‘Concentrate...breathe...it will all be over soon.’
That was what she told herself anyway. Not sure if she believed it just yet. It was something her father always told her to think to herself when she felt overwhelmed. Eventually it sounded like the wind began to calm and the plates seemed to have enough weight that they didn’t fall from the cabinets. The storm was passing. Then she heard what she thought to be the screen door slam. Maybe that was the final gust of wind. Strange that she could hear it slam through the wooden door though. As everything seemed to calm, slowly so did she. Her crying reduced to a few weak whimpers and an occasional snuffle, the world seemed to steady itself once again. Maybe the storm had passed completely. Maybe it was over. Deep down she knew that this was just the beginning. Sitting in the now still silence she wondered if she needed to open the door and survey the damage. Before she could make the decision for herself there was a quiet knock on the other side of the door and a familiar voice spoke softly from the other side.
“Sweetheart, are you in there?”
The once firm strong voice of her father seemed somehow broken and choked off as if he was having trouble breathing. Her heart raced in her chest and a cold shiver ran up and down her spine preventing her from responding. More trembles shook through her body. Once again, she buried her head in her arms, hugged close against her knees and more tears fell. A long, sad sigh came from the opposite side of the door. The thin crack of light that shown between the door and doorframe grew until the tiny space was filled with a harsh brilliance. The light was interrupted with the silhouette of a man with sagging shoulders and a lowered head. All she could do was cry, long hard sobs that eventually made no sound. Deep choking sobs that took her breath and she struggled to suck enough air into her lungs. Still trembling, big strong arms wrapped around her and simply held her against his chest. He sat down beside her and held her in silence, gently rocking her back and forth. His own breathing seemed to have a catch in it every now and again. Eventually her crying began to ease a bit once more and he broke the silence.
“Ssshh, it will be okay. Sshhh-shu-shuuu.”
But it wasn’t going to be okay. Everything was falling apart. Even the sound of his voice seemed to fall and crumble. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the living room. Some of the cabinets hung open that once held movies and things. Plates from the kitchen had made their way across the room and were busted on the floor, along with several broken picture frames. The wind must have carried the plates from the kitchen, across the room into the living room. Must have been strong wind. The frames on the floor captured moments of happiness, of smiling faces, of a loving couple holding a small child. Now spider web shaped cracks distorted the images and twisted the faces of the once happy family. The front door was still open, the screen door the only thing separating the wreckage inside and the order outside. It was such a pretty day outside. It didn’t seem to match. Mama was gone. She knew enough to know that. What she didn’t know or understand was why. How could she leave? Had she done something wrong? Could should have been a better little girl and then Mama would have stayed? Maybe if she had shared with the other little girl that had come over, maybe if she had helped Mama more and listened better. Maybe... Her little mind reeled with possibilities though none of them seemed to matter now. Mama was gone and she didn’t know where. A few more tears fell from her eyes marked by tiny wet spots on her father’s shirt.
The soothing motion of her father’s hand on her back brought her comfort and soon the rest of her reluctant tears dried. All that lingered was an occasional hiccup and a few snuffles. After such an event, her body finally relaxed and she sank deeper into her father’s arms. His chest seemed to vibrate as he spoke deep and quiet.
“That’s it, there ya go. It’s alright. How about we head off to bed? I am sure you are tired by now.”
This wasn’t a question, more of a warning before he rose off the couch cradling her in his arms. As he climbed the stairs little droopy eyes opened and closed and looked over the carnage. It seemed Mama hadn’t cared about actually taking all her stuff. Clothes as if tossed in the wind were scattered all over the stairs and on the platform on the landing. The glimpse she got of their bedroom showed open drawers and scattered papers and debris littered the floor. She didn’t understand what was going on, nor why. All she knew was that Mama wasn’t here and there had been a lot of yelling. It was all a blur but she knew that somehow Daddy was right. He was always right.
After reaching her bedroom, he gently laid her down. His face was soft and looked tired, a stark contrast to his normal hard and strong profile. He seemed to focus on the task of tucking her in and didn’t bother helping her into her pajamas. She was wearing comfy clothes anyway. She gave no protest, the events of the last hour had drained her even though she had just been hiding in the closet the whole time. He sat on the edge of the bed for a long time in silence. He just stared at the floor. He tried to speak but there wasn’t much he could say. She reached out her hand and touched his and with a quiet small voice said,
“I love you Daddy.”
Those four small words seemed like bullets against his chest. It heaved and strained against his shirt.
“I love you too sweetheart.”
His voice cracked as he spoke. He seemed so sad. Surly Mama would be back. Then again this had been the worst one yet. After a kiss goodnight, he walked towards the door. He seemed to linger there for a moment as if he didn’t really want to leave. He just stood in the door and looked at her. It seemed odd, he had never done this before. Moments later he closed the door quietly. Heavy eyelids closed and soon she was asleep, oblivious to the grown man crying down the hall.