Something Sweet, Something Special

07/10/23

My mom gave me the box for my eighth birthday. Told me to fill it with something sweet, something special. She said it was good to keep things close to the heart, something to remember him by.

When daddy died, it was like my world shattered quick as the mirrors he’d break with his fist. Shards of my life sprinkling down like confetti; fragments of memories and firsts.

I still remember the first time I saw him hit her. They thought I couldn’t hear them fighting at night when I was tucked up in my bed, but I could. I always could. I’d smother their voices with a pillow to drown it all out. That man who hit my mom, he wasn’t daddy. That man with the rapid fists and the crooked smile and the don’t you ever raise your voice at me attitude was as much a stranger as someone passing on the street. A stranger who happened to live in our home.

Daddy, my real daddy, was the one who’d take me to the marsh at sunup. Show me how to string a line and cast it to the chokepoint where the flounders liked to swim. I can remember that last morning with him, his easy company riverside. I’d heard him and mom fighting the night before. His words, sharp as fish hooks, burrowed into my skin. I don’t need nothing. Don’t need none of you. But that wasn’t daddy, I reminded myself. That was the stranger.

I’d asked him that morning as we sat among the cattails if he’d always love me. ‘Course I will, he’d said. I’d made him swear it to me the best I could. With our pinkies intertwined, he promised me again. I’ll always love you. I’d said it back. Maybe I was a fool for believing it, being strung along, but this was daddy. The man I knew.

Everything changed that night. It’s winter now, but I can still feel the summer heat seeping in from the cracked window, the cicadas shouting a warning into the dark. Their voices had carried up the stairs. Normally, I’d try the pillow, but not tonight. Not when daddy had promised. Tonight I knew that I could bring him back.

The stairs creaked hollowly under my bare feet, the cool edge of the wooden banister forming goose pimples along my skin. I could hear the furniture being rearranged in the living room, the clatter of heavy objects hitting the walls amid mom’s screams.

He stood there, back to me, a looming rabid creature, as he threw a framed picture of the three of us at mom cowering in the corner. Mom’s eyes grew wide as the full moon when she spied me standing behind him. The stranger turned and I watched as his features softened, his face changing from jagged night back to daddy, my daddy. His eyes plead with me, the flash of a morning promise.

And then he was no more. Mom had been quick about it, the glass shard hidden stealthy in the palm of her hand. A quick swipe at the neck and my daddy was gone.

Mom told me it was like putting down a sick animal, that it had been for his good. She’d taken the china box from out of the kitchen cupboard and handed it to me, her way of making promises she also couldn’t keep. Take something to remember him by, she’d said. Something sweet, something special.

I’m sitting at the same place daddy made me that promise. The cattails are matted down with a thick blanket of snow and the marsh is quiet now, the buzz of the cicadas hushed as the unmarred surface of the lake. I know somewhere in these waters, daddy is still here.

I open the china box, the tiny hinge creaking from overuse. Inside, the smell of something ripe and festered hits me, the familiar scent a small comfort now. I wind my pinky around his, carefully extracting the remnants of a sweet and special morning. I’ve kept my promise, daddy. I’ve kept mine.

~ fin ~

ambrielle-butler

Ambrielle Butler is a thriller writer and poet from Texas. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in publications like On the Seawall, Valley Voices, Plainsongs, The Loch Raven Review, Giving Room Mag, Red Ogre Review, and others. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter @AJButlerWriting.