Chapter 1 Continued:
At the door to the home I once lived in I still hesitated, not sure if I wanted to go any further. I was a stranger in a familiar place. Her giggle was the most welcoming thing.
I held my breath and rapped on the door. Thinking would get me nowhere. I'd figure it all out as I went. After a long silence, I found myself hoping he wasn't home. That I might back my way out and head for the car and tell Neil this was all a mistake.
The shuffling of feet inside dashed my hopes. A click of the lock, and the door slowly opened. The way the light fell across the door, my father was cast in a shadow of sorts. So much that for whatever brief moment it was, he seemed to be made of shadow. Reminded me of him. A chill wrapped itself around me and I shuddered. He leaned forward, and the shadow fell away from his face. The same face I'd known, lined now with the creases of age. His forehead wrinkled as his brow lifted in surprise. I found myself counting the lines...one, two, three, four...anything to not have to say something. He did not smile.
“Amy,” he said, though it sounded more like a question. He glanced down to my belly, and I instinctively put my hands over the swell and rubbed at the child within. He nodded and looked past me, down the steps to Neil, and nodded again.
My father pulled the door open further and let his hand fall off the knob. Dropping his head, he sighed a heavy sound and moved his hand in a sweeping motion, reluctantly welcoming me inside. He looked a bit thinner, frailer. But time does such things. He wore a worn black and red flannel shirt, the sleeves rolled up to three-quarter length, his belt buckle cinched tight holding up jeans that no longer wanted to fit him, as they hung loosely.
Yet another giggle.
As if she were reminding me. As if I'd forget.
I walked just inside the door and peered into the kitchen. Same as it ever was. Evidence of my mother's artful hand remained as I glanced up to the trim of the walls. Butterflies scattered about. Mid-flight. Reds, blues, yellows, all strewn about a weathered and faded off-white wall. Prettiest part of this room, always had been. I got lost in between the now and the then of it and caught myself before I slipped into another bout. I ignored the butterflies as they began to wiggle their wings and toss their antennas back and forth. They did not move. They would not move, I told myself. All but one, a blue-violet flicker of wings continued long after all the others had stopped. And soon, the last little bustle settled down into nothingness. Normalcy.
A pile of dirty dishes sat by the sink, begging for attention. The smell of hours-old coffee loomed in the air, stale and cold. The bowl of fruit on the table looked past its prime, and one of the oranges had a furry, soggy look. I swallowed hard and belched as silently as I could, the reflux that had plagued me the past few days creeping back up on me. Like a hand clenched around my throat and a weight on my chest, punishing me for anything and everything I ate. I swallowed again and gritted my teeth. A firecracker of an ache shot through my jaw.
How long had I been standing there, just looking around the room, I wondered? I pulled my scarf off over my head and managed to gracelessly remove my coat as well, draped them on the back of one of the seats.
I rubbed my jaw up to the socket, hoping to ease the tension. Finding my voice, I asked him, “What was her name?” My first question both felt right and surprised me.
It surprised my father too. “Who?”
“The little girl. My grandfather's daughter with the golden curls. The sister you never got to meet.”
He stood still by the door, holding it open. “Is Neil coming in?” As if on cue, Neil waved, turned, and walked out of sight.
“He is not.” I heard the car door shut and the engine start. I waited until I heard the sound of him backing the car out of the driveway and away.
I pulled a chair out from the table and settled in. “I'm heavy. You don't mind if I sit?” And if he had minded, it would have been too late. The chair creaked in protest from my awkward pregnant weight as I settled in. The pressure of the baby on my bladder made finding comfort in the chair impossible. I'd soon have to get up and pee. One of my most repeated and tedious chores. I'd never understood those women who said pregnancy was glorious and easy. The women who looked radiant and perky and glowing constantly. Never suffering morning sickness, indigestion, or even a bad hair day. Because that was not me. These past few weeks had been a struggle. Feeling like a turtle flipped onto its back when I tried to get out of bed in the morning. At times lately, Neil had to give me a helping hand or roll me to my side for me to get to my swollen feet.
My father hadn't answered my question, but he did close the door.
He remained facing the door as he finally uttered her name. The sound cut like a wound.
The moment he uttered the name; I knew it was correct. I let it roll off my tongue, “Farrah.” He leaned his forehead against the door.
Little footsteps darted across the creaky wooden floor in the hallway just outside the kitchen. I looked past his shoulder to the doorway. “She's still here, you know. She always has been.”
He shook his head, so subtly that if I wasn't looking for some sort of recognition, I'd have missed it.
I waited for him to speak but he didn't.
“She had beautiful golden curls, a soft button nose, and eyes that twinkled when she was happy. I don't know for sure in life, but when I'd seen her, her skin had an alabaster shimmer. Perfect, like a doll.” I shifted in the hard wooden seat, trying to find a comfortable spot, full knowing comfort would elude me this visit.
“She had a yellow coat, and an orange scarf.” I leaned back in the chair and the old wood creaked in protest. “She loved to run through the halls, tiny little shuffling footsteps. She liked to play hide and seek. Dart through the trees in the back yard, hide in the closet, the basement, too. Ring around the rosies around the maple tree.”
My father pulled out a chair across the table from me and sat. The lines on his face sank deeper with each word I uttered, becoming more and more pronounced. It made his sixty-something years look much older. He brought a hand to his brow and rubbed fiercely.
“Farrah,” I said her name again. “The little girl I told you about. All those years ago when I lived here.” When I said the word “here,” it was so foreign to me. This here, this house, never felt like home. “And when I told you and Mom, you shushed me, looked at me like I was crazy. Like I made everything up or had some strange ailment. Not at all like I spoke the truth.”
His hand moved across one eye and he pressed down, as if my mere words gave him a headache. “Always so strange...”
“Sticks and stones,” I said. No need to finish that nursery rhyme. When I was a child, all sorts of words and names could hurt me, but not now. I felt my mouth tilt up into the beginnings of a smirk as I thought back, almost hearing Lainey comforting me when I'd be insulted or picked on for the umpteenth time. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
His voice came out weak, and my memory washed away. “How could I rectify what you said? What you did? It wasn't natural. It's still not natural.”
I corrected him. “It is natural. Just another kind. One you never understood. And because of that, I wasn't allowed to understand. Instead, I became like a strange girl in the wrong place. I couldn't confide in my mother or my father. Especially my father, because on some level, he knew. Thank God for Lainey. Without her, I would have gone mad. She was the only one I could talk to. Until I couldn't...”
His hand fell away from his head and he shrugged. He opened his mouth, but I continued instead, “I'm not here for blame. I'm not here for hurt.” His shirt faded and changed to green, and that small detail made me doubt myself. Perhaps I'd been wrong about his shirt in the first place. It didn't matter. “I was terrified when I was a child. I think that kept me from understanding. I'm an adult now, and I'm not scared anymore.”
“Why are you here?” He folded his hands together on the tabletop. “You shouldn't be here.”
“Because, after all these years, it's not done. I'm not done.” The weight inside my belly grew heavier and pressed harder on my weary bladder. I sighed. “And I don't think they are either.”