From the moment Thalassa called to say she and the children would be coming home for Christmas, Cinnamon had been longing for a heart-to-heart with her daughter. When Thalassa was very little, she and Cinnamon had tea parties every morning, and Cinnamon wished they could share secrets and tea again.
But Thalassa never sat down. From morning til night, she did the dishes, played with the children, prepared the meals, wrapped the presents, chopped the wood, and washed more dishes.
Cinnamon decided to settle for her grandchildren’s confidences. Marshmallow’s stories kept them all laughing.
Most of the stories were about Princess Spirulina and the Robber Bridegroom.
“Remember when Princess Spirulina went to the market in the town square and the Robber Bridegroom was hiding in the vat of oil, and then when he jumped out, he was so full of oil he burped?”
“Wasn’t that the time that his burp blew up the whole of Cincinnati?” Kumar asked.
“No, no! You’re thinking of when he lost the hot dog contest! This was the time when he caused the tsunami and everybody had to hold onto driftwood and broken pieces of skyscrapers to survive the disaster!”
“Is this a movie?” Cinnamon asked Thalassa when she came down to tell the kids to wash up for lunch.
“No,” said Thalassa. “It’s all their own making. Marshmallow’s been telling us Princess Spirulina stories since she could talk. It’s sort of their own folk culture.”
“And then the Robber Bridegroom raced out from the mosque, remember, Kumie? Only it was time for Maghrib, and so when the bell rang, the Robber Bridegroom had to kneel, but Princess Spirulina kept on running and that’s when she escaped!”
After lunch, Marshmallow said that she and her brothers would do the dishes.
“It’s like penance,” she said.
“Penance?” asked Cinnamon. “Have you been bad? What would you need to do penance for?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Marshmallow. “It’s just a Spirulina thing.”
Thalassa shrugged. “Don’t try to figure it out,” she told her mom. “They’ve got all kinds of shifting rituals. I can’t keep up!”
“In that case, I’ll make us some cappuccinos,” said Cinnamon.
Tomas and Kumar giggled while they raced through the house collecting dirty dishes, and Marshmallow stood at the sink, dipping the plates into the sudsy water and chanting.
“Is she speaking Urdu?” Cinnamon asked.
“I think it’s her made-up language. Her brothers understand it. I don’t,” Thalassa said. “Let’s take our drinks outside, shall we, Ma?”
Cinnamon poured the foam into her cup. Her children had been mischievous and clever, but she didn’t remember them quite as wrapped in their own private worlds of make-believe as her grandchildren seemed to be.
She supposed it must have something to do with all their travels.
It felt warm outside for a late December afternoon.
“I ordered this for just for you,” Cinnamon said.
“What,” asked Thalassa, “the espresso beans?”
“No,” replied Cinnamon. “The weather.”
“Thanks, Ma. I appreciate it.”
“Not a problem. The weatherman owes me.”
“No, I don’t mean the weather. I mean everything. Taking us in. Having everything set up for us. The kids have never had it so good.”
“Your kids really are amazing, Thalsy,” Cinnamon said. “You’ve done good.”
Thalassa laughed. “I don’t think I had anything to do with it! It’s all in spite of, not because of.”
“Your dad used to say that,” Cinnamon said.
They fell silent as they sipped their drinks. How could Cinnamon express to her daughter what a miracle she’d been to her and Steve? One day, Thalassa must have been around seven, she wandered off while they were shopping in town. Cinnamon turned around to discover her daughter gone, but before she could even tell Steve, Stellar spoke up. “I know where she is, Ma,” he said. He led them outside where Mr. Benson, a man who lived in the park, leaned against the bakery. There was Thalassa, handing him a loaf of bread. She was always doing things like that.
A thrush sang. “It’s so good to be home,” said Thalassa.
A raven flew from the pine to the cedar.
“Well, I guess I’d better go check on the kids,” Thalassa said.
Cinnamon sipped her cappuccino beside three empty chairs while the sun settled behind the woods and the shade stretched towards the house.