A man is visited by the child he may or may not have had.
|The pitter-patter of little feet tells me that I should just turn off the computer. No writing tonight. I glance back over my shoulder to see her short, fat legs disappearing into her long, pink nightgown. You get used to looking at the floor first when she comes. It's the safest place to start. My eyes crawl up the ridiculously happy cartoon visage on the front of her bedclothes. Reluctant to travel any further up, I focus on that image. The people who make these characters must be just phoning it in now-a-days. Nothing even remotely resembling originality. It looks like every Disney character got thrown into a blender and this is the part left over at the bottom that no one wanted to drink. It doesn't matter. This generic fuzzy animal may well be the last "happy" thing that I see tonight. I will remember it.
Getting sidetracked. Even if that was the point, she won't be ignored forever. My eyes sneakingly steal a glance at her face and then plunge back down into the flannel g-rated sanctuary.
Tonight won't be so bad. She's wearing the sweet little girl face tonight. Maybe the nightgown put her in a good mood. Good's probably too strong of word.
"Hey daddy" she whispers with something that might turn into a smile on her cherubic face. "Hey baby" I reply, finally settling my eyes on her little girl mask. "Can't sleep?" I say and watch as her lip rises in a bemused expression. "Daddy, it's you that can't sleep." True. Although I will try to hide it, she already knows she's right. "No babe, I'm not sleepy. You caught me writing." Her head maneuvers sideways to see the computer screen behind me. "Daddy, your cursor is in the same place it was last night." Smartass... she reminds me of me. "How can you possibly see the monitor from where you are?" I ask. "Daddy, I don't have to see the monitor." she replies dismissively and starts to paddle over to me on her stubby legs.
I think with that statement, she's giving me a way out without embarrassing myself too greatly by losing an argument with a three-year-old. I hold out my arms to her and slide her up onto my lap, lazily letting the swivel chair turn us back around towards the computer. I guess tonight she just wants what everyone wants when they feel a little lonely. I wrap my arms around her small frame still cushioned with baby-fat. Tucking her head under my chin, we sit still and just let time pass. What's she thinking about, I wonder? Pulling my head away ever so slightly to look down, I lock gazes with her endless brown eyes and see a mischevious grin beginning to form on her face. I can't help but smile back at her. When she's happy, the feeling seems to seep into me as well. I guess that's to be expected, given the situation.
You know the more I think about it, the more I realize that she is the only genuinely happy thing in my life. Not to say that it's all giggles and grins. That is most decidely not the case. But every happy feeling that I can remember is with her. I mean true happiness, not the crap "hallmark, Norman Bates/Rockwell opening the presents on Christmas day" happy, or the "thinking of the old memories of the One and I doing adult things that make your head seem like a jerkoff theatre and leave you with a distasteful feeling" happy. No, I see in my little girl, parts of me that I like the best. Hell, even parts of her mother. Sometimes it's almost like I could be great if I helped make someone so special.
It doesn't last though. Nothing ever does. Reality sets in, and reality isn't pretty like my sweet little girl's face. Sometimes I think that it's thinking about reality that makes it happen. I could live in my paradise dreamworld forever if I just don't think about it. But I always do. My dreamworld becomes a nightmare I can't wake up from, or is it that I just won't let myself? No use worrying about it. By the time I think not to think, it's too late. I know that when I look down at her, a new form of reality will be here. It already is. All I have to do is look down. I don't want to, but I will every time.
There's a million other things my can mind can think of. I feel like I would give anything to attach myself to another thought.
I can feel her growing cold against my skin. I don't have to see it to know what's happening. She's changing color. She's getting bitter and angry and cynical. She's dying.
My mind is racing, trying to find anything to hold on to. I know it's too late, but I have to try. I know that she's going to look up at me very soon and my hell will be here.
Why fight the inevitable? If it's going to happen, why not just let it happen? If you ask these questions, you have never had to watch your child die before. I have to watch it every night. Maybe watching my daughter decay is a better way of putting it. Could you deal with that? An even better question. If you knew it was going to happen, would you turn her away?
With a resigned sigh, I loosen my grip on her and look again upon the face that I know has changed.
Gone is the baby-fat, the healthy glow, the innocence. Replaced with skin colored a sickly greenish yellow pulled too tight around bones no longer covered with muscle. Looking into her all-too-knowing eyes, I see the horrors of death and the nothingness that awaits us all. The only remnant of before that still exists is her smile, though even that has been corrupted into a tortured sneer as if she knows what seeing her does to me and enjoys it.
"Hi daddy" I can't help but stare at her jaw when she talks. It seems to be hanging on by the skin but strangely her voice isn't affected. "Hi baby" I reply. My first instinct is to recoil from her but this passes quickly everytime. She is my daughter, after all. Decaying or not. She looks like a zombie in one of those low budget cheesy horror movies that are always better then their billion dollar hollywood remakes.
"Does it hurt?" I ask her again, like every night before. Her smiles widens to reveal her rottting teeth before she replies "More than you can imagine" Guilt immediately begins to flood my mind. It crashes up against the walls of excuses that I have built and threatens to rise above but ultimately stops before breaching. My eyes tear up as the feelings begin to subside to a more manageable level. "I'm sorry" is all I can manage to say before I have to break eye contact with her.
I can hear the familar way her jaw cracks when her smiles fades. I'm not sure why my brain latches on to this everytime but it does. That jaw clack, it's there all the time. Just some sort of deformity that makes a small barely noticeable sound. But to me.. it's a kind of sanctuary.
Whatever has happened to her, it clacks. Whatever I have done, it clacks. Despite the things she will do to me, it clacks. She is my daughter because of that clack. In sickness and in health. In life and in death.
With a sickening sound of a clump and click rolled together, she slides off my lap and her decomposing feet hit the floor. She's facing away from me and I can see where bits of her beautiful brown hair have pulled away from her. I ache to hold her again but the chill that she gives has only just started to fade. Distance can do nothing, however, for the dread curling up in my stomach in anticipation of the biting remarks that will no doubt be aimed my way.
As if on cue, her bittersweet voice chimes in as she stares again at the computer screen. "Writing anything good tonight, daddy?" The lies come by reflex now. Why do I even bother? "Haven't been writing that much tonight, sweetie." It seems to be what she's waiting for as I am rewarded with another dentist's nightmare of a grin. "You haven't written anything at all." My face gives away the slightest hint of a cringe before I can stop it. "Oh? I guess it's all in my head, darling. Just haven't typed it out yet." My mind's been as empty as the salt flats all night. Jesus, if I wrote as much as I lied I could have penned another "War and Peace" by now. She smirks at me "What is it you've been thinking about? Maybe I can help you sort it out." She's got me now and she knows it. No one ever said I was good at lying, just that I do a lot of it. My eyes frantically search the room for anything to say, but just as she gets me, she lets me go again.
Turning away from me, she heads into the kitchen and starts to rummage through the fridge. "Daddy, we need to have a talk." She turns around, a green sippy-cup clasped in between the ghoulish menagerie of leathery skin and bones that used to be her fingers. I look into those eyes that light left so long ago as she raises the cup to her blueish lips and drinks deep. Spoiled liquid that has been in my refridgerator for far too long makes its way down her throat and starts to collect on the floor as it seeps through the gaping hole that used to be her midsection. Her now tattered nightgown no longer hides these details from my ever-searching eyes. Each wound she has is a reminder of the things I have done to this once beautiful, perfect, little girl. The sweet overripe smell of her rotting flesh that fills my nostrils is a reflection of the inner decay of my soul from the guilt that destroyed it. Maybe I shoulder too much of it. Maybe I did do all that I could do, although it doesn't feel like it. I do know that wherever her mother is, the guilt never finds her. So I will take it all. To do any less is a betrayal to the all-too-alive memory that is my little Belle. I shall not hurt her again. She deserves that much at least.
Her lifeless eyes are locked on me. I can feel their frigid gaze chilling me to my core. Avoiding that, I look at the puddle of rancid liquid that her toes are absently playing in. I need to buy her some more juice. With that thought I can feel my stare becoming vacant as my mind goes deep. I never bought her any juice. A furtive grasp for hope in that moment. An ounce of self-preservation desperately clinging to a truth that means everything and ultimately nothing.
Tomorrow, after each agonizingly infinite second of the night has played out and the sunlight finally struggles its way through the blinds covering my window, I will open the fridge and see the truth that I already know is there. My refridgerator isn't holding any juice. It never has.
Try as I might, I can't seem to draw any comfort from this. In fact, I can't begin to comprehend what this means at all. It doesn't matter anyway. As my eyes regain focus and I once again stare into those cruel eyes of hers, I know there is no escape. Despite the facts, despite where she came from, she's not going anywhere. This is the only truth there is.
Cup no longer in her hands, she's looking up at me with an expectant look on her face. Where has her drink gone? Can't dwell on it another second. She's getting impatient. No longer in this world. No longer in my mind. "What do we need to talk about, baby?" My own voice sounding strangely alien to me. Raspy, almost too quiet to hear. But she does, of course. She hears without me even saying it. Why the fuck is my refridgerator empty?
I think I could sleep tonight if I knew the answer. That's all I want right now. Four hours of "sort of deep, no dreaming" sleep.
Nothing new here. Every night I am struggling to wrap my brain around some life-changing revelation. The same murky confusion sets in every time and leaves me helpless, waiting for the cold clarity of morning that I won't remember when the sun goes down again.
Turning abruptly away from the comfort of thoughts by the feeling of frozen finger bones seeking an entrance into my hand. I know her cold gaze is staring up at me. I relax my grip to allow her entry and then clench her hand tight, hoping to let some of my warmth seep into her, while at the same time, praying for some of her chill numb to come into me.
With literal baby steps, she leads me back to my desk and a gentle tug from her brings me down into my chair. My hands travels down under her arms and I lift her tiny frame up into my lap. I feel the small bit of wasted brown hair that she has left, tickling the bottom of my chin. Looking down at her head, I peer through a hole in her skull and see the backside of her eyeball staring lifelessly ahead. The phantom bits of food that I haven't eaten pull tight against my stomach when I see that eye turn around to gaze up at me through the gaping cavity that once held her precious brain. The sudden revulsion forces my head away and I feel her fingers tighten in a death-grip on my own. "Why am I here, daddy?" her babysoft voice throws at me.
The first line of defense for a parent (even one in a circumstance such as mine) is always to lie. Shield them from the truth. The truth hurts. No one wants their child to hurt.
This lie is exactly what my mind is formulating when she speaks again. "Why am I here, daddy? Why do you make me come here every night?"
This catches me completely by surprise. Make her come? My mind is still fumbling with the stale lie of before. "You are here because your parents loved each other very much" A bit sappy, I have to admit. I can tell as her face's reflection on the monitor fills with disgust, that she is having none of it. Neither am I, for that matter.
Make her come? I don't make her come. That's the hardest thing to deal with. She's my own daughter and most of the time all I want is for her to go away. Being around her is worse than my own death. Has anyone ever wanted this girl? Even in the womb, she was bombarded with hate. The half-heard arguments and tear-filled pleadings of myself to her mother were the first and only words that this poor child ever heard.
She is perhaps the loneliest creature ever to have been. Her last moments in her mother's belly, sitting in an abortion clinic, haunt the darkness behind my eyes whenever I close them. Death came to her naive frame and I wasn't there for her. I tried everything. There was nothing else I could have done. My most oft-repeated lie. The one that I wish weren't true.
I'm staring down at her again as she closes her eyes and slips away from me. Just like she does every night. Just like she did in that clinic. Maybe she is here because of me, but how do I let her go again? Can I? Would I do it if I could?
Emotional exhaustion pulls at me and I can't see through the tears I don't let myself cry. Carefully I gather her still form into my arms and carry her to the bedroom. She doesn't weigh anything but my body is relieved of the heaviest burden that it has ever had to bear as I lay her down on the bed and gently brush the hair out of her face. I kiss her forehead softly and rise up. One tear falls to the floor when a clump of her hair pulls back with my hand.
I will be here for her now. Like I wasn't there before. It's too late, I know, but when you love someone, you will do anything to make them not hurt.
I can't stay awake anymore tonight. There will be no writing. I know this as I make my way to the other side of the bed. My eyes can no longer hold back the red feelings and I begin to cry when my body touches the mattress. It is through the moist prism of my tears that I see her rosy-pink hand reach over to grasp my own. A smile forms on my lips when I feel the warmth of her life in my fingertips.
"I love you daddy." she whispers into my ear. "I will see you tomorrow."