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Narrative about profound sadness in a young child.
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
By Bert Paradis
We were squeezed into the small kitchen, some listening intently to Cassie Rames discussing the depth of academic problems facing her seven-year-old daughter, Ilya, while others rummaged the refrigerator for another drink. It was Ilya’s birthday and the sounds of children playing emanated from the distant family room. I strained to detect the voice of my son, Trevor, but could not. The din in the kitchen made faraway noises blend into extraneous jazz. Cassie continued on about Ilya, who at four showed much promise, but now required special education due to Attention Deficit Disorder. Upon learning of this development I was saddened. Ilya, who I rarely saw any longer, is the daughter of my former best friend, Hal.
Hal loved his daughter deeply, delighted in her every nuance, and talked constantly of her achievements. Indeed I was impressed with Ilya’s abilities especially her detailed drawings. My own son, though a year younger, exhibited none of Ilya’s creativity. Physical activity, cars, trucks, and construction equipment were his domain - a sandbox kid.
Cassie continued her talk, but the subject quickly shifted to the details of her recent Caribbean cruise, “ Oh, I had the most wonderful time,” she went on, “and there were plenty of single men to keep me entertained, if you know what I mean.” Cassie is a gorgeous blond, but she knew it and that spoiled her. One of her coworkers asked what she did with Ilya during the vacation. “Ilya stayed with my parents.” Cassie replied, “you know I thought I would miss her...” Cassie’s eyes shifted and I averted my sight to find Ilya had come into the kitchen and was leaning against the center island, her thin arms crossed and her head resting upon them so her face was turned towards her mother’s narrowed gaze, “...but I didn’t miss her at all. I just had fun.”
Ilya didn’t respond. She continued to lean as she was, but her eyes searched the crowd’s eyes measuring its response. She continued to lean as she was, but her eyes searched the crowd’s eyes, measuring its response. Everyone dismissed the comment perhaps feeling the same hurt that I felt, but burying it quickly as one might a resurfaced guilt or forgotten tragedy. When Ilya looked at me she smiled thinly stirring memories of the weak handshake of an ill-remembered acquaintance. Then I noticed her. Ilya’s ratty clothes, at least two sizes too small, and worn sneakers stood in stark contrast to Cassie’s fashionable appearance. Her once beautiful long hair was bobbed jaw length, and although not matted, not combed. Ilya’s eyes spooked me. The dark brown orbs had an unfathomable depth - distant, wounded and wise.
Some hurt look in her is understandable; after all, it was on her birthday three years ago that Ilya’s father died. Hal was asthmatic and during a little pizza party, just father and daughter celebrating Ilya’s fourth birthday he had had a fatal episode. Cassie returned home from work to find him on the family room floor with Ilya standing along side his lifeless body sobbing uncontrollably. The paramedics were summoned, but it was too late for Hal. I miss him incredibly.
The birthday party unfolded. Ilya received her presents unwrapping them excitedly. Cassie had given her the Barbi-doll and Barbi horse Ilya had asked for. I wanted to buy her a cute toy, but succumbed to my wife’s wishes and gave her a nice pair of jeans, a blouse, and a dress. My wife is wise like Solomon. Soon we were all on the large newly erected deck for a cookout with the kids playing in the yard. I joined the children for awhile chasing, spinning and tossing them about. All the children laughed and screamed while daring me to catch them. When I clasped hands with Ilya her eyes met mine. The dizzying vortex created by our spinning amplified the effects of her gaze. It was not a pleading look she had, but something more. Invisible and strong, I can’t say what that look took from me but when we landed on the soft grass I felt empty. With a whirling head and a hollowness deep in my chest I quit the game excusing myself as a tired adult. The children lamented and cajoled, but were soon playing amongst themselves.
The kids ran themselves out and we adjourned to the kitchen center island for ice cream sundaes. Cassie spooned the kids’ ice cream in a perfunctory manner and remarked how her parental obligation had been fulfilled. Things cooled off and people started to go. When Hal was alive my family and I probably would have stayed until late, but now it was time for us to leave as well. Cassie was ingle again and on the prowl always dressed to kill and flirting shamelessly. We no longer fit into her scene. Trevor and Ilya had returned to the swings in the backyard. I collected our things and rounded up Trevor. We left Ilya alone on her swing, bode Cassie farewell, and cut through the house to the side drive.
After the car doors were slammed shut, seatbelts fastened, and the engine started, I engaged the transmission but left my foot on the brake. When the engine slowed I could hear Cassie yelling, “That’s not true! You know it isn’t. Now stop that!” Listening carefully I could hear Ilya’s small voice waxing and waning with the pendulum motion of the swing as she sang, “Mommy doesn’t love me. My mommy doesn’t love me.” Over and over in spite of her mother’s protest Ilya sang. With that musical indictment fixed in my mind I no longer strained to hear Ilya’s soft voice accompanied by the rhythmic squeak of the swing. I easily heard it even as I descended the driveway and pulled onto the blacktop. Sometimes at night when sleep evades me I listen again to Ilya’s haunting melody.
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"An old man with nothing better to do, huh? Well, your 'nothing better' is better than you think, suh! Heh... nah, I liked it, it was sad but well written, well phrased, and you showed the little girl well, in a more adult perspective perhaps. For a moment there when you two locked gazes I felt you would fall madly in love and get married, but I know that's just 'cuz I'm young and immature. I liked this story very much, and I'd like to know it it's a true story? Good job, on the any how." -- Kimberly De Liz.
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© 2000 Bert Paradis
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