Daddy's Here This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 28, 2011
Mom was great, she just wasn’t always all there.

“Mom … Mom … Mom?” asked Kappie, peering at her from across the table. Mom didn’t look up. Sometimes she drifted off into one of her worlds. Kappie didn’t understand it; one minute she’d be talking and Mom would be listening, and then a couple minutes later be interrupted by an innocent, “Did you say something, dear?”

Mom used to be perfect. She could cook, clean, talk on the phone and help with homework without missing a beat. She would take Kappie to museums and soccer tournaments. They watched movies together and cheered for the good guys. They used to talk over warm cups of cocoa, and never kept secrets from each other. Sometimes, at night, they would curl up on the sofa under Mom’s big quilt and whisper until their eyes became too heavy and they fell asleep. But it all changed and gradually became worse. It was like she had been taken away and replaced by a stranger. Kappie missed the old mom.

“Never mind,” said Kappie, slumping in her chair.

“Okay,” Mom said, after a second. She still didn’t look up.

Kappie got up and went to her room. She fell backwards onto her bed and lay there daydreaming. Kappie loved her room. It was the place she went when she wanted to feel little again. The walls were white but, at the top, there was a border of tiny dusty-pink rosebuds. She called her quilt “the garden;” it was just like Midas’ daughter’s garden, overflowing with beauty. The curtains were a pair of Mom’s old bed sheets, but matched perfectly. All her furniture was white, and on top of every surface stood the tiny glass animals Kappie cherished. On the end of the bed were the dolls and stuffed animals she had had for years. When Gramma and Grampa had moved in, Kappie had refused to give up her room. Every year Grampa offered to paint it another color, and Gramma offered to make a new quilt, but every year Kappie refused. Kappie’s thoughts drifted back to Mom. Maybe she was sick? She decided to talk to Grampa.

“You’re just being silly,” said Grampa. Then he pulled out a small doll. It was made of purple yarn gathered in places to make the shape of the body. The only facial features were two black buttons sewn where the eyes would be. Kappie could tell it was old. “I don’t want to hear any more silly things from you. Whenever you want to say something silly, tell this doll,” he said. “It’ll make you feel better,” he whispered into Kappie’s ear as if there were other people around who might hear.

That night, Mom was even more off than usual. She sat at the table, not comprehending anything. All of a sudden, she started to shake. Her head nodded and her hands quivered. Kappie looked at Gramma who looked at Grampa. Grampa went over to Mom.

“What is it, sweetie?” he asked. Mom started to cry. Grampa held her close. “It’s okay, Daddy’s here.” Grampa rocked her back and forth. Then she started to wail like a baby. Kappie got very upset and started yelling at Mom. She couldn’t stand seeing Mom like that.

“Mom, stop it! Stop it! You’re hurting my ears! Stop it, Mom, stop it!” Gramma ran over and held her still. Grampa picked up Mom, who was still crying, carried her out to the car and drove as fast as he could. There was no time to call an ambulance. Something was seriously wrong with Mom.

Later that night, Kappie pulled the yarn doll from under her pillow. “Why did Grampa give you to me anyway? Why doesn’t he just listen to me? I wasn’t silly, I was right.” She talked to the little yarn doll until she heard a car pull in the driveway. She crept to the kitchen, still clutching the doll. But there was only one set of footsteps. Grampa’s hair was disheveled; his blue eyes were missing their usual spark. He motioned for Kappie to come sit with him. She walked slowly; her bare feet squeaked across the floor. She climbed onto his lap and hugged his shoulders. She rested her head against his.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered after a long silence. “You were right. She’s staying at the hospital tonight. They’re not sure what’s wrong.”

Kappie slipped the yarn doll into Grampa’s hand. “I don’t want it.” She got off his lap and walked out of the kitchen. Grampa studied the yarn doll. He put it in his pocket. On her way back to her room, Kappie went to Gramma’s room. She could see Gramma brushing her hair.

“Grampa’s home,” she announced.

“I know.” Gramma forced the paddle brush though her thick hair. “He gave it to your mom when she was little. The yarn doll. He was never really good at listening. He wanted her to have someone to talk to. She hated it, but she didn’t want to hurt him, so she kept it.” There was a single tear on Gramma’s face. She had stopped brushing, and looked as if she were searching for a memory. The tear fell, and Kappie knew she had found it.

A few days later, they went to visit Mom in the hospital. The halls were nearly empty and smelled like rubbing alcohol and anesthesia. The walls of Mom’s room were white, with no chips in the paint. It was a very simple room.

Kappie thought it was ironic. Kappie went to her room when she didn’t want to act grown up, and Mom was in this room because she needed to act more grown up. Did Mom think about it that way? Kappie wondered if she knew why she was here in this simple, white room. Did she miss Kappie? Mom was sitting in bed, daydreaming. She was wearing a white gown with a pink polka-dot pattern. Her smile grew when she saw her family.

Gramma cradled Mom in her arms. They didn’t need words. Kappie could just imagine how it was when Mom was born. Gramma must have held her the same way, holding Mom’s head close to her heart.

Kappie joined Gramma at Mom’s side. She climbed onto the bed and started whispering to her. It didn’t matter what she said; Mom wasn’t paying attention. Kappie hugged her and whispered louder, but the only response was Mom’s finger running around Kappie’s face. Kappie kissed Mom’s cheek and left her side. Grampa came and slowly sat down on the bed. Out of his pocket, he pulled the tiny yarn doll. He placed it in Mom’s hand. When she saw it, she started to cry. Suddenly, Grampa seized the doll and threw it into the trash.

Mom stopped crying, like a knife had cut the sound coming from her. She looked from her father to the trash can and back again. Grampa leaned over, kissed the side of Mom’s head and whispered into her ear, “I’m listening.”

And Mom smiled.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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