The car pulled away and the four of us were left standing on the side of the road in the sunshine. Clara held my hand gently and Andrea held Gideon’s shoulders and smiled down at him.
Gideon looked up at her and squinted into the sunlight. “Neat,” he said jovially. “So, could you guys see into the car?”
His mother and I shared a look of confusion, and we turned to look at our friend’s car as it was still driving away through our neighborhood. Then we looked back at the little man.
“It’s funny for you to look into people’s cars,” he said.
“Oh,” I said finally understanding. “The poor little guy. He’s too short. He didn’t even know who we were talking to. He couldn’t see through the window.” We started walking back towards the house. “Yes, Gideon. It’s funny to see into people’s cars.”
He smiled and kicked away on the tiny balance bike with the wobbly front tire that he has long outgrown but still insists on riding. “Yeah,” he called loudly over his shoulder, “It’s funny. Everyone is either big and fat or tall and skinny when they are in a car.”
We stopped walking and held back our emotions as we called for the boy to kick in a circle and come back. “Okay, um… Gideon,” I said slowly, closing my eyes in a silent prayer for courage, “What in the world are you talking about? Because that was not at all a nice thing to say about anyone. None of that is even true, and it should NOT be funny.”
But the boy was just as surprised as we were. “What do you mean? It is true!” he insisted. “You said you could see. Inside of the car. Everyone was all fat or skinny or all…” and he turned sideways and did a little noodle dance that did nothing to help conversation.
There was a quiet sigh next to me and Clara squeezed my hand. “Dad. He’s not talking about IN the car. He’s talking about … in the car.”
“In the car. He couldn’t see through the window. He’s not tall enough. He could only see the reflection. While you and mom were talking to your friend he was making faces at himself and moving around in the reflection in the side of the car. I saw him doing it.”
“OH!” Andrea and I both said in unison.
Clara nodded, “Yeah. It’s funny really. because I could see both. I’m tall enough to see through the window, but I also could see what Gideon was seeing. You know? It’s weird to be in the middle.”
And I understood what she meant. We walked on together and she continued to hold my hand. Her brother wove a meandering path back towards the house, and we strolled along, like boring adults. Clara right there beside us, peering over the fence into both worlds. I honestly felt sorry for her for a moment as I thought about it. I wish she couldn’t see through the window and instead still danced and saw the world warped and confused in the blue-tinted reflection of an SUV’s car door. I wanted to tell her that the next time a car stopped to talk to us I wanted her to drop to her knees and start making faces at herself while she could still get away with it. Make the most of her time before she is too grown up and becomes blind to things like our distorted reflection in the side of a car.
But these thoughts were interrupted by the sudden realization that Lydia had disappeared just as our friend had stopped to talk to us, and now she was nowhere to be seen. Just as I realized this I saw the little girl on the pink bike rocket out of our driveway about a hundred yards up the street and she joyously launched herself towards us at an amazing speed. Her legs pumped wildly and her head leaned back into the sun, and as she smiled, and she sang out a warbled birdsong melody, and she carelessly closed her eyes as the sun covered her face with bright orange warmth. And as she got closer, I saw that she was no longer wearing shoes. All she had on her feet were a pair of brand new socks made to look like watermelon slices.
“Lydia! What in the world…? Where did your shoes go? You are going to ruin your new socks! We only bought them yesterday and now- this! Why?!”
She skidded to a halt in front of us and her whole body dissolved into a wail of shocked despair. “Daaaad! No! I rode all the way home to take off my shoes just so I could come back and try out my socks with you!”
“Try out your new socks with me? What does that even mean?!”
She ignored this, “And now you are unhappy and yelling at me for it?!” She ducked her head and wept into her handlebars, peddling back towards the house where her shoes lay in two separate locations on either side of our living room floor.
I was left standing on the side of the road debating whether I should walk faster to catch up with her or slower to prolong the inevitable, and then I took a deep breath and smiled, shaking my head.
Lydia dumped her bike in the street in front of the house and danced in her sock-covered feet through the dandelions in the front yard. She seemed to have already forgotten about how her world was crashing down around her. She had turned and her reflection in the car door had already changed again. Gideon dove off his miniature balance bike and chased after her through the grass, reaching out to tackle her and falling giggling under a young tree. Clara watch this, stepping obediently next to her mother and me down the shoulder of the road. Gently, I let go of her hand. “Clara. Run up ahead and make sure your brother and sister don’t wander off, okay.”
Without a moment of hesitation, she darted away in pursuit of her siblings.
“And Clara!” I yelled after her. She turned, running backward to face me. “You can take your shoes off if you want.”
She laughed and ran away even faster.