A short memoir in colorful pieces.
“Hurry, Daddy! Hurry!”
She jumped up and down, stamping her small boot-clad feet on the wooden floor of the makeshift trailer. Her father chuckled as the little girl plopped down expectantly, looking around at the large field in which they sat. Every day, without fail, when he came home from work she would beg him to take her for a ride.
She clapped her hands at the sound of the tractor engine revving up. Her eyes sparkled with excitement. As the wheels moved over the rough terrain, she giggled. The fresh air was like a breeze, lifting her blond curls gently, tickling her skin.
She took in the blue of the sky with childish wonder, stretching her hands as high as she could, mimicking the spreading branches of the trees around her. A small yellow bird fluttered past, and she craned her neck, watching it disappear into the dense forest.
As the trailer passed beneath an apple tree, she reached up to touch a low-hanging fruit. She didn’t really want one; she just wanted to feel its untainted skin sliding beneath her small fingers. Unable to reach it, she giggled as they left the pretty orchard behind, moving through the trees into the meadow. Wildflowers and tall grasses delighted her. There were yellows, pinks and blues of varying shades and sizes.
She loved to wander among the flowers, but this was even better.
Midfield, the trailer gave a sudden jolt. The girl’s breath caught in her throat as she was thrown to the floor. She watched wide-eyed as her father kept driving, unaware the trailer had come unhitched. No matter how loud she screamed, he kept moving further and further away. She huddled in the corner of the trailer, tears streaming down her small face.
He’d left her.
She knew when her father saw her math test that he would be upset. She really did try, but he never listened. She just never really understood numbers, especially when letters got mixed in. It became confusing, because why did the letters even need to be there?
He sat in the kitchen, clenching a can of beer in one hand and her test in the other. “You…are so stupid,” he growled through clenched teeth. His eyes were bloodshot; a day’s worth of drink ran through his veins. Ice flooded hers as his voice rose.
“Any idiot could understand this. How do you not get it?” he screamed, slamming the paper on the table as he stood. His chair skidded backwards, hitting the dark wooden cabinets. “You’re a horrible, worthless excuse for a daughter. I can’t believe your mother stuck me with you kids! No one could love such an ugly, stupid thing like you,” he spat, lips curled in a snarl of disgust.
“Get to bed. I can’t stand the sight of you right now,” he snarled.
Head hanging low, the girl trudged through the dining room, climbing the steep staircase, being careful to avoid the one noisy step. Reaching her room, she quietly closed her bedroom door.
A roughly-constructed wooden bed was crammed into the far corner. It was neatly made, covered with a thick tattered quilt and a soft, plush pillow. Sitting on the bed, she tucked her legs beneath her and stared out the window at the snow-laden street below.
Her eyes were itchy and tired from crying. If she was worthless, if she was as bad as her dad said she was, then maybe it would be better for him if she didn’t exist anymore. She was a burden on him.
If her own father couldn’t love her, then no one could.
“So we’re decided, then?” she said to the twelve-year old boy sitting beside her. The flavors of the cinnamon and sugar lingered in her mouth, though the topic of their conversation had quickly turned the sweet taste sour. A tear trickled down her cheek as she took a deep breath, looking into the boy’s bright blue eyes.
“ We’re moving out of Dad’s house and in with Mom.” He nodded forcefully, then looked up at her, an earnest, sad look in his young face. “I didn’t know he was hurting you.”
She wiped another tear, pulling herself together. “It’s okay. I should have known he was hurting you too.” She hugged him, and felt his tears seeping into her t-shirt.
He whispered “I would have tried to stop him.” He pulled away, swiping at his eyes with long fingers.
She shook her head, brown hair swinging past her ears. “It’s not your fault, and it’s not my fault. He hurt us. It’s his fault.”
“But if we move in with Mom, won’t we have to tell Dad?”
She smiled to reassure him, seeing the fear in his small freckled face. “Mom will probably do that. It’ll be okay.” Her voice held more confidence than she felt.
The boy smiled halfheartedly and nodded again. “Okay.” She knew he was still unconvinced, still afraid. His face reflected her feelings, but she couldn’t let him see her own fear. She needed to be strong for both of them now.
“I promise, we’re going to get out of this,” she swore to him. She led him back to the pastry shop. His eyes lit up at the sight of the freshly-baked cinnamon rolls. She wanted him to know she would have given the world for him, but this was all she could do at the moment. They got in line and she bought two, carrying the sticky sweets back to their table.
Glancing at the young boy beside her, she watched as he licked sugar from his fork.
In that moment, she knew that she would do everything in her power to protect him.
Raindrops pattered the pavement, soaking the young woman’s clothing. She barely noticed. A group of people stood with her, silent and somber. Someone she didn’t know spoke words of reverence over the ashes of the young man they’d just placed in the ground.
Until this moment, she hadn’t believed it. Until she’d actually seen the bag of ash, she’d clung to a crazy hope that somewhere, somehow, he was still alive. That this was all some elaborate hoax, or the worst nightmare of her life.
She stared down at the grave, bitter tears pouring from the ragged, bleeding hole in her heart. Dimly, she recognized that she was supposed to speak some kind of benediction. But shock and grief had stolen her voice. She shook her head, long wet brown locks swinging heavily as she did so.
The priest finished, and the rain-soaked group began to disperse, heading for their respective vehicles. Someone called her name, and she turned to follow. As she reached the car, it occurred to her she was leaving him.
She was leaving him, cold and all alone.
Something broke within her. A sudden, terrible scream ripped from her throat.
Hoarse, she pushed away from the car, her feet slipping on the wet grass as she ran back to the young man’s grave. She fell on her hands and knees, tears blurring her vision, mingling with the August rain. Her sodden fingers stroked the cold nameplate softly.
She hadn’t kept her promise to protect him. And now it was too late. She whispered her regret and sorrow, with all that was left of her heart.
“Please, forgive me. Please, come back. I can’t…you can’t be...” She couldn’t even bring herself to speak the word.
He was dead, and she couldn’t say it.
Sitting on the deck, she sipped coffee from her favorite mug as she watched small birds flit to and from the bird feeders. Today she just couldn’t seem to escape herself, she mused with a frown.
Taking another sip of coffee, she watched a ruby-throated hummingbird hover, its luminescent wings beating furiously as its long beak dipped into the juice feeder. She glanced down at the iron-wrought table next to her. A small wooden box lay in the shadow cast by the trees. “They’re yours now,” she whispered as she opened the lid.
“Are you sure?” came the soft response. The voice was gentle, but it made her jump all the same. “Once you hand them over, you cannot put them back.”
Tilting the box into the sunshine, she watched as the light danced off the contents. Four jagged shards of stained glass lay together, images of her long-gone days. Black spots marred the varied colors. She brushed a fingertip along the edges of the darkest piece.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Their sharpness still hurts you.”
“They don’t exactly make anesthetic for slivers that size.” She rubbed the scars over her heart unconsciously. “But I don’t want them inside me anymore, so they’re yours.”
The soft voice rolled like water through her, soothing the wounds and giving her a long-needed sense of peace. “As you wish.” The blackened glass fragments slowly began to dissipate, leaving no trace.
Alone once more, she set the now-empty box on the table beside her and leaned back in her chair. It was a cool, comfortable day. Birds sang their songs, and in the distance she heard wind chimes on the breeze. Leaves overhead rustled in their branches.
With a relaxed smile, she closed her eyes.
She’d seen enough for now.