The Carriage

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He sat on the train with the trolley sitting across his leg and on the seat beside him. So far he’d been able to avoid the judgmental eyes of the nosy older women, but he couldn’t ignore their snide remarks. At this hour of the day, they seemed to be the only passengers, so he wasn’t even able to leave the carriage for greener pastures.

“Why isn’t he at school?”

“How old is he anyway? He looks like he just started high school.”

He cast his eyes down to his knees. I’m fifteen! – he wanted to shout.

His tattered shoes stared back at him – a reminder of his current predicament. If it hadn’t been for his best friend, he wouldn’t even have clean clothes.

He heard his stop on the speakers and made his move to leave.

“Go to school!” a voice screamed from inside the carriage.

He balled his hands up around the trolley handles until the whites of his knuckles were exposed. Taking a deep breath, he exited the train and pushed back his tears. As the door closed, he stood still to watch the train speed off to its next destination.

He sniffed the moisture back before starting his descent from the platform to the street.

He wouldn’t have to walk for long; she lived right by the station. In fact, her whole apartment space shook every 20 minutes.

He stood at her door, smile spread puffing out his cheeks and revealing the dimples that she used to love. He’d prove to her today that he should be in her life.

Cries echoed from the other side of the door. The sound pierced the walls of the complex, and he wondered if any neighbors had complained yet. The baby had some lungs.

He knocked and waited and waited some more.

When the door opened, a disheveled girl stared back at him. The baby continued to scream in the crib on the other side of the room.

“Are you going to help her?” he asked, worried.

“No,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

“I… bought you a gift,” he said. “For our daughter.”

“Your dad kicked you out. You’re homeless,” she said with no hint of concern, “How could you afford a stroller?”

“I busked,” he admitted. “Then I sold my guitar.”

“So you think this means you’re a Dad now?”

He bowed his head, “I am a Dad.”

She gave a derisive sniff, “Good for you.”

She snatched the stroller from his hands without a word of thanks and disappeared around the corner. He stood in the doorway, chatting between long silences while she ducked in and out of the room. “Maybe we can go for walks together.” “I’m almost old enough to work. I’ll get a job.” “My friends think they can get me another guitar.”

She ignored him, but when she put the baby into the carriage and grabbed the diaper bag, his spirits rose.

She pushed the carriage to the door. Laden with toys and clothes and bags, it moved slowly.

“Here, Daddy. You can have her.”

There was a wildness in her eyes – a flicker of mania.

“For the afternoon?”

“Forever. I’m done.”

She pushed the carriage out the door. He scrambled to get in front of it to stop her from falling out.

“What are you doing?” he cried.

A slammed door was his only answer.

As his daughter wailed, he looked at her. Her tiny hands, her black hair, and dark skin reminded him of his mother. She was perfect. He lifted her out of the carriage and held her head as he had seen in the movies. With water filling his eyes, he cradled his daughter.

“What now?” he sighed.


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Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

It’ll be ten years next week since you went home. Life is moving on without you, though, and there’s been so much I want to say to you. And so much I wish you could say to me, but for now, this letter will have to do.

I left eleven years ago for Australia – for Wayne. In that time, I’ve changed from the mousy girl, to a fierce, albeit sometimes aggressive, woman. I’m a staunch liberal, I never go to church, and I’m a reforming racist. I’m sure if you were still here you’d see how much I’ve changed. You might even comment on it in the same ferocious tone you used when you told me how disappointed you were in my choice to move away.

As long as I’m being honest with you, though, some days, when my mind wanders, I think maybe your sobriety ended because of me.

Mostly, I just wonder if you are proud of the woman I’ve become. Would it surprise you to know how much I’ve drifted from the ultra conservative, fundamentalist Baptist girl you raised? Or that I don’t watch every movie at the theatres anymore? I don’t read as much as you used to read to me? How much of the girl you knew is still there? Would you still be clinging to the memory of extinct young Mel? Or embracing the change?

I married Wayne; did you know that? I love him. I never had a chance to say that to you. Though I’m sure you knew it. I hate that you never got a chance to meet him or even talk to him. The year between my leaving and your passing was such a short period of time but such a long one too. I regret not forcing you on the phone more when I called. I regret not putting Wayne on the phone to talk to you. I always planned to visit with him at my side. I think you would have liked him.

We did end up visiting, but not for the reasons any of us liked. I still get teary when I realize that the only time Wayne ever saw you in person was staring down at your open casket in that church. By the time we were there, the man I saw looked nothing like the man I hugged good-bye at the airport in May 2006.

Despite all the negatives, I will always be Daddy’s little girl. I still think back with fondness all those hours watching movies on the couch together or the early Saturday mornings before the rest of the house was awake when I’d play Nintendo and yell-whisper at you about my high score. I enjoyed the sound of your voice when you read Tolkien and Heinlein to me. I loved our trips to the donut shop together to buy the yummiest and least nutritional breakfasts for the family. I still talk about your keyboard and all the hours spent with you singing together. I miss being able to call you randomly to sing a song to you to find out who was the artist and the song.

I always knew I was your favorite, even when parents aren’t meant to have favorites.

I knew when I left, it would be you I’d missed most. I just didn’t realize it was because you would be gone forever. I don’t regret leaving. I will never regret that. It’s landed me a healthy life with Wayne, a real career, but most of all, a smile when I get up to face the day. I know despite everything, that’s all you wanted for me.

A month after you left us, I had a dream. You were driving me around Paris, TX, one last time. The buildings were derelict and the streets were barren, but there was a certain calmness to it. You parked us outside an office building, and we went inside for me to get ready for an interview or something. We walked into an almost vacant office and sat to talk for a while. The office window looked out into downtown Paris. I could see the blue sky and the sun breaking through a solitary cloud.

You told me how I would some day ride a horse. I’d get married and feel loved. And that I’d find out who your actual family was, a question you never had the courage to ask.

When you seemed content that everything you wanted to say was said, I started to hum, not understanding what it was at first, but eventually, the music took me away and the words just came out, “At the crossing. Of the Jordan. Why should I be afraid? There’ll be someone there who loves me. To guide me. Across the river. To endless joys above..”

I sniffed and swallowed the growing moisture. Your footsteps were silent, but your gentle pat on my head gave me comfort. I smiled and watched the cloud move across the sun’s face.

“Why did you have to go?” I asked, turning to face you.

But you were gone.

I know it sounds silly, but a part of me wants to believe that was your way of saying good-bye – a part of me needs it to be true.

Love always,

Melly Belly

The Morning Of

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Grandma’s lipsticks line the vanity in varying shades of rouge. Her wrinkled hands tremble, unable to decide.

A baritone sings “How Great Thou Art?” with gentle piano accompaniment.

Henry always loved this song,” Grandma says. Her voice cracks.

I hold my lily and sniff, “We’ll miss you, Grandpa.”

The Scary Tree

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It stood in the northwest quadrant of the front yard – this terrifying tree of unknown origin. It could be seen from every window of our bedroom and the living room, and it looked like a giant clawed hand. We called it the scary tree.

It was an important distinction. There was the boring tree, which couldn’t even be climbed because the limbs were too high up. The crepe myrtle tree bloomed and caused Momma to sneeze every Spring.  The climbing tree in the backyard was our favorite, and the giant tree, that cast a shadow on the house every afternoon, would kill us all if it ever fell.

There wasn’t anything special about the scary tree. It was quite normal during the day, but at night, it was a giant beast, clawing its way back to the earth from somewhere beneath us. We spent many a night averting our eyes from the windows only to hear the scratch of its branches outside. We imagined it coming for us, not because we were terribly naughty, but because we’d seen Poltergeist, and the only things scarier than clown toys were trees in a storm and possessed fathers, a la #2.

Locked in our room together, we’d huddle in a corner away from it, away from everything we feared, but we couldn’t escape it. It brought with it an intoxicating stench. When the lightning would crash and the wind would howl, we knew it was coming for us, or at least, someday it would. Until that day, we would be neither seen nor heard.

The scary tree was there after a late night return home when the silence in the house was not calm or pleasant.

The scary tree swayed at the sound of sirens at midnight or the sobs after a smack.

The scary tree convinced us we were worthless and needed to be taught a lesson, even when it never directly said it to us.

We wondered what life was like outside those four walls, but we never dared to leave or escape it. We just accepted it for what it was – a tyrant.

Back then there was more thunder and lightning than sunshine. (Or at least, that’s what my adult brain recalls.) Storms came frequent and fast, in trumpets and torrents, and we weathered them all – albeit frightened and alone in our little crowd.

The day came, though, when it all ended. The storm of our childhood started to settle down, and sunlight broke through the clouds.

Lightning crashed, shaking the house and our bodies, and the tree splintered in two sending a sweetness into the air. A soberness, as it were.

It wasn’t the same anymore. The claws, the sheer terror of it, was gone. But what it symbolized? That never diminished. It lingered there, a permanent reminder of the storms, until we moved and something else took its place.

 

The Music

Light shines into my charred room and illuminates one tiny patch of unblemished floor. songSomewhere, in the background, a piano plays Rachminoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” – both melancholy and sanguine. All those enchanting chords bounce off the barren four-walled space and remind me something is waiting for me outside. Hope. I touch the light. I feel it’s warmth on my hand. I let a smile spread across my face.

Someone, somewhere, believes in me. I need to believe in me too.

A cloud covers the light, and I’m plunged back into darkness. Stepping into the corner, I touch the walls. Fire has scorched the room. My fire. Anger over my inadequacy will never diminish. I’m in a prison of my own making. The music swells but is swallowed by blackened wood. Faint traces of “Stairway to Heaven” reach my ears and fade.

I will never amount to anything.

I crouch into the corner and tremble. When will this end? I think of all the times I have tried to escape my fate. I am reminded of all the times I failed in some way. I have spent the better part of my adult life being told “You’re so smart. You’ll go places.”, but that hasn’t happened yet. Am I meant to be a permanent reminder to all? You can work hard and do everything in your power to get ahead in life but “in the end, it is about who you know and not what you know.” I have had opportunities to achieve my dreams, and every time I have lost. I’m a failure. Maybe it’s time to give up on moving up?

The clouds fade away, and the light returns. It shines into the other three edges of my self-made cell and touches my toes, my fingers. The tempo changes. It’s a full orchestra – it’s a choir – it’s Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor”.

“You got the job!” I hear over the throng.

Success. I have finally reached the success I’ve craved.

The warmth tries to envelope me, but I inch further into the adjoining walls. I stand rigid as the light creeps closer. It tries to cover me whole, but I won’t let it, shrinking further into that dark recess. Why is my fear and anger of inadequacy still here? Why does it dominate so? I want to be happy.

I want to be happy.

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