She was a beautiful, lithe little thing. She could dance and sing for hours. Sooo much energy. It would almost make you dizzy just watching her, spinning in her imaginary ball gown to some imaginary orchestra that had been robbed of its timbre and rearranged into hummed, pianissimo tones from her smiling lips. She would see me staring silently over my book or tablet and smile to me.
“Daddy, look! I’m a dancer!”
“Yes, baby, you are. You are a beautiful dancer.”
I could hardly contain the melted pieces of my heart long enough to hide my goofy, overly proud grin. Just the same, she would always stop to give me her coy “princess smile” and then bestow her butterfly kisses on my cheek.
I was never happier than in those moments. My sweet girl—innocent, naive, trusting, and absolutely unselfish to a fault. I was such a fool to spend so much energy on fussing about a mortgage or my stupid, stroke-inducing career rather than on those precious moments. I thought, “Well, my girl is the very reason why I am whoring myself to this bullshit company. I’m providing her a better life. She won’t remember the long hours or me missing her birthday again. She’ll appreciate being able to go to a good school one of these days and having a big Christmas this year. The ulcers will be worth those beautiful eyes smiling back at me.”
I admit it. I shouldn’t have snuck in there in the first place, but I had to find something to help me get some leverage on my boss. He was such an asshole and I just knew he was skimming. So, rifling through his fancy office, I found a book. The musty book tucked under several files in his “special” desk drawer. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember thinking it was at least dirt on the rest of us, so I kept leafing through its filthy, confusing pages in the hope of finding… anything, really.
I don’t remember what happened; I only remember going home. It was a late night again, and I was very, very tired. And hungry. So goddamned hungry. My tongue felt heavy and my mouth was so dry it stuck when closed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to excuse away another late night through those parched lips.
The house was abnormally dark for just getting home from work, even late. I expected there would be leftovers in the fridge, but with the lights off, I must have really let the evening get by me. I wandered my way down the dark hallway towards my bedroom where my wife would undoubtedly be waiting up to yell at me again, or pretending to be asleep so she didn’t have to talk to me at all.
But there she was. My little angel, in her almost glowing, white nightgown. She was standing in the doorway to her room at the end of our hall—her wide-eyed but crestfallen look stabbing little knives into my soul. I must have woken her when I accidentally bumped that picture and knocked it from the wall. She had heard me moving around in the dark and now, though the dim light of the bathroom nightlight, I knew she saw that it was me.
That was all she said. She started sobbing, and I knew I had failed her one too many times. I resolved myself that things would change. I had to console her… convince her I would be different. I opened my arms as I walked toward her, but her eyes grew wider and she backed away from me as if she didn’t even recognize me anymore. I had obviously been away too long… too many times. Her eyes grew wider still and she stood, frozen, as I bent to embrace her. I wanted everything to be alright. Her sharp intake of breath was oddly perplexing to me. And she screamed.
Jarring. Soul-piercing. Heart-wrenching.
It was in that moment I found my voice as my mouth was rehydrated and a warmth spread through my body. I mustered a wretched, sobbing wail as the clarity returned in a horrifying crescendo.
That memory… the memory of what I had read in my boss’s office… I remembered then what it had warned in big, dirty letters:
“DON’T GO HOME!”
How could I not remember something that simple?
But I can still remember that I had a daughter. Once.
All I hear is the voice
That tells the fragrant lie.
A nostalgic lie of hope
Of the prospect of another way,
And the lie of screeching command
Whose dark revelations grope the sky.
To it, no such thing as Tyranny.
Nothing else to it, exists at all.
The contagious flame allows few choices
To Feral or Profane alike;
We must love our Scourge or Wither.
– Ignati Dementiev, Речь Пожирателя Миров