Looking into the mirror I see my Mommy’s eyes. It’s the only thing of hers I’ve seen in a long time besides all of the colourful perfume bottles on her table. My Daddy still hasn’t thrown them away; I think he likes looking at them. I put lots of her purple powder on my eyelids and knock over a little blue bottle when I put the powder back. I tried to pick it up but I ended up knocking over another bottle so I gave up and went for the lipstick. I wanted to put it on like she did. I wanted a part of her to be with me tonight. I laughed and put the lipstick back when I got it on my cheeks and nose. Daddy wouldn’t like the mess, but he is usually happy on the nights we go listen to the music, so I wasn’t worried.
Daddy took me to the music a lot after the loud people took Mommy away in the white truck.
“Mommy had an accident and she just needs to rest,” he told me. After that we could only see her in a big building with bright lights and more loud people but she was always so sleepy she couldn’t talk to us. I tried to remember what she always told me to say when I was sad, “count backward from all your smiles, remember your happy days.” But we can’t visit her anymore—Daddy says they won’t let us in. I cried a lot the day he said that and I still miss seeing her. I miss Tax too. He came to our house a lot after mommy went away. He made me laugh and asked Daddy a lot of funny questions like, “did you and your wife have alterpications often?” or something like that. I was so scared the first time he came to our house that I don’t remember much. But I do remember his big, black tie that looked like a snake that wanted to bite me. He laughed when I wouldn’t get close to it and he would flip it over his shoulder like a scarf. I liked his tie better like that; it showed the pretty, shiny thing in his jacket better too. I like shiny things.
After that he told me to go and play in the other room so I grabbed my teddy bear Mommy bought me and left. I don’t remember all of the questions I listened to at the door but I remember he used lots of big words.
“Who was that man Daddy?” I asked when he left. He told me it was just the tax man and not to tell anyone. Maybe Tax could go to the next music with us. Daddy has fun when we go. I think he thinks about Mommy.
The music is nice but I like watching all of the sticks flying around and the people’s crazy eyes. They make me and Daddy laugh. This time his smile looked different though. He kept staring at the lady in the first row with a pretty instrument as big as she was. She looked like Mommy. I asked Daddy what it was and he already knew what I meant,
“It’s a cello,” he said.
“A Chelloo…” I repeated. It was a pretty word, almost as pretty as the lady.
It was already time for the break and Daddy started walking away—I didn’t even remember hearing music.
“Daddy wait!” I yelled after him, he was looking in the crowd and didn’t hear me. I stood and followed him. Then I saw her. The lady playing the cello was walking down the stairs in her sparkly black dress. Daddy walked over to me and said we would be playing our game again and I needed to get into position. So I did. When she walked by, Dad grabbed the cello lady’s neck and covered her mouth. The game was on! He pushed her into the bathroom with the picture of a little man on it and I stood watch. My favourite part of our game was watching the people while I waited. Like the old lady walking by that smelled like apples. And another lady with a doggy in an orange vest. I wanted to go pet it but I didn’t want to leave my spot and lose the game. When everyone started walking back in I wondered if my Dad was almost done; the game didn’t usually go this long. I walked up to the door to knock and it swung open.
My head was really hurting when I opened my eyes. I was in the front seat of Dad’s car with a big bump on my forehead and my favourite teddy bear in my arms. I looked over at my Dad; his knuckles were white like my teddy bear's from gripping the steering wheel. He didn’t look over at me. His eyes were looking at the darkness through the windshield. I looked behind me; the cello struggled in the back seat and hit the doors when we turned. It made lots of loud noises when that happened—like it needed help. Dad must have made new rules to our game I guessed.
We passed the turn to our house.
“Dad, didn’t we…” I started, but he interrupted me, “Caroline, don’t talk right now,” he said. He didn’t even look over at me.
I gave up asking questions and tried to ignore the cries of the cello. He drove for hours before he parked in a forest with the tallest trees I’d ever seen. When he pulled me out of the car it smelled like Christmas. He threw my teddy bear at me and slammed my door shut. Then he threw open the back door and pulled the cello out by its neck. My knees started shaking and I couldn’t stop them; my Mommy’s powder started riding my tears like horses down my face. I remember when he used to act like this with Mommy. Count backward from your smiles, I reminded myself. (1) My fifth birthday and all my candles. (2) Going to the beach with sand in my toes. (3) When…
“No crying” my Dad said. “Grab your bear and follow me.” I nodded quickly and wiped the horses off of my face—turning my hands purple.
Dad started walking and I followed my orders. The trees creaked and stretched to warm up as we kicked through the crunchy, leaf floor. I dragged my bear behind me and my dad dragged the cello. Little moonbeams poured through the leaves and I stopped to stomp on them with a big, leafy crunch when I got bored. But Dad told me to stop. He said I was making too much noise. We walked forever until he found a small spot without trees. The cello struggled in his hands. When he got to the middle of the clear patch he threw the cello hard onto the ground—making a noise that scared the birds into a forced song. I turned and watched them fly in startled harmony. The cello made a deep, painful noise that made me look away from the birds and back at my Father. He was kicking, punching, and twisting the cello. Cold drops of water began slipping from the clouds and danced off the branches and my Father. I ran and sat under the nearest tree—it took me in and saved me and my bear from the rain. I watched one drop after another hit the cello and run down like tears—soaking into the ground underneath it. The creaking song of the trees was now being played by the cello too; its mangled body twisted and stretched toward the sky. My Father kept hitting it, knocking it so hard that branches and leaves sprang from its scroll. The strings twisted around its body as the wood was contorted—letting out low and pleading vibrations as the raindrops scrapped along them. Then the strings snapped under the weight of my Father’s hand and reached into the ground. The wind stopped and the trees and birds went silent.
He stepped back and looked around. The autumn leaves were already falling from the branches of my Father’s secret tree, leaving a circle of red around the trunk like some giant paintbrush had attacked the earthen canvas. I sat motionless while the man wiped the leaves off his hands in the damp grass.
“Let’s go Caroline!” he shouted, standing up and walking in the direction of our car.
“But, what did you just do?” I asked, dropping my bear.
“Look at you sounding all grown-up like your mother,” he chuckled, walking past me.
“But, the cello?” I asked on the verge of tears. He looked at me with a tilted head, bowed eyebrows, and the grin of a musician.
…(3) When Mommy gave me my teddy bear and sang to me that everything would be alright.