Our children haunt our hearts with joy and agony. We bleed for them and kiss their wounds, wishing we could take their pain. Nothing surpasses our love for them, not time or space, nor even death erases a child once made. -Julie Kusma
The steam billows from my coffee, and his face becomes obscure. A veil, like the invisible one between us, is palpable and real. Our perceptions of each other are always full of clouds, but I never pretend to be someone I’m not. The caring man I met, the one who took me under his wings, he’s gone. Cruelty replaced his tender words.
He eats his eggs, all smothered in ketchup, without a word to me. I wonder what I saw in him; I can’t think of a single thing. I’m blank, especially now that I understand his true feelings. How can a woman care for a man who doesn’t acknowledge her daughter? Impossible, that is if she loves her child, and I do, with my entire being. I plan to protect her at any cost.
His fork screaks across his plate. No viable reason why I said yes and moved in with him. Except, I’m supposed to be here. The certainty of fate calling one to act. I had that, and I know I’m meant to live in his house. Now, I realize, not with him.
Jim glances at me, and I look away. I guess he felt my stare. Maybe, he read my mind or sensed my growing animosity.
I turn, glance over my shoulder, and smile. Such sweetness exudes from her little cherub face, and the softness of her voice makes my heart melt.
“What’s that about?”
“Nothing. I just remember something I need to do.” She’s probably ready for a clean gown. Or, she’s hungry. What if her appetite is back? How wonderful if she can eat.
In my haste, the mug clanks on the side of the porcelain sink. Please, don’t stand. I hold my breath as I anticipate a screech from the chair legs on the floor. Jim doesn’t move. “Sorry.” I slip out of the kitchen before he reacts.
I hurry down the hallway toward the last bedroom on the right. Jim wants to use the space for storage. The first moment I stepped inside, I deemed the place magical. This is my daughter’s room; this is Angel’s domain.
Her door is closed, the way Jim likes it. At night, after he’s asleep, I open it. I don’t want her to consider herself a prisoner trapped or chained to this house. She’s been too weak to leave her room, but I want her to know she’s free to roam about.
Quietly, I turn the doorknob and peek in. “Angel?”
She isn’t in bed. This brings me joy because this means she’s rallied her strength. I lay out a fresh cotton nightgown, fluff her pillow, and wait.
In one corner, where the two outside walls meet, the floral wallpaper is torn at the seam. I want to peel more back. Jim says the old Victorian paper is fine and instructed me to leave it alone.
He won’t spend the time to scrape it off. And, he won’t pay for someone else to do the job. I offered my help, but he displays so little patience for me and even less for Angel.
Quiet, I close the door and rush to this corner beside her bed. I kneel. With care, I lift the tattered edge below the faded bouquet of roses. Her name is scrawled in black crayon, and I giggle at her backward “e.” I trace each letter with my finger and whisper her precious name three times.
The purity of her voice makes me cry. “Yes, my dearest.”
She rushes to me and envelopes me with love.
“I bought a beautiful dress yesterday. Would you like to see it?”
She retracts, and my heart begins to ache. Now, she’s upset with me, too. Stupid of me. She can’t leave the house. Why would she want a stiff ruffled garment? All I wish is for her wellness. I would give her my life if I could. My tears flow faster. “Mommy wants you to be happy. You don’t have to put on the silly thing.” She vanishes through the bathroom doorway.
“Are you talking to someone?” Jim blocks the only way out.
I say nothing.
“You’re crying again.” He moves.
His boot heels scuff the wooden floor as he races toward me. His hands grip my arms, and he lifts me to my feet. I want to evaporate. I want to hide wherever she is.
“This has to stop.” His eyes penetrate mine. “Are you listening to me?”
Motionless, he holds me tighter and shakes me with his next words.
“You’re scaring me, Lynde. Look at yourself.”
He whips me around and pushes toward the bathroom. I dig my heels down, I can’t let him. Angel is in there. I continue to resist, but he raises my entire body off the ground and shoves me through the doorway. As soon as I’m in front of the vanity, he lets go of me.
I fall against the marble top. When I push myself up, my eyes dart across the mirror, searching for her. I glimpse my face, my wild hair, and the smears of mascara under each eye. Marks, in the shape of his fingers, remain on both my upper arms and garner my full attention.
I glance at him. Defeat shows in his expression. I turn to him. “I’m sorry, Jim.” I reach my hand to touch his face, and he steps back.
“This room isn’t good for you. Something about it makes you crazy.”
“I’m not sick.” I rub my hair down in an attempt to appear more kempt. “I just want to be with Angel. Why can’t you understand that?”
She appears out of nowhere, right behind him, and grins at me. “My daughter.” I smile and point at her.
Jim looks back in her direction. “Goddammit, Lynde. Nobody else is here.”
He walks out but pauses outside her room. He doesn’t turn around. “If you won’t stop this nonsense, you leave me no other choice.”
“What are you doing?” I follow him as he stomps through the living room and into the kitchen. The screendoor smacks against the frame, and I wince. He’s headed for the shed. I keep an eye out. He comes out with boards piled in his bent arms and hammer fixed tight in one hand.
I cry out a warning to her.
He barrels past me, knocking me aside.
At the end of the hall, the armful of lumber drops to the floor. A banging on a nail raps a frightening ring in my ears. I run to her room.
“Stop it!” He doesn’t listen. First, I tug on his shirt, then I reach for his arm. The hammer’s claw rams into the back of my hand and rips my flesh. The pain causes me to stagger back.
He secures another board across her door.
“You can’t lock her in there.” I rush at him. “You’re cruel!”
He keeps hammering like I’m not there. Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Jim, I beg you. Please stop. I need her.”
I crouch in front of him and wrap my fingers behind one of the boards. I pry with all my might. The nails are too deep. I scratch around the steel heads until my fingernails tear, and I bleed. My body moans like a feral animal, frantic to gain entry in the space.
Finished, Jim steps back. I continue to dig at the nails. “Angel?”
“I can’t do this with you. Not anymore.” He moves away. “I’m going to my brother’s. You can have a couple of days to gather your stuff and get out.”
I won’t. Angel isn’t strong enough to leave this house. He can’t do this to us. “Angel?”
“Lynde, you need some professional help.”
I turn around and spot the hammer lying on the floor. I grab it. “Angel!”
She roars through the closed door like a freight train’s wheels on a track. She’s a phantom in full spectral form. Her cherub face is like a demon’s. As she passes, an urge overwhelms me, and I toss the hammer. It spins through the air. Her speed propels the tool faster until it rests in the back of his head. He drops to his knees.
I run to him, clasp the wood handle, and pull, but the claw is lodged in his skull. Blood seeps beneath him and spreads towards me.
“Oh, sweetie. Now we need a new daddy.”