It’s one of those strange days when the cake should really burn in the oven, but there was no flour in the pantry and I’ve subbed gluten-free chickpea powder, which, among various other peculiar properties, does not have the ability to burn. Every time I check on the cake, expecting to find chummus-flavored ash, I find instead my cake, the edges not yet set, the center a liquid bubble bath.
On this particular Thursday, there’s a lot of other activity going on in my kitchen. The laundry is in the process of being transferred from washer to dryer, and because the oven and washing machine stand side by side, I need to concentrate so as not to mix up the contents. My baby is celebrating her three-month birthday by sleeping in one arm, and my the other arm is holding the phone against my ear, my mother on the line. Both arms are tingling, pins and needles.
“It just goes by so fast,” my mother is telling me. “The days are long the nights are long, but the years pass in a blur. You’re chasing toddlers around the kitchen and then, blur, blur, they are out of the house with toddlers of their own.”
I want to tell my mother that the days are long and the nights are longer, and I cannot imagine my tiny bundle a great big toddler, let alone a married woman with a kid all her own. If the days are long and the nights are long, then the years ahead are very, very long. I want to tell her that I think that after very long days and very long nights and an infinite number of years, relinquishing your kids to their spouses in the span of a single wedding night is probably shocking enough to alter the past. Or at least your perception of it.
I do not tell her this, though, because I am tugged into the current moment of time by a smoky oven and a knock on the door. The UPS guy, stands in the entrance, his head bowed to fit beneath the frame, his hands straining beneath a gigantic box that I do not remembering ordering. I make some space in my (chickpea) floury hands for the pen-thing to sign the device-thing. He wishes me a good day and drops the box by the door. It is only after I air out the apartment and put the baby in her swing that I look curiously at the box, which I do not remember ordering, sitting pretty among a jumble of shoes in the entrance.
The blue tape going down the center reads The Children’s Place.
I think back to yesterday and more ancient times, like last week. I do not remember a thing about last week. The fact that I do not recall putting in an order at The Children’s Place is really not an indicator of whether or not I actually did.
I take the box to my bed, cut a slit in the tape and peer inside at a towering pile of clothes. I reach for something neon green, and it unfurls in my hands into a tiered skirt with little watermelons on it. It is size XS kids, and it could be a blanket for my baby.
Beneath it I find a rainbow dress with layers of tulle and a unicorn in the center, size 3T.
I stare at the colorful mix of clothing and then, belatedly, check the label. My neighbor directly above has six children, and I know I’ve seen The Children’s Place boxes at her door.
The box is not addressed to my upstairs neighbor.
It is addressed to me, my name, my address.
A gift is the next thing I consider. But neither my mother nor my mother-in-law, nor anyone else on my friend/family roster, is the type to surprise me on my daughter’s three-month birthday with a box from The Children’s Place full of clothes to last her through first grade.
I take out more things.
The clothes fill my bed, bold and bright, spilling over the blanket.
It’s the stack of black leggings that reminds me about the price mistake. Several weeks ago, there was a WhatsApp message going around that The Children’s Place had made some price mistakes. I’d checked their site, but because it was The Children’s Place, where prices generally did not exceed the single digits, I hadn’t found the savings to be extraordinary. I did think the black leggings would be useful, but I did not have the motivation to retrieve my credit card from my wallet and plug in the numbers in order to buy two pairs of black leggings for $1.99 each, which might or might not arrive.
Perhaps along with the price mistake, there had been an address mistake and they’d accidentally sent me their entire stock.
I continue with my tasks, the mystery tickling the edges of my mind. Later, much later, after the chickpea goop trickles sadly down the sides of the garbage can and the laundry has turned into sweet-smelling squares on the couch, my husband comes home. As he eats, I tell him about the box of clothes that I do not remembering ordering.
As soon as I say, “The Children’s Place,” my husband is out of his seat. I follow him, a little more cautiously.
“There was this crazy sale,” he tells me, “price mistakes. Things were like a dollar. I didn’t think they’d honor it, but it looks like they did.” He dips his hand into the box and pulls out the unicorn. “This, for instance, was $1.79. Look how cute it is!”
I swallow. “Yes, but it is also size 3T.”
“I thought 3T was three months!” The image of my tiny baby stuffed into tulle and unicorns passes through my mind as my husband turns the dress around. “It’s not that big. I mean, it is, but it will fit her one day, right?”