She was small enough to fit in one of my hands, completely bald but still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. At night, her wails were like torture to me. Siena and I would take it in turns to comfort her, stroke her soft flesh and cradle her against our bosoms. The screaming of our baby was shrill and pierced the air like only the cry of an innocent in pain could. Loud and unrelenting, the shriek continued on as an unwavering note of despair, punctuated only by gasps for breath and wracking sobs. Our baby’s wailings evoked a heat-wrenching empathy within me… and yet the constancy of the sharp, ear-splitting screeches caused my patience- but not my love, never my love- to wear thin.
Her small, pudgy hands shook in excitement before she rapidly pressed them together in a series of noiseless claps. Excitement lit up her face as I rolled the ball towards her; her flushed cheeks lifted in an endearing, clumsy smile and her dark eyes brightened with the joy of reaching for the ball. As the scarlet ball touched the tips of her soft, tiny fingers, my beautiful baby let out a cry of pure and undiluted joy. Happiness burst within me and painted the caverns of my veins with blues and oranges, reds and greens, yellows and purples.
She babbled tunefully as she took her first step. Siena, camera in hand, captured our baby’s first, most unsure and shaky steps that she took on her own. Pride filled my chest as I watched our daughter put one foot in front of the other, her toes wriggling madly beneath pale violet socks. Pride transformed seamlessly into concern as her unsteady legs gave way beneath her. My daughter collapsed, and as tears welled in her eyes and then promptly flooded her face, she let out a loud wail. I gently gathered her in my arms, stroking the soft, dark golden locks that framed her sweet, innocent face. As I began to sing softly to comfort her, my little angel quieted, staring up at my careworn features with dark and curious eyes set in a smooth face that couldn’t begin to comprehend the harshness of the world.
Holding her in my embrace and singing to her gently, I knew that I wanted to keep her face innocent and creaseless forever.
‘Stow-wee!’ Her first intelligible word rang through the house loud and clear, reverberating in echoes. Siena and I froze, our conversation unravelling in its own unimportance.
“Story,” I breathed. “Our angel said, story.” My baby’s full, pale pink lips fumbled around the word as she repeated it yet again. And even though I knew my daughter was merely joining together random syllables in a way that sounded like a word to me, I decided to comply and tell my baby a story.
Sparrow, CeeCee, Teller, and a whole cast of others- borne from deep within the creative recesses of my daughter’s mind- came into existence and became permanent fixtures in our lives. It was Teller who had spilled the apple juice, it was CeeCee’s fault that Mummy’s car keys had gone missing. My little angel spent hours alone in her room, talking to figments of her imagination, playing with people that only she could see and hear. It worried Siena and it thrilled me. Our daughter was a creative, inventive spark of originality and beauty in an otherwise bleak and loveless world. She was a brightly burning candle, and I was a plain, slowly aging moth.
The first hour after she boarded the sickeningly yellow bus to kindergarten was the hardest. No peals of warm, infectious laughter filling the otherwise cold and empty house with the joys of childhood. No tales of flying houses and true love’s kiss lifting the veil of death spilling from her mouth as she sat at the kitchen counter, legs swinging back and forth. No flashes of dark blonde hair whipping around a corner as she ran with all her might from an invisible squad of goblins. No clumsy, off-pitch notes filling the air with her powerful albeit off-key singing.
It was quiet within the house; too quiet… less full of life.
When the school bus that had stolen away my daughter brought her back around midday, she vigorously threw herself into my waiting arms, but without any fantastic tales of new friends made, or of vibrant recess times. My little angel asserted that she never wanted to go back to kindergarten ever, ever again. When I asked her why, my baby began to cry noiselessly. The silence of her sadness was suddenly in sharp contrast with how she used to shriek when she cried, and how only yesterday she couldn’t stop loudly inventing fables to an amused audience of Siena and I.
I looked at my daughter as she spoke, “A boy at school said that the stories you tell me at night aren’t true. The fairies, the magic, the underwater kingdom, the little girl who saved the village… all of it. He said none of it was real.”
My heart skipped a beat, and it was almost as though the weight of a bowling ball had fallen onto each of my shoulders. I bent down and kissed my little girl on the forehead. She was wonderful, my daughter- a peaches and cream complexion, dark gold hair, and curious eyes behind which lay the biggest, most radiant imagination in the world. And here she stood- eyes pink, puffy, and bright with unbidden tears.
I noticed that between her eyebrows, there was a crease. I tried to smooth it away with my thumb, but there it was, and there it would stay.
My baby had a crease on her face.
“Of course it’s real, angel!” I exclaimed, injecting false confidence and cheer into my voice.
“It’s all real?” my daughter breathed, her dark eyes finding mine, suddenly filled with renewed hope. “Do you promise?”
“Of course it’s real, angel,” I repeated, forcing a smile to light up my limp features, “I promise.”
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Twenty six on friday -storybook / favorite childhood book edition. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2015, from http://www.theredballoonphotography.com/blog/twenty-six-on-friday-storybook-favorite-childhood-book-edition/