The rain was pounding against the roof. Endless. Relentless. Thundering and blinding flashes of fear. She was buried under the covers clutching her ragged friend, Sir Cuddles. She was seven, and she knew nothing more.
Papa came in the room as thunder roared over their house. He saw the lump under the covers with the dim light of a flashlight glowing from within. He sat down on the bed and took the lump in his arms, just as she was. She leaned into him. After a few moments when silence overtook the room, he let her go and she peeled herself from her blankets, just a bit. Her eyes were wide and wild, yet weary and sleepy. But sleep wouldn’t be coming for this one anytime soon. The storm wasn’t supposed to ease up until tomorrow afternoon. The summer had been dry up until now and the rain was desperately needed, even if it meant thunder and lightning and children hiding under blankets.
“Papa, why do the angels have to bowl so late at night? And why does it have to be so loud? Are they taking pictures up there too?”
“You don’t still believe that nonsense, do you? It’s just Mother Nature doing her thing. She had been keeping the rain away from us, and she finally noticed that our land was drying up to nothing so she’s sending us powerful rain. It’s loud and bright, but it’s not going to hurt us. Not when we are safe in our house.”
Papa looked towards the window. The droplets ran like mini racecars all down the glass. A flash of lightning lit up the window like a Lite-Brite. His daughter clutched his hand with all the strength a little girl like her could muster up. That being said, it was a very tight grip. It was still fear.
Papa decided that it was going to be one of those nights; one of those nights his wife used to speak of. The type of night where he would hear her get up to tend to their crying daughter, and he would wake up in the morning to find her snuggled with the child in the other room. He would always be too tired to get up, and his wife knew that. He would work long days and make it home and stay awake long enough to get through dinner before passing out to bed. She would take care of the house, their daughter, everything on the home front. And she didn’t mind it one bit.
Money was tight. Money was always tight. But once they had the child, someone had to make a sacrifice somewhere. He went to his boss to explain the predicament; she to hers. She came home that night in tears because she had been fired for asking for more than she could ever earn. Fortunately, Papa was given the opportunity to work closer to home and make a bit more money each week. His wife never really forgave herself for what happened at her place of work, but she took her job at home quite seriously. She was doing the best she could to raise their daughter, but Papa could only guess at how that was coming along. Seven years after she was born and it was like living with a stranger. Just the two of them at home.
It had all happened only two short weeks ago. His wife and daughter were on their way home with the groceries. It was only a short walk from the house, and Papa was on his way home from work. He drove by the grocery store, knowing that his family was there not long ago. When he turned the corner to their street, he saw sirens and police cars, even an ambulance. He stopped the car for a moment, wondering what might have happened. Did another child get hit by a car because he darted into the street without looking?
He heard a soft, muffled crying coming from behind a police car. He became alarmed when he realized it was his daughter. He jumped from the beat up vehicle and ran to her, questioning how she was, what happened, is everything alright? She had a small bruise on her arm, but that’s not why she was in tears. A police officer came up behind him suddenly, questioning who he was and how he knew the little girl. “I’m her father,” he replied, “Where is my wife?”
The officer looked deeply at Papa, and then his stern face turned sad. He looked away, and then stepped aside to show him the sheet on the pavement. He could see the outline of her body underneath; her slender arms, her long legs. The words echoed through the air: “She was hit. The car’s gone. No one knows anything about it yet. We’re going to investigate. But she didn’t make it. I’m sorry…”
Papa was at a loss for words entirely. He held his daughter’s hand so tight that her fingers were cold, but he was too dumbstruck to realize it; so was she. He got up to walk to the body, but his daughter was fighting him. He kept walking and she started wailing. He released her hand and she fell backwards on the ground and curled into a ball, her teardrops dribbling to the ground. He kept on moving forward until he was a few feet away. On his hands and knees, he went to her. He found her hand, bloodied and still warm.
That was two weeks ago. Now he was left with minimal hours at work and a daughter he hardly knew. How is a man supposed to raise a daughter without the touch of a woman? Seven years is just not enough. It’s just not enough.
Papa tried to let go of his daughter’s hand. “Papa please don’t let me go again.” She said it so quiet it was almost inaudible. “Relax, my darling. I’m going to get a few things and I’ll be right back. I promise.” Her eyes were wild with fear now, but the thunder grew quieter for the moment. As it rumbled off, so did Papa, in search of more blankets and pillows and another flashlight. He returned to the doorway and saw his daughter anxiously awaiting his arrival. She smiled when she saw the things he had brought. “Just like Mama…” she whispered. It only happened two weeks ago.
While he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, he was just going with the flow. Maybe this was the fatherly instincts kicking in. She made room for him on the bed where he was able to build his own mountain of blankets and pillows to surround himself. Together, it was like they had a giant fortress to protect them from the storm, and anything else that might come after them.
The excitement quickly faded from his daughters face. While she was glad to not be alone, she wasn’t entirely familiar with her papa. She wore a look of concern and seemed to be in a mini state of panic. He wasn’t quite sure, but he didn’t like the silence and the feeling of discomfort that was growing between them.
“I brought a book with me,” he said slowly. “It’s a giant book that has all my favorite stories from when I was your age.” She looked up at him, a tear trickling along her cheek. “Mama read this to me all the time.” He was so far out of the loop of her daughter’s life that he hadn’t even realized she knew the stories that were his very own favorites. His classic story book. Suddenly, nothing else mattered.
“Well, what’s your favorite story?”
“The one about the little boy and the rabbit.”
“How well do you know it? Could you tell it to me?” She went quiet at his comment. After a moment she began: “Once upon a time…”
“That doesn’t count!” He smiled. “Here, let me refresh your memory…”
They spent hours up that night, reading stories and making games out of the thunder and lightning. When his daughter finally fell asleep he was able to lay himself down and get some rest too. The next day she was up and out of bed before Papa. He was startled to find her missing from the room, but heard her in the kitchen. He shuffled down the hallway and found a majority of the room with a fine layer of flour on it, and his little girl lost in the mix. She turned to look at him, tears streaking her dusty face. “The kitchen never looked like this when Ma-mama made the pancakes.” And just like that the fact that his entire kitchen was trashed didn’t seem to matter. His daughter was aspiring to be just like her mother, and he knew how amazing a woman she was. And he knew his young daughter was an incredible little girl.
“Why don’t you go wash up and I’ll make the pancakes. Otherwise, you’ll be late for school.”
“Don’t worry; I won’t forget the chocolate chips.” And she was off.
It was going to be her first day back at school since the accident. It was going to be a rough day. The least he could do was put chocolate chips in her pancakes, no matter how unhealthy he thought it to be.
She came running down the hall with clean hands, a clean face, and fresh clothes. Papa flipped a few small pancakes onto a plate and brought them to the table where she was sitting, fork and knife in hand. He drizzled some syrup on top, and she dug right in. “These taste just like how Mama makes them.” She was smiling; a thin line of syrup on her chin. Then her face became serious. “Am I going to be treated different at school, Papa?”
“It’s possible. But you can’t let it get to you. I’m sure everyone knows about it now, and many people, including your teachers, are going to ask questions, apologize, and ask how you’re doing.”
“But what if I don’t want to talk about it? Mama was for me and you, not everyone at school.”
“If you’re anything like your mother, which I’m finding you to be more like her with everything you say and do, you’ll act however you want. You don’t have to tell anyone anything if you don’t want to. But you keep your head up, okay? If you want to cry about it at school, you cry about it. If someone asks you what happened, you can tell them you don’t want to talk about it and walk away. No one is going to get in your way. You’re going to grow up faster than you should.”
The last thing he said really stuck in his head. She was going to grow up way too fast. She was seven years old and she was going to have act older than she was, and there was no doubting that she would. Everyone else had Mama’s shoulder to cry on, but she only had Papa, and he wasn’t always going to be around. Not to mention that she’s said more to him in the past week than she has her entire life.
She was still looking at him when he stopped thinking about it, her head slightly tilted to the left. She was the spitting image of her. “Come on. Let’s get you to school.”
“You mean you’re going to walk with me?”
“I wouldn’t miss a walk with my daughter for the world.”