Salad days

She watched her sister’s children playing in the shallow surf. There were so many of them, it was hard to keep track. They were running up the long streak of wet sand as each wave licked the shore. They became braver each time, letting the foam wash their toes, their feet, their ankles. Soon they would be knee deep.

“It’s not too late, you know,” Amelia said, watching Anna watch the children. “You’re young enough.”

Anna sighed and turned to her sister. It was a conversation they had had over and over, Amelia nudging and Anna pressing back on the invisible wall she didn’t remember building.

“I know,” she said. “But Richard…” She stopped talking. What was the point, they had gone over this a thousand times before. “Besides,” she said, “I’m still not sure I want to.”

“You want to,” her sister said, wiping the last smear of sunblock from the baby’s nose. “Here,” she passed the baby to Anna.

Anna held him close. He smelled of sunblock grease, salt, milk. It was the truth, she wasn’t sure. These were her salad days and the children seemed like so much work. But, as she breathed him in, the baby smelled like a home she had never had.

One of the children, it may have been Emmeline, the eldest, yelled at her from the waves to come swim with them.

“Of course,” she yelled back, “I’m coming.”

She stood up, clutching the baby tight. She passed Amelia her hat and sunglasses. She saw the knowing smile that Amelia tried to hide. She shook her head and turned to the children.

“All together,” said Anna, and she ran laughing to meet them, and swung round the throng of swarming children shrieking with delight.

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