Eloise gives out handmade invitations
To her birthday party. The paper is thick
And veined with pressed flowers.
Other children feign nonchalance until they feel
The texture of privilege in their sweaty hands.
Her mother has baked a pink castle in smooth sponge.
The scrubbed expanse of kitchen is a fairy palace
Balloons and gauzy pastels smother the walls.
Her father stands solid at the glossy front door
Crushing the hands of arriving adults.
Her mother begins to hand out refreshments.
The adults glance at her trembling hands, turn soon,
Watch the children in the garden. A lovely day.
A satisfying tableau. The theme next year
Will be ballerinas, her father informs them,
Eloise has started ballet you see.
He calls her over, show them what you’ve learnt so far.
An arabesque perhaps. He holds her body straight,
Pulls her leg higher. Take a picture, he orders.
Her tendons strain. Her mother fumbles with the camera.
The first flat, wet sand glimpsed from a train window
Air full of a tang as yet unidentified.
The swelling of hope, of anticipation,
Of relief, small pale arms reaching
For the sun. We had arrived.
And in my great plan, my grand theory
I knew the sand would solve everything.
The porter handed our luggage to my parents
And smiled. But we were gone already
The children, towards the gritty sand,
The mud, the sea. Our mother bought ice creams
We opened wide, took in the sick sweet
Sticky richness, took in everything.
I glanced sideways at my parents, stood together
On the sea wall, their flapping coats touching.
It was early to bed, covered in sand,
And we slept so quickly, deeply,
That the voices raised in the dark of that night
Might have belonged to our dreams,
There was no telling. We woke
To a grey morning and my mother
Eating ice cream on her own. Later
There was a competition, a big one,
All the kids building castles in the sand.
The others looked to me, but I had no grand theories
For the moment. I had nothing.
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