A slight, dry wind flowed through the trees and under the sky, pressing black dresses against long legs, making hair frayed and frazzled. Morning commuters buzzed along the streets. Oblivious to the chaos beyond the windshield. Trapped in the awful moment, a day set aside for teardrops and sorrow, a girl got out of her mother’s station wagon and took a few half steps before shutting the door.
The sound of the door slamming made her younger sister jump out of the daze that the car ride had put her in. Sitting stiff in the brown automobile, her mind was a frenzy of thought. “Soon,” she kept thinking, “soon he’ll really be gone.” In her head were those words she’d heard her father say. An utterance that would haunt her for most of her adolescence, the scene that played in her head, the soundtrack for the terrible sight she had been witness to looped over and over.
Stage set. Air dry. Waking up early to see Tom and Jerry. Stepping down the stairs. Feet sinking into fluffy carpet and the pitter-patter across the hardwood floor to the TV room. Looking for the channel changer. Lifting sofa cushions. Moving pillows. A noise. Downstairs. The cellar. A blur. Standing at the top of the wooden steps. A clank. Crouching to see who was in her house. A sigh. Just Daddy. Phew. Only Dad. She spoke and asked what he was doing. She guessed he couldn’t hear her. Music playing. Floyd. She thought he was busy. She wanted to see the black cat chase the brown mouse. What a funny mouse. She turned from the stairway towards the kitchen. Headed back to find the remote control. Find and click, watch the ‘toon. The music got louder. “…goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today…” A shout. Three hurried syllables. What followed snapped her nerves up her spine like lightning. A break in the silence of the dawn.
Back to now. She was out of the car, her hand in the hand of her sister’s. Follow Mama. Look both ways. Hold tight. The walk across the street seemed to take hours. Dressed up by her aunt, a few dabs of makeup on her cheeks, the innocent child clutched her sister’s hand as they made their way to the cold, brick building. That music, looping, that song, that one song. Why couldn’t she have run back to the cellar? Down the musky scented stairs, descending. She heard it coming. And she wanted to see was a cat chase a mouse on the tube. Innocence overlooked. All she could do was silently blame herself. Rip at it over and over, nothing fit. Emptiness had been creeping in, pushing all else out. She hadn’t said anything since the moment he died. She wished it would go away, but it wouldn’t. Nothing would ever go her way again. A betrayed nine-year-old girl. Walking. Waiting.
The first-born had a confidence about her. Her head was held high, and every instinctual emotion was held back behind a plastic smile. An organ tolled from inside the parlor, and with each toll, the hairs on her neck stood more erect. She knew this strength would not last for the entire day. The prior evening, if the music of her radio would have been dulled, the younger sister whom she shared a bedroom with could have heard quiet sobs coming from the darkness. The crier thought that they were tears of weakness. Every drop she tasted herself slipping away from reality. So many tears poured from those brown eyes. Drain. Spill. Drip out onto the pillowcase. Recalling the nights when storms filled the sky and the clouds cried hard. Hugs and embraces to comfort her. Big arms to wrap up in. Daddy’s arms, Daddy’s bed, Daddy’s girl. Just a memory. His smell lingered in her nose. The pillow was soaking wet.
She’d awoken with crust in the corners. Now was now. Life threw her lemons, and she hated lemons. Her legs hurt. Every step brought with it a searing pain. In her thighs, like she had just run a three-miler. The hurt made its way up her body. She felt a hot rage fill her face. She walked towards the place where she was supposed to say goodbye to an acquaintance that the rest of the world referred to as her father. To her it seemed like goodbye was all she had ever said to her him.
The organ grew louder as they walked, the pavement below was all that the little one looked at, and it would be some time until she gazed upon anything above her line of sight.
Each gripped the other’s hand. Fingers tied nooses as the sisters approached the flagstone steps.