The day he turned ten was the day he switched from I to we. The royal we. The we that suggests something other than just me. The infinite slow march of the population forever expanding into the future from some place in the past that would be unrecognizable to me now. When he said the words, now we are ten, it was as though he was speaking in echo, with a voice coming from somewhere distant and forlorn where only reverberations could be heard bouncing off the walls and into my waiting ears. His eyes looked outward to a place I couldn't fathom and they were blue like the sky all captured and condensed. I wanted to hold him, not because he needed me to but because I needed to convince myself of my reality, offer myself a concrete assurance that things weren't simply slipping away, that his childhood was still intact, that laughter still lived in his throat, his lungs; that he would still reach for me in the darkest night to fight off the shadows on the wall.
We are going out to play, he announced with such unequivocal solemnity that it broke my tender parental heart. 'Out' was alone, 'we' was together with someone I couldn't see, someone who wasn't me, someone I couldn't feed or love or scold. I was chastised by my lack of control. I rested daintily on my couch, reclining slightly like a lady consumed by heat and corset, unable to take another crushing breath. I watched him from the window, resigned to my small fate as a piece of dust lodged momentarily in the place where his canaliculus met his eyeball. He would rub me out soon and I would float on the breeze to nowhere, perhaps if I were lucky simply returning to the earth, dividing, multiplying and being reborn as some sort of flesh, or at least an approximation. If only I could hold on. If only I could take one more breath and inhale the richness of his internal chemical reactions, his dirt-stained skin, his childish hair redolent with a thousand possible futures.
From my distance he looked so small, shrunk, or receded perhaps into a land I was not allowed to traverse. Not allowed, or not capable, it was all the same thing when I examined it up close. I was not allowed; my skin was sagging, my hair exhausted of its colour, my lips ancient parchment telling tired tales of bygone days. I no longer stirred the pot, I simply watched the water boil and a watched pot is everything it's cracked up to be. The kettle sang me to my tea but I was stuck to my seat, my eyes brown as mud watching the wind blow him up into the sky then back down to ground; over and over, he was lost to me.
Now we are ten, he had said, while the candles extinguished themselves in the shade of his small form. I had tried to touch him then but he was too hot, like a star or sun that burns from afar, blue like the sky and alone with himself, all the bits of himself that had become the we. I fed him cake and ice cream with cherries and sprinkles that sparkled. I laid gifts at his feet, offerings to the god I had come to worship over so many years. He smiled in his benevolence and gave me no words in return but that smile was enough to satiate my hunger to be seen, to be known by my high born prince, my master, my lord.
From the distance I watched as he dreamed in the other direction, aiming his hopes away from my chest, my breasts, my words and my conceited wisdom; how could I ever have imagined I had something to offer? My lungs were still tight, constricted, my breath coming in short, pained increments unlike the eternally screeching kettle I refused to heed.
Now we are ten, he had said, but I didn't want to believe him, didn't want to accept his maturing fate, the time that stuck itself to his smooth skin with scrapes and bruises and small frown lines that betrayed all the years to come. I looked to him because I didn't want to turn my gaze inward, I looked to him as an act of looking away from all that I wanted to forget, but every piece of him made me remember. His hands, my heart. His eyes, my sky. His smile, my fleeting joy.
Now we are ten. In the far flung yard, beyond the gate, he turned to me and bared his teeth. We are ten. He bent at the middle, a slice of body cut in half, folded, then folded, then folded again. I cried out, jumped up, pressed my hands against the glass but he was too far for me to touch, to coddle, comfort, contain. His flesh warped and blistered, fractured and ruptured; he divided. Two. Four. Six. Eight. Ten. Synchronized blue sky eyes looking up and out beyond the horizon, beyond the clouds and atmosphere into the darkness of empty space. Now we are ten. Ten times ten. Feet on the ground, head far above anything I could possibly reach. I screamed at the window, my impotent fear and pounding fists powerless against the thin, clear barrier that kept me from him.
From my distance I could see him set out; bags packed, paths marked with signs I couldn't read, written in a language I had forgotten long ago. My door was locked, my limbs too stiff, my bones too hollow to give chase.
Now we are ten, he had said, and I hadn't believed him. I wanted to hold him in place, bribe him to be mine forever so the silence didn't consume me. Call yourself we or I, it doesn't matter to me, just call me, I had said, but my phone was broken and I hadn't paid the bill. The couch was sagging, the carpet threadbare, the walls yellowed as my teeth. The window was dusty and I wiped it with clenched fists but all the paths had been taken and there was nothing left but footprints and blue sky. Nothing left for me to cling to, nothing but my dust that had been rubbed clean from so many eyes. So I turned my gaze from out to in and wept for my loss until there was nothing left of me but earth, dividing, multiplying and being reborn as some sort of flesh, or at least an approximation.