Lies To Children
You came to me the other day, crying. Clasped in your small child-clumsy hand was a butterfly.
Make it better, you cried. I want to see it fly.
It's dead, I replied. You can't fix dead.
I remembered the Slayer, the second time she died. Falling graceful into the open maw of Hell. I remembered the half-life your mother woke her to. No, you can't fix dead.
You asked with such confidence that I could answer. But you are a child and children's questions are never easy.
Dead is when you stop. When you are very, very tired, and your heart stops beating, and you lungs stop breathing.
I place your tiny hand over my heart, then over yours.
There, that's your heart, I say to forestall that inevitable question.
Oh, you say. Like Uncle Xan?
Yes, like Uncle Xan.
Except he wasn't just tired, he was worn to nothing. And his heart, that great heart of his, didn't just stop. I watched it break as I placed you in his arms, I watched the shards grind to powder as I told him about your mother, and I learnt you can die of a broken heart.
Except--I still live.
Where do we go when we die?
We go away. We go to Heaven, to live with angels.
We're walking in the park and you swing from my arm, never imagining that I might drop you, might let go. You chatter about the trees and flowers, about the other children. You have learnt to stay silent when you notice other children have mummies as well as daddies.
You came home from school the other day full of news.
Ellie has two daddies, you exclaimed. You asked if you could have two daddies as well.
Since you didn't have a mummy.
Did I answer well?
No, you couldn't have two daddies. Yes, you do have a mummy; she's just very far away. I don't know how far. No. I don't think she'll be coming back. No, mummy isn't in Heaven.
She's just in a place that's--else.
How can I tell you that there can be no hope of Heaven for such as she is become? That there will be no soul left for the angels to gather up. That at her end your mother will be a hollow ghost, eaten up by the dark flower that blossomed blackly in her heart.
How can I tell you that she held you but once after your birth?
Where are the words that can say; she saw it in you as well, the embryonic bud that might yet be blighted by some winter of the soul. She saw the dark bud and wept. How am I supposed to say that all the gift she could give you was to go, to leave in the night as I slept with you in my arms?
Should I tell you that she tried? For five long years she tried so hard it hurt to watch. Tried to stop, tried to stamp down the magic that rose up in her. Five years and every day was a battle. But power such as hers will have its way. I watched her wear down. I watched helpless as the walls of her will were slowly toppled by the worm that curled at her heart. For five years she fought that losing war in a thousand rearguard battles. Then one morning she was gone. She left everything. Her clothes, books, wallet, me.
Do you want to know that she came back? After four lonely years I opened my door one morning to find her huddled on the doorstep. She stayed a month then she was gone again. Should I count the times she reappeared over the next few years? How many times she came and ate at my table, slept beside me, asked about friends from this very town, where she grew up, where we met.
Did you know that with each visit she seemed somehow thinner? I almost fancied I could look through to her heart or to my hand where it curled around the back of her neck.
Should I tell you that the night you were conceived I tried to kill your mother, as she lay asleep beside me? She threw me away with a word of power, then pulled me from the floor and kissed me.
Thank you, she said, and, I'm sorry.
I didn't see her again until the day you were born. And that was the last time.
When she appeared that last time there was nothing to her but you. She was almost transparent, and if I didn't concentrate on seeing her I would reach straight through her.
What should I say when you ask if she loved you? I am yet unsure if she even loved me.
Who named me, you ask.
Your mother, I say.
What does it mean?
I don't know, I think she just liked the sound. (Sorrow. Your name means sorrow.)
Will Aunty Dawn take me to the movies this weekend? Do you think Uncle Spike will come for dinner on Sunday?
Maybe. If you're good.
I'm always good, Daddy.
I wonder if waking the power in you early, accustoming you to its whispering pull, will help you resist the path that took your mother. Should I take you to find Tara's people? They are your family too, for surely Tara lived still in your mother.
What was their secret, to nurture the power without the dangerous fall that tripped your mother? Maybe they could teach you to stay human in the face of the power that will one day rise in you.
I look at you asleep in my arms in front of the television. I look at you, and love you and wonder if I should kill you now. While there is still a hope of Heaven for you. Before you are forced to learn the harsh lessons that are your mother's legacy.
Now? I ask myself as you call me to put a spider outside. The hand you hold so trustingly has killed more demons than I can count. It killed the earthly vessel of a demented god; It received you from your mother's womb; It tried, once, to kill your mother; one day I know It may kill you too. You who are all my life and joy. All my sadness. You who embody my greatest failure.
But for now, I am your father and we are kind to spiders.