Peyton paused mid-pour, and her mind spilled polka-dots of black tea splats all over her mother’s best linen. She shrugged. To her, Papa’s nickname wasn’t a word, it was a cadence, a song, a rhythm that meant there was peace. Meh-reh-guld, Meh-reh-guld, he called her when the world was right.
Too big for a chair at the tea table, Justin sat criss-cross on the play room floor, digging a knee scab. He played with Peyton because she was the only girl on the block, and he found her baffling and mysterious. She was also only four years old. The youngest of five boys, Justin, at eight, thought Payton occupied a dimension of her own. Sometimes she let him in.
Joshua says that’s where you got your hair. Not the color. The springy stuff.
Peyton served the tea and Justin pretended to sip ‘daintily,’ as she’d taught him. She had given him the first cup, the one that usually went to Bear, but he didn’t question her.
My hair is naturally curly.
She wasn’t sure what that meant, but it’s what Mother told her, so it must be true. She knew her tangly red twists were different, but in a special way. Papa said she was a gift, and Peyton knew a gift was a present, and presents were always good.
Did he bring cookies this time?
Justin wasn’t technically permitted to eat cookies when he was visiting friends, but he figured the imaginary tea canceled it out. And Payton’s Papa made butterscotch cookies worth risking a swat from Mom.
Peyton was allowed to have cookies whenever she wanted, so the treat wasn’t as tempting, but she said she’d go check. She found Papa in her father’s chair reading a novel, with the cover wrapped round the back, so she couldn’t see the picture. He opened his arms and she hopped into the cuddly cave.
Meh-reh-guld, Meh-reh-guld. Are your friends enjoying the tea today?
She nodded and reached up to pat his spongy hair with both hands, seeking her face in his. They shared the same golden brown eyes, but his freckles seemed stretched out across his darker skin. Maybe her little pin-point spots would stretch as she grew, too.
Papa, why do you call me Marigold?