Three girls (7,5,2) live in the small apartment building next to my house. Luisa, the oldest, is solidly built, with dark curly hair. Shes particularly interested in details how old I am, how many brothers and sisters, the make of our cars; Alana, the middle girl, is slender and fey with dark wavy hair halfway down her back; the youngest, Alissa, is always in a baby carriage that is too small for her. Shes big for her age and has feet like canoes.

Whenever I leave the house the older girls surround me, asking questions and hovering around my baby and dog with cries of excitement. I love your dog! The baby is sooo cute! The yard of their building is mostly dirt and the girls are always coated in dust, dirt tattoos smearing their cheeks and arms. Recently theyve taken to ringing my doorbell throughout the day because they have stuffed animals, books, and toys that they want to give to my daughter. These gifts are all equally soaked in dust and this make the stuffed animals particularly sad as if Sesame Street has turned into a homeless shelter. The last two days Ive come home to find one of these forlorn stuffed animals waiting on my doorstep.

They like to play in my driveway because of the slope and I walk out on the deck to see them riding their scooters and skateboards down the driveway and into the street. I warn them not to do this, and they agree, but the next time I look down, there they are, flying into the street again. When I walk with the baby carriage and the dog, Im surrounded by a buzz of chatter that doesnt leave me for several blocks.

Ive never seen their mother.

They moved here from Santa Barbara around the same time I did. The move, I gather, has something to do with their parents separation (divorce?). They tell me that their father is in Mexico now. Theyve never been there but their father wants them to come and has agreed to pay their roundtrip air fare.

But my mother wont let us go, Luisa says.

Why not? I ask.

Because, Alana says, My mom thinks that he wont let us come back.

[Final Note: A few days after I wrote this, the girls were gone. We were into September so at first I thought that the older girls were in school and Alissa was with her mother or in some version of daycare. Even on the weekends though, nothing: no stuffed animals on my doorstep, no skateboard swoops down the drive, no dust clouds and child shouts next door].

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