He squeezes his eyes against the suds and grabs for a dry cloth. His hair is long again, melting down his neck and licking at his shoulders. He glows like cherry wood. Cross-legged and bare as he is with his hair slicked back, he is small. Almost like a girl. Like a picture of me gleaming up from an old album.
He rubs his eyes and they redden. His lip trembles now. The soap was patsy. A more formidable foe flicks through the shallows.
“I don’t want to go to sleepaway camp,” he murmurs. And with that, his whole body collapses into sobs.
What ensues is a conversation, gentle questions, analogies about basketball, acknowledgment of feelings. Words, words and more words. I perch on my knees, a thin bathmat meager protection from the sturdiness of the tile. I lean in and let the easy expression settle across my features. A smile, beaming almost. A gaze, open as petals. I remember very little from The Art of Listening, but this stays with me: Approval, Delight, Respect. A hypnotist’s voice in a bedtime cadence carries the blood-deep lyrics of reassurance across the foam. Yes, and Yes.
He cries some more then talks. Pouting, furrowed, but he talks.
My hand inside the sage green cloth weaves between and under the words. I dip it into the water, stroke it along his shoulder. Dip it into the water, trace his ear. Dip it into the water, outline his cheek.
After he has dried off and brushed teeth, he climbs onto the bed and worms up under my shoulder. His sunburned cheeks are an electric pulse under the damp straw and silk. He giggles and crawls on top of me. Laughing now throaty and wild, his need gives way to a different sort of crying: “Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle!” He whoops and burrows into my ribs. He has grown to twice his size, unfolding like a sponge drunk in the surf.