“Tessie!” no voice answers.
“Tessie, come on, we have to go!” I’ve never been more afraid in my life.
The drumbeat of my bare feet against the stairs. Or is it my own heartbeats? Splashes of red liquid. It isn’t real. It isn’t Tessie.
“Tessie!” anxiety takes over my voice. The door bangs against the wall. A wave of relief. She’s here.
“Daddy… what is this?” she stands in the middle of the room, surrounded by pictures. In her hands she is holding a box. The box.
The ocean and a cliff and white fabric floating in the wind. For a shiver of a second everything is perfect.
She stares at me, comprehension fails to break through the shield of her childhood.
“Tessie. We have to go, now.” My voice is very careful, as I’m trying to defuse a ticking time-bomb.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here.” she says slowly, obdurately, trying to assimilate the new information.
“Tessie, they’re coming. They are coming and we have no choice, we must go, now.”
She shakes her head. 8 year olds shouldn’t know that much sorrow, that much betrayal, that much evil. They should be floating in a world of flowers and butterflies and angels and have no worries, no fear.
There is no time. She is screaming with dismay, kicking, hitting, but even though she’s witnessed things most people haven’t beheld in a lifetime, her body is still of a tiny eight year old, and my arms hold her tight. As we run down the stairs the kicks on my back stop. She is tired.
We storm out of the only home we’ve ever known without looking back.
I need to get out of here. Now. This is starting to be more than I can handle. It’s almost as if I’m suffocating under the moist of this room, under the mess. I can’t look at it anymore. It is too familiar and safe and like the old me. The nice and kind and honest me. But who am I now? I’ve been so sure of the answer once, but now it has faded away, like dust in the wind.
I need a new atmosphere. My arm is moving. There’s a big bang. Broken frames and glass and perfumes are resting on the floor. I’m running away.
What am I going to do? Where am I going to run? There is nowhere to hide in this town. I am sick of it. Every place carries to many memories. The library, where we first, and last, met. The house that used to be his, where we had our first kiss. The park that we ran to when we had nowhere else to go, where we had our last kiss. And then the coffee shop where I met him. The cinema where he first kissed me. The royal garden where he threw me a surprise birthday party and got down on one knee when the cake had arrived, a 14 carat diamond ring on top of it.
My legs seem to move on their own, carrying me far away, out of town, into the forest, away from the familiar, the safe, the comfortable. To a place more suitable for the new me. It is almost sunset.
“Daddy…” she whispers. Don’t look. “Are we there yet?”
An unintentional breath of relief escapes my chest. “Soon, sweetheart.”
She yawns. It’s getting dark. We’ve been walking through the forest for 2 hours, at least. I hope we get there before it’s completely dark. There are no more mechanical voices, no more tempting smells. Only us and nature.
“Dad… tell me how you’ve met mom again.” She’s starting to connect the dots.
“We met at university,” I hope my voice doesn’t reveal my anxiety, “but there were many other students, so we never really had a chance to talk…” she knows the story, but now she is seeing it in a different light, trying to fit the pieces together.
“Well, we saw each other again on the street one day, a few years later and we started to talk. We remembered each other.
“What did you study?”
“Architecture, honey, you know that.”
“Daddy, what do they want from us? We haven’t done anything to them.”
“I know, sweetheart…” her hair is soft and smooth and greasy. She is restless under my fingers, unsatisfied. I need to do better.
“Some things, some people in this world, they just don’t make sense to us… other people’s minds are different than ours. But everything happens for a reason, honey, you’ll see… maybe it’s just the universe’s way of correcting itself.” I don’t know who I’m talking to anymore.
She is quiet again, digesting my words.
Maybe I should just lie. Tell her it was just a costume. That I couldn’t have done something that awful. That I could never have betray her like that. She is too young to understand anyway. And she shouldn’t see her father that way. I can already feel her disappointment, like sharp needles. She will never look at me with admiration, never turn to show me her new drawing.
But is it okay to lie? And to my daughter? We might die and she’ll never get a chance to really know her own father…
“Daddy, look!” suddenly excited, she pulls my arm. There’s the cabin in the distance. Our walk has a purpose again.
A little mud cabin. My legs have carried me to a little brown cabin. Hidden away from nosy eyes, neglected beneath the trees. Under the little drop of light that is left it seems intimidating. My gut is twisting, my breath heavy, my head dizzy, but despite my body’s indignation, my mind is vigilant. Something feels wrong about this place, but I feel a strange desire to go in. either way, it is going to be dark soon, and the cabin is the only place I have to go.
The door open with a squeak. My blood is flowing, my heart is racing. I need light. But even when completely dark, something about this room feels familiar. Beneath the smell of dust and rotten wood I smell… home. I have a flashlight on my phone. Spider webs are glowing under its synthetic light.
Two dusty, rotten wooden chairs around a matching square coffee-table. A humble kitchen to my left, an oven and a wine cabinet. A surprisingly whole window to my right. A bunk in the back. What seems like an extemporary fireplace, broken picture frames in front of it. Only one has survived. Black and white. A young couple holding a sweet baby.
Anxiety washes over me. I know this place. I’ve seen it before…
I am laughing uncontrollably. A woman in my arms, the woman from the picture, Federica. I love her with all my heart. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She is laughing, too. Her smile can move mountains. Her smile can silence the ocean. Her glossy blue eyes reflect my joy, my love.
“This is going to be our home one day,” she whispers.
We sit on a mat underneath the woods, watching the sunrise. The silence is full of excitement and love and magic.
How could anyone ever think she could ruin the world?
We stack bricks one over the other, create a simple square, a cube of mud and wood. No fancy twists, no unique décor. Just a little cube in the middle of the forest.
A middle-aged man with light brown hair and a warm expression, my father, helps me.
“You’ve come a long way, son,” he smiles at me. And even if I don’t show it much, his words means a lot.
Federica stands aside, asking apologetically if there might be anything else she could do. Vernon, her brother and the only person in her family who actually likes me, winks at her. “All you need to do is rest.”
Federica smiles at him and caresses her belly.
I spread a blanket on the ground below the window. Federica, wearing a short flowery dress, approaches, a sleeping baby in her arms. Our baby. Tessie. She has the sweetest face and the purest laugh, like rain drops and fresh grass and flower buds. Our first family picnic, in our new real home.
“We could just stay here, you know. Never come back. It’s better here. Peaceful,” she is smiling softly, “this moment right here – this is all I want to take away with me. Just the three of us.”
Decorations are hung from the wood beams on the ceiling, like rays of sunlight. The cabin is full of light, and energy. It’s radiant. We take the new chairs outside, so all that is left in the middle of the room is the coffee-table, and the birthday cake. Everyone is crowded around the cake and Tessie – Uncle Vernon and Aunt Rebecca, Grandpa Albert, Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Renate and all the little cousins. Tessie is radiant, too, glowing with happiness. Federica places 6 candles on the cake. The black circles around her eyes, the skin that tightens around her bones, and the yellow star that grips the clothes of most of our guests tightly – like heavy storm clouds above our heads, threatening to burst at the tiniest of gusts.
Tessie and I stand behind the cabin, crying above a grave. Federica Sarah Becker.
“You have to stay strong my love, for Tessie,” she told me, “You can’t run away when things get hard. You have a commitment. The world is never going to make sense, but you have each other to figure it out. I love you, both.” And then she was gone. Dust in the wind.
“Forgive me,” I whisper to her after Tessie has fallen asleep, “you have helped me find my way. You’ve made this world worth living for me. You’ve taught me how to dream, you’ve showed me that there’s more to this world than seen to the eye. I love you, too.”
“I am cold, daddy.”
“I know, honey. But we can’t turn on the fire. They could find us. They are searching the woods.” I turn on the radio, so they could find our signal.
“I am hungry, too.”
“We can’t cook right now, and we have nothing else to eat. You should go to sleep, honey, when you wake up we might have something.” I’m in distress.
She lays on the cold mattress.
“Daddy… why were you wearing those uniforms?” the cards are on the table, then.
I want to be able to explain, and I want her to be able to understand. I want to be able to tell her how people go through bad times, too. How when you have nothing, you need to belong somewhere. How some people are so persuasive, they can talk you into buying a rainbow. But I can’t let her know how weak the world is, how weak her dad is. She’s been through enough.
My thoughts are quite. That’s when I hear them. I know those steps. I should have listened. I should have seen it coming.
I charge on her, holding her tight beneath me. They have taken away my wife. They are not going to take my little girl, too.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Federica’s smile that day on the cliff. Tessie’s birth. My two ladies. My girl, who will never truly know her father. I have failed you both. I am sorry. The world doesn’t make sense. It barely even hurts.
Uncle Vernon arrives at the scene 4 minutes later. Tessie and I are curled around each other, stained with blood. But Uncle Vernon has a bigger mission. He doesn’t have time to mourn. He carries us out with his guys, they take away the mattress and the radio and as much food as they can get, and they head to their camp, where they lay us in a pit, along with the rest of the losses. They don’t even notice the broken frames on the ground.
There is something beautiful about abandoned places. They hold so many moments, preserved in time. despite the spider webs and the dust and the stains, they stay the same, untouched. But the real magic happens when you dare to touch them. when you mend, and mold, and make them into something new. When you breathe life into their dusty pipes, when you coat them with a new mission. That’s when all of the memories that they have guarded with great care, when all the stories hidden beneath the dust are truly set free, carved into the cycle of time forever.
“I broke up with Tom.”
“what happened?” he sits on the bed beneath the window, the bad that we’ve built out of the wood that could be saved from the chairs and coffe-table, and some extras.
I’m aware of my hands, can’t decide where to place them. my legs are drawing circles on the mended parquet. I end up sitting on the new rocking chair by the fireplace. but the words are not coming. Instead I’m going to sit next to him.
“I think… I might have never truly loved Tom. I was just looking for someone… I needed to be with someone. and Tom was stable. But it wasn’t fair…” I take a deep breath. “if I had married Tom, it wouldn’t have been fair to any of us. Tom and I, we weren’t honest with each other. We were setteling. And I am putting an end to this game. this is my life. No more lies. No more walking away.”
“I like it here,” he says after a while, “It is peaceful.”
And I agree.