Happy 100 Days: 11

“We had a birthday party for Winter today,” Bug tells me, pulling the last of the Oreos out of the crumpled blue wrapper he found in his backpack.
“Winter the dolphin?” We are leaving after-school care on the way to drop the pooch off with a friend for the Christmas break.
“No,” Bug says, black cookie dust drifting down his chin. Winter is a dolphin with a prosthetic tail that lives down at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. Bug has been dying to go down to visit ever since seeing a movie about the rescue. “Not that one. How old is Winter anyway?”
“If it is someone in your class, I assume she’s six.”
Bug gives me a blank look. “Is there someone named Winter in my class?”
I stop and bend down. “What are we talking about?”
Winter,” Bug says, as if I haven’t heard him properly. “It’s the short day, and then it starts all over again.”
“Oh! The solstice!” I say.
“Right! We had a party for Winter’s birthday. We had cookies and juice.”
We get in the car and drive through the night past all the houses decked out in twinkling lights. We arrive at the friend’s place with the dog in tow. Bug sits on our friend’s living room floor and digs through a box of old toys belonging to boys who are men now, off exploring unmapped corners of the world. The pooch snuffles around and makes herself at home in a nook behind the dining room table.
After a little while, we go over to the common house where a small group of folks has been cobbling together army-sized vats of vegetable stew and cornbread. Candles are waiting to be lit, wine is opened, and slips of paper with bits of blessing are passed from hand to hand. Soon, a group of friends and neighbors is standing in a circle sending wishes to the four directions. Each of us holds a candle. Bug finds a glass bauble shaped like a star to hold his. When we reach our part of the recitation, I bend and Bug holds his light up to the slip of paper.
“Can you read that word?” I ask.
“West,” he says.
“That’s right. West. And that?”
He looks a moment longer. “North,” he says.
“You got it.” I read the rest of our share of the blessing. After a few laughs and shared breaths, we eat. Bug finds older kids and joins them at their table. He is a perpetual narrative-in-motion machine. He asks me not to watch him so I only do through sideways eyes. My friend stays near Bug and me, making sure we have enough to eat and that we have met the folks who are sharing this moment with us.The room is alive with the scent of cinnamon, smiling faces, stories of trapeze classes and the lament of kids growing up too fast.
It is dark so early now. I barely noticed, what with all the light.
We had a birthday party for Winter today.


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