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by Leslie Walker Trahan

Our mother worked three jobs and came home smelling like something different every night. Applesauce and baby powder, perfume and sweet lotions, syrup and fried meat. She would sit on the couch with her feet propped up and stroke our faces. She called us her little dirt princesses, and we blushed and giggled like it was a love song. We rubbed her feet with our bare hands and relished the hard knots of them under our thumbs. When she sighed, it sounded to us like a song of the gospels, rich and heavy with spirit.

We were seven and nine, and our mother was the youngest mother we knew. That summer, she let us eat ice cream for breakfast and wear flip flops and swimsuits all day long. We spent the empty bubble of our days riding our bikes around the block as fast as we could — 10, 20, 30 times in a row. We dared ourselves to keep going and then collapsed into the grass at our mother’s feet. She sprayed us with the hose and laughed while we danced. On the hottest days, she held the streaming water straight up to our mouths, and we drank so fast we wondered if we could drown that way.

When our mother’s boyfriend was there, they sat on the porch swing together drinking from dark bottles and listening to music. We drank Cokes from the fridge and watched them through the smudged glass door in the kitchen. Our mother swung her legs and moved her mouth, but we couldn’t hear her words. She talked too much, her boyfriend always said. We let our cheeks bubble out with the cold liquid and held it in our mouths until it was warm. We watched our mother get up and dance across the stained concrete. We danced like her on the other side of the glass.

After our mother’s boyfriend put his fist through her bedroom wall, we watched her stand in the driveway in her frayed pink robe and bare feet. She ran after his car, and we ran after her, holding her shoes. That night, our mother came home and closed her door without saying a word. We knew better than to knock. We waited outside her bedroom window and watched the smoke spiral out. We crouched together against the warm bricks and tried to make each other invisible. When the ashes landed on the tops of our heads, we put our hands over our mouths and held our breath.

That summer, our mother took us for long rides on back country roads with the windows down. We listened to her favorite songs and sang as loud as we could. We knew all the words. When we got to the top of a hill, our mother would scream and lay her foot flat on the gas. The hot air blew in so fast we thought we’d choke on it. We kept singing.

Leslie Walker Trahan is a writer from Austin, Texas. This is her first published story. You can find her on Twitter @lesliewtrahan.