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Ash Blonde Sticks

“Be good, now, Hayley, honey. I’ll be back around 12, don’t wait up for me. Take care of your little sister; she needs to be in bed by 9.”
It was a joke, by that point. Back around 12? Wait up for her? Emma in bed? Please. We both knew that the moment she went out of that door I would go out of the back one. Be good? Huh. What a concept.
I passed Emma on the way. This little ash-blond pile of sticks, sitting criss cross apple sauce in the middle of the carpet, Polly Pockets spread out around her- God, it just hit me. She was so young- so innocent, so vulnerable. Did I used to be like that? Would she always be like that? Of course not, idiot. She’ll grow up. Everyone does. But why? Why couldn’t she just stay like that? Untouched, pure, so good- why did everything have to turn into dark, twisted s***? Why did she have to see all the grit and bare bones of this sick world? Cuz It sucked, it killed you. But when you were little it was like you had this magical shield against all the big scary things that tried to hurt you- and then when you got older, it went away (or, wait, did you shake it off?), and all of a sudden you were trying to fend for yourself in the blackness, but all the monsters were closing in on you, had you cornered, trapped…
“Where’re you going?” Emma’s wide, shiny eyes were on me now, a half-clothed Polly Pocket frozen in one hand.
“Um... Out.”
“Oh.” She went back to her dolls.
Well? Wasn’t there supposed to be a follow-up question? Wasn’t she supposed to be slightly alarmed that I was leaving her home alone? Dialogue: ‘Oh no, Hayley, where are you going?’ ‘Somewhere, kid.’ ‘With who?’ ‘My friends’ ‘But Hayley, mommy said you were supposed to stay home!’ ‘Well, mommy’s f***ed up.’ ‘Don’t’ use those bad words, sissy! God doesn’t like it’ ‘God can go die in a hole’ ‘Hayley!! Stop it! Come play with me and Polly, we’re just starting the shopping spree.’ ‘I gotta go.’ ‘Sissy? Please?’ all adorable with the blue eyes ‘Aww, fine. But I get the black haired one.’
But, no, not one word. I found myself nervous, uncomfortable, yet wanting to linger.
“K, well, Bye, Emma.”
She looked up at me, confused at the extension of what would be, usually was, a 7-syllable conversation.
“Bye.”
Back to those dolls.
“There’s food in the fridge.”
“Ok.”
‘Do you want me to heat up some lasagna quick?”
“No.”
Not even a glance up. She loved lasagna.
“Er..do you want me to stay home, Emma?”
“What?” I had her attention now. Her eyes went big, almost popping out.
“I could stay home. We could play Polly Pockets?”
A second more of the stare, then- damnit. Those dolls.
“No, it’s ok. You go with your friends. Do what you want.”
Didn’t she used to adore me, beg me to stay in some distant past? My view of Emma’s unconcerned, accustomed to being abandoned back told me clearly that the key word in that statement was ‘past’.





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