When I See Her
Theresa Nealon is a double major in English and Theater Arts at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. She began writing in high school and has been inspired by her college professors in the English and Theater departments. In her spare time she competes on the Westmont Cross Country and Track & Field teams.
I'm making breakfast, and every few minutes or so I look through the kitchen window at my daughter. Her back is turned so she doesn't notice me watching. She is getting dirt on her new sundress, and picking dandelions to make wishes with. She turns her head to the right and I see her mouth moving as she talks and hands a fistful of flowers to the air. Only to see them drop quickly to the ground. Her tiny hands find her hips and she gently scolds the empty air. Scooping up the flowers, she turns around and raises her eyes to see me watching from the window.
Her eyes are different from most people. One is brown like dark maple syrup, and the other is blue, like arctic ice. Her dark brown eye is perfect, but her blue eye is damaged, and she would be blind if not for her brown eye. She smiles at me and I see her frosty blue eye sparkle in the sunlight. I slide the window open.
"Come inside for pancakes!"
Her little legs start the long journey towards the kitchen door. Halfway there she turns back and beckons for someone to follow, but the yard is empty.
"Who was playing with you in the yard?" I ask as I continue plopping big fluffy pancakes on a plate. She is sitting at the kitchen table with her chin resting on a red place mat.
"My new friend" she answers. "Can she have a pancake too?'
I look at the table and see that one of the chairs is right next to her and one of the red place mats as well.
"Of course she can, you guys must be hungry after all that playing."
She turns to the empty chair and whispers a message.
"No secrets at the table" I tease her. She smiles and swings her legs in anticipation as I bring over the pancakes and an extra plate for her friend. I sit down across from her and start eating.
She looks at the empty chair, and the still uneaten pancake on the plate.
"Aren't you hungry?" she asks the chair. Her only answer is silence, so I fill it with a question.
"Your friend seems shy. What's her name?" I ask. She is still staring intently at the chair. She looks back at me her eyes wide with fear.
"She doesn't have a name" she says quickly, then looks down silently at her plate. I watch her swirl syrupy images onto the top of her pancake with a fork.
"Well, what does she look like then?" I continue. For some reason she covers her brown eye with one hand, leaving only her blue eye open. Then she looks back to the chair.
"What are you doing?" My voice is raised and sounds harsh even to my own ears. Whenever it comes to her damaged eye, I get worried.
"I can see her better like this" she says. She is only looking at me with her blue eye and it makes the hairs rise on the back of my neck.
"She looks like Mommy." she tells me. "She has brown hair, and she is taller than me."
"Oh . . . how nice" I say as I clear the dishes, and the still untouched pancake.
"She told me she is eleven, and her favorite color is purple. Also, she doesn't like socks or pigtails."
I drop the dishes in the sink and they clank hard. I hear her squeak and jump in her seat. My hands are shaking so hard I grip the counter top to steady myself. I turn around and her hand is no longer on her eye.
"What's wrong, mommy?" she asks
"Nothing . . . I'm okay" I reassure her "The plates were heavy, that's all. You should go play now."
She scrambles from her seat, and runs to the back door. I walk to the living room book shelf and reach to the top to pull down a shoebox decorated to look like a dollhouse. Tucked inside are stacks of pictures and a worn out drawing of a little girl holding her mom's hand. I take out the drawing and smooth it over, running my fingers gently over the lines of bright crayon colors. Inside the paper is a Polaroid of a little girl. She is smiling and wearing purple socks. She has two eyes. One is brown and one is blue.
I fold the drawing around the photograph, and walk back to the kitchen window. My daughter is playing in the grass again, an invisible game of duck duck goose. She looks just like the girl in the picture. I smile and open the window to call her inside.
"Honey, who are you looking at?" I turn around and see my husband. His forehead has more wrinkles now then when we first met, and the bags under his eyes never seem to leave.
"I was just about to call her inside . . . " I point out the window, but the yard is empty. I drop my hand slowly, and I move closer to the window, searching for her small form. I find my body shaking uncontrollably. He walks over to me and wraps his arms tightly around my body. I'm still looking frantically out the window for my little girl.
"She was there. I saw her. I know I did. Maybe she went to the front." I try to get away, but he turns me around and looks into my eyes. His eyes are brown, deep brown like maple syrup, and when he looks into mine I can feel his pain, and it is my own.
"Emma is dead" he whispers to me. "She isn't coming back." I pull away violently and stand on my own. I look at the kitchen sink where the two uneaten pancakes still lie, covered with syrup, and I crumple to the floor. I open the drawing again, slowly, with tears escaping down my cheeks. It is a little girl holding someone's hand. My hand. I touch the words at the top with my fingertips.