and take care of these children. You open your house up, the front door and picture window, to a pleasantly cool July morning in Arizona.
You mix up a glass of power-drink and pour it over your heart.