- The day her daddy got sent away, the whole neighborhood fluttered with closing curtains and eyes watching through cracked doors. His wife called it a mistake, the cousins called it rape and said he was a pedophile.
And she just kept dipping her fingers into paint and dreaming about kites and the eyelashes on dolls, because she didn't know what any of those words meant.
A year later, he came back, and she washed the sidewalk so he couldn't see that she was drawing their secret in light blue and petal pink chalk.
- "Those are nice pictures, baby," her daddy would tell her, but she hated it, because he always sounded sick, and he would rub her back with those big, rough hands until the neighbor's blinds twitched like the nervous wings of a bird.
Aleksander finally made her daddy stop, because he sat on his porch all day with a scratchy blanket in his lap, saying prayers beside a full ashtray.
"Why does he do that?" she asked him in July. "I don't like it when he does that."
He patted her corn-silk bangs. "Don't worry, kid. I'll save you if he does."
"I have a name, Alex," she huffed, but he only laughed and told her, "And someday you'll have to tell me what it is. Just in case."
- When she visited Aleksander in August, she told him about the secret, the thing her mother called a mistake.
He looked at her with eyes wide like her daddy's stuffed deer head, but didn't interrupt, smoking cigarettes in the old porch chair. He crossed his ankles, and, when she was done, said that the world is a sick place.
"If the world is so terrible, then why do you believe in God?" she asked with little-girl curiosity.
He blew a smoke ring and tapped his cigarette out in the ashtray. "I need to believe in something, kid."
- "You remind me of my baby sister," he whispered. He was distant, thick in a haze of gray, dishwater smoke.
She swung her feet back and forth, over the lip of the porch. "Is she dead?" And she only asked because he sounded like her auntie did whenever she talked about her cat.
"She was nine. Like you."
"Is that why you worry about me so much, Alex?"
He didn't answer; when she looked over her shoulder, there were tears down his face, fast and quiet. She was scared for a moment because she had never seen a big boy cry but then he opened his arms to her, and she hugged him, and she wasn't so afraid anymore.
- She noticed he rubs the tiny, pinprick spots on his arms when he's upset. And one night, when he wouldn't stop doing it, she said to him, "Do you want me to sit in your lap, Alex? Sometimes my daddy makes me sit in his lap. And it always makes him feel better."
He was drained, but still looked at her. Her hand was young, smooth, and so small on the leg of his jeans, so small that he broke a little underneath.
"I love you, you know."
" Does your daddy make you say that?" he whispered; she nodded, unaware, while her offer waited. But he just shook his head, and let her believe that he was only doing it to say no.
- His mother wasn't like her mother. She was a big woman that had his blond hair and a pair of purple slippers, and she wore them that Saturday morning with a tired face as she swept the patio.
"Aleksander is dead, honey. Dead and gone. The heroin took him places even Jesus wouldn't go."
That night, she dreamt of crying. And every night after that, she dreamt of clocks and ghosts, and things that didn't make sense.
"Monsters don't exist," he'd tell her when she had a nightmare. But sometimes, she still woke up screaming. She still woke up reaching for him. For something that didn't exist.
- She drew him a picture. A picture of a plane that he never found, for the journey he'd never take.
For when we get away, her child's scrawl said across the bottom, in crayon the color of molding asparagus. P.S. This color reminds me of your eyes.
And in seventeen years, she will find it again. And, just in case, underneath she will print five neat words in black ink.
It's Emma, by the way.