Fall

Dana stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window at the sunlight brightening some leaves.  At the shadows darkening others.  A yellow leaf fluttered to the ground. 
            Fall.  I love it, and I hate it. 
            As she waited for the coffee to brew, she opened the cabinet over the toaster oven and looked up at the white every day dishes.  No.  Not today.  Today I'll use china.  As she walked into the dining room, she shivered.  This weather's perfect.  It was almost 70, but with a cool, fresh breeze.  She felt it stir the tiny hairs on her arms.  She glanced down the front of her nightgown.  Saw where her tan flesh met her bathing suit line. 
            She stood in front of the china closet.  I'll take the green one with the 14 karat gold detailing.  The door on the hutch squawnked as she opened it.  She looked over her shoulder.  Listened carefully.  Did it wake anyone?
            It was the last day of summer break.  Last weekday.  On Monday, it would all start, and it would all end.  The sleeping late would stop.  The structure would begin.  Dana would watch her middle daughter walk down the street to high school.  She'd kiss her son on the street corner and wave goodbye as the bus to elementary school pulled away.  After that, she could do whatever she wanted.  They could do nothing they wanted, really.  Except for recess, maybe.  There was that one year the sandwich child had been banished to a bench.  For yelling too loud.  On the playground.  Dana had offered to homeschool the kids.  Three heads in a row moved left, right, left, right, like synchronized swimmers.  "Don't even think about it."  "I don't want to leave my friends."  "I want to be in band."  She'd exhaled a secret sigh of relief.  They're brilliant.  Way smarter than me.  I could never teach 'em calculus, physics.
            The oldest daughter had determined to be a light.  "That's why I want to go to school."  To shine like a star in dark places.  She'd done it here, now she'd do it halfway 'round the world.  She'd hold little, golden hands and say, "Five minus one equals four," in Spanish.  She'd pray for her new friends to know what she knew, to feel the love she felt.
            Dana warmed her hands on the delicate green cup.  She filled her nose with coffee steam.  It smelled strong.  She pushed the saucer to the side and laid her cheek on the glass table top.  Watched her breath form a circle of condensation.  I've done this for thirteen years now.  It never gets easier.  Every day had led up to this one.  Well, to Monday.  In the airport, she'd hug and kiss her oldest daughter and wave goodbye.  She'd say, "See you in . . . three months."
            "On Skype, Mom.  I'll see you on Skype.  Tomorrow afternoon.  Remember?"
            Then she'll hug me again.  "Please don't cry,  Mom.  I'll be fine."
            And I'll grimace, sob, and be ugly, like a dried apple doll.  Only wet.  Soaking wet.
            Dana heard the stairs creak.  The shush of feet headed toward the kitchen.  She picked up the edge of her nightgown.  Used it to wipe her tears. This fall.  She glared at the calendar.  I hate this fall.

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