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Her father always told her stories from when she was young. Of how her hair was pail and the curls could never sort themselves out. Her hands were small and she kept strings tied to each finger. And if you were lucky, she might tell you why. She only told her dad once, while they went walking in the dried out ravine. She had said that they were to tie the ten things she couldn't afford to lose to. When her father asked why nothing was ever attached, she simply applied that people can't be tied to strings. With that he said she could pick two more flowers then it was time to go home.
She remembers that day and how daddy didn't sound the same after that. His mouth would smile but not his eyes. She used to steal the string from his studio, and paint each one a different color so she thought he wouldn't notice. When he started to buy her string, she stopped tying it to her fingers. She would watch him work, his cracked hands coarse from the lack of water until he dipped them deep into the murky pool. With his bruised chisels and dark wax, he would chip away until nothing was left standing except beautiful, smooth figures.
When he did carve people, they were always the same. A small women with a sad face and hair like hers. He said that once she was happy, and he would carve her face and smiling body everyday. He said she would protest, insist he was just bonkers, but she never turned him down. When she became round and her ankles swelled, he would look at her stretched skin and carve until there she was, sitting on a rock, one hand on her stomach, the other on her crossed legs. Her face was glorious. When she used to ask if he would carve her, he said he needed to get this one right and he'd go quiet.
As she got older, she understood more. She understood why the pretty woman in all her father's sculptures was always so sweetly sad. And also why her stomach was so big in the last sculpture he called beautiful. All the rest where her face felt sad he put on a shelf, and they watched him work until one day he covered them with a sheet. She understood why she was here, but the woman wasn't. The knowledge bore a deep divide between her and her father, like the dried ravine. But now it was filled with windy water. She tried everyday to close the gap, but he stopped fighting years ago.
When she turned twenty, her hair had browned, and she would sit in the diner she worked at after closing time. She left the lights on hoping one night someone would come in and sit with her. But no one ever did.
When her father died, he left the house untouched. Years went by and she never once set foot in it. She married a regular from the diner, and moved away to the city. They were happy, but no matter how hard they tried, she could never get pregnant.
One day she went back. They key still fit and the door swung open with ease. Dust blanketed the floor and she looked back at her footprints. She walked through the house, touching all the things that brought her joy when she was a girl. The last room she went into was his studio.
It looked like he had just been there. Left for a coffee break or for a small walk. She sat in his chair, and breathed in the scent of his work and dust, and sneezed with a few tears. She saw the wooden box sitting on his desk and pulled it close. On the top in her father's handwriting were the words "When you're ready." Inside was a small envelope and a single statue. It was one she had never seen before. But the women's beauty was unmistakable. Her fragile face was covered by a veil, and her eyes were cast down as if she were being bashful. There was no smile carved on her face, but she was happy.
Placing the bust down on the desk, she opened the letter that read as follows:
I haven't seen you in a while.
I'm sorry I never told you anything, but I was never ready. Even if you were.
Your mother, isn't she beautiful? She looks just like you.
I made this one on our wedding night.
You know I never once blamed you for what happened. Some things happen.
I tried. I really did. Just know that. And also that I never wish it had been you instead of her.
Childbirth was dangerous back then.
I hope you can forgive me.
Please, never do what I've done.
Here's to you, lovely.
After a breath or two, she took the box with the statue and the letter out of the studio, and walked through the halls she used to rule. After she went out into the cold winter day covered in snow. Two months later she was pregnant with the statue on the shelf looking down at her growing granddaughter.