The hush of the door
The pad of a foot
The stifled giggles of untameable excitement
I brace myself for what I know is to come.
I hold my eyes tight shut, burying my face into the duvet and savour the last brief moments of sleep, shadows of dreams still dancing across my eyelids. A ball of knees and elbows hits me square in the back and my breath leaves me despite the anticipation. The whirling dervish throws herself this way and that, and any frustration quickly melts as Kaylah throws her arms around me, the laughter coming out in squeals.
“I got you Mummy!”
“Yes, you did, little bear,” I say as she dives under the duvet, snuggling into the crook of my arm. “Did you sleep well?”
She nods in that way she does that ripples through her whole body and another knot loosens in my stomach.
“I dreamed that there were dinosaurs,” she exclaims, her hands flailing in front of her, painting the picture of the huge creatures. “We had a pet one called Rufus, and we played games and he ate a lot.”
“Did he?” I ask in the sing-song voice of all very interested parents.
“Yes, his favourite was pizza and milkshake, just like me, that’s why he was our pet, because we like the same things.”
“Of course,” I pull her closer, breathing her in, the fluff of her hair tickling my nose. “Well maybe today we could go and see some real dinosaurs.”
Her eyes widen and her lips crease before spreading into a toothy grin.
“We can?! For real?!”
I nod, “For real.”
Another elbow to the gut as she throws off the covers and bounds out of the room, but this time I don’t mind quite so much. It’s always worth it for that smile.
We spend the afternoon wandering the rooms of the museum, weaving between statues and marvelling at paintings. I purposely save the best for last. Her charging and dancing slows to a stop as she gazes up at the reconstructed diplodocus looming over her. She leans, arching her back to get a full view, eyes wide, mouth gaping.
“Mummy look!” she gasps, pointing, and I join her, crouching down to take in the magnitude of what she is seeing.
“This,” I explain, following the line of her arm, “is what a real dinosaur looked like when they were alive millions of years ago.”
She wrenches her eyes away and tilts her quizzically, “Why did the dinosaurs all die?”
“Well,” I lead her to the sign at the foot of the towering creature, “we don’t know for sure, but most people think that it was because a large meteorite, a big rock, that it hit the Earth.”
“Not how Mummy, I mean why?” Her deep brown eyes swim with questions.
I draw her close and whisper, “I don’t know the answer to that sweetheart, I wish I did.”
I see the cogs turning behind her furrowed brow. “But if they are all gone then where is Rufus?”
I chuckle, the crux of her woes revealed.
“I think I know, come on little bear.”
I take her hand and we exit through the giftshop.
The early evening light is still warm so we pick a table outside and enjoy our pizza and milkshakes, making sure to share a slice with Rufus. She babbles on, as much to the toy as to me, and I just drink her in; my bright, energetic, beautiful girl. I think of all the milestones still to come, each one flashing before my eyes like a photo album yet to be made: her first day at big school, her exam stress, her graduation, her first job, her first love, her first heart break…
She slurps at the dregs of her milkshake and I resist the urge to snap at her; it’s been a good day, there’s no need. Instead I sigh deeply and pick up my bag, slipping a few notes under the edge of my plate, before slinging the strap over my shoulder.
“Come on then little bear, time to head home.”
She hops up from the table and skips a little way down the street, chattering away to herself. She reaches the corner and she stops, spinning around, a look of gravity on her young face.
“Mummy, Rufus says he would like to play some more before going to bed, and I need to give him a tour of the house.”
I let the smallest hint of a smile crack as I nod towards her. She turns back to the corner, a silhouette against the setting sun and I turn away.
I hold myself straight, eyes fixed ahead.
After follows the void; a silence that screams with how full it is. I hold my eyes tight shut, tears tugging at the corners, until the screams come. I turn and walk, robot-like, and carefully scoop up the crumpled body of my daughter, dinosaur still clutched firmly.
The journey home is a blur of streets and cars, trees and lamplight, my wet eyes leaving my vision swimming. I drop the keys on the counter and force the door closed with my back, pushing my way through the house. Her room is a sea of purple, a torment, like the rising bruises belong. I place her limp form gently on the bed and tease the toy from her grasp, pulling the cover up to her chin. Aside for a small graze on her cheek I could convince myself she’s sleeping.
I place my lips gently on her forehead, breathing her in, before I back out of the room I have tried to repaint time and time again. I look down at the bloodied Rufus in my hands, his big eyes and toothy grin too close for comfort. I open the cupboard on the landing and place him between the crooked doll and the torn teddy, a flake of dried blood floating out like confetti. The cupboard is nearing full, each carrying a little piece of her. I’ll have to think of somewhere else to keep them soon.
I close my bedroom door behind me and slip between the sheets, clutching at the thick duvet like a lifeline. I have given up on trying to save her, she’s always taken in the end. No matter where we go or what we do death finds her. Yet every night I hear myself crying out my unanswered prayer, “please let tomorrow be different.” When I begged for more time, I never thought it would be like this.