“I want to try this one.”
Her tiny hands touched the green playground slide, gripping the raised edges as the rest of her body climbed aboard. She wanted to experience the twisty slide – the more dangerous of the playground’s three – and her white and pink Nikes carried mulch from the ground as she tried to climb up.
He chuckled as she struggled, slid off and tried again.
“You might want to try taking the stairs.” He took her hand and tugged gently toward where she needed to go.
Cotton makes him think of her.
He picked her up by 6:30 each night – sometimes earlier, but not a lot earlier. That time of day, she was among the last to go home. They lived 3.2 miles away.
When the middle of summer came, the fields along the two-lane roads began to look snowy with cotton. They’d pass full-size pickup trucks at sundown that didn’t have four-wheel drive but had vanity license plates in the front paying tribute to cotton: “the fabric of our lives.”
By the end of summer, the shoulders of the roads and deep ditches along them would be covered with cotton that had flown from the bales pulled by the dozen on trailers behind the pickup trucks. Some wads of cotton would fly off the ground as a car passed, staying suspended above the road for a few moments before fluttering like a feather and landing on a scorched bush or in someone’s parched yard.
“Where does this come from?” she asked during a stroll to the mailbox.
“The trucks you see pulling it,” he said in the stillness of the evening. “They must be harvesting it now.”
“That’s when they pick it and wind it into a big wheel and take it somewhere to be sold, I guess.”
A moment goes by.
“Dad,” she said. “Do you think there’s cotton where Mommy lives?”
“Probably. I don’t see why not. Yeah, I’m sure there is.”
He took her hand and tugged gently toward where she needed to go.
It came to pass.
The stage curtain had closed. The spot lights were turning off. The audience milled about the place, looking for their stars.
Then she emerged from the hallway leading out of the dressing room behind the stage, a foot shorter than many of the others.
She looked through the crowd.
She saw them.
“Well, what did you think?” she said, three years older than the days of cotton.
“You were outstanding.”
There were embraces from each of her family members: her dad, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle. They could not stop smiling.
Neither could she.
“Can we go out for ice cream?”
“Oh, I suppose.”
She took his hand and tugged gently toward where he needed to go.