I can see her smiling, her two front teeth still growing in, her laughter filling the air. We plucked grapes from their vines, our mouths twisting from the sour taste. It doesn't take away her smile, though. Not many things can take away her smile. The day is still warm in my memory, pestering my thoughts like a ringing doorbell. An image of her uneven hair burns in my memory. I cut it with safety scissors, because she asked me to. For hours, she didn't say a word about her choppy hair, until I felt so bad that I took us out for ice cream, and she whispered that she secretly liked it. She must've been trying to make me feel better, because it was really awful.
The ice cream dripped down her chin that day, and I resisted the urge to wipe it away. She liked it there, because it covered the bruise on her chin. I must've made some change in expression at the memory of her uncle punching her, because she proceeded to dot more ice cream on her arms. Later that day, she was very sticky, but it was easy to tell that she didn't mind. But he did, and he gave her more bruises.
I was so angry, I could've killed him. She told me not to, though, because she didn't want to see him hurt. She was so different from her violent uncle, I think because we make ourselves the opposite of what we most fear. I don't like to think about what I most fear. No one does, I think. No one likes to think about what they fear until it doesn't scare them quite as much anymore.
She loved to listen to the birds. She bribed them with bread crumbs and carefree laughter. I don't think they needed to be bribed. They loved her, and I would know. I watch people love each other every time someone has to go. I watch love cling to people, sneak up on people, fade away. It's kind of like fear that way, except for fear doesn't really fade away.
In the morning, before he was awake, she would run outside and sing with the birds. She made it seem like she was never ahead, like the birds were the ones falling behind. She made it seem like she never missed a note, like the birds had sung an extra one. Singing with the birds was her favorite thing to do, she told me.
She loved to climb the trees. They loved her, too. Sometimes it looked like she rolled of one branch and the trees caught her with another. She never fell out of a tree, reckless as she was. The trees hugged her with their branches, protected her, made her feel at home. Sometimes she met birds in the trees, undisturbed by her childhood playfulness. They kept on chattering away, she told me. The rough wood scraped her knees and her elbows, but she didn't mind. She was used to pain. Besides, the leaves tickling her cheeks felt like the best apology, she told me. Climbing trees was her favorite thing to do, she told me.
I think of the grapevine that she grew all by herself. She was so proud of the tiny, green balls of fruit that she bought little baskets from the old man down the street, and plucked them off and piled them high so she could share some with everyone. That's what she did when she loved something, she made sure others got to love it too. She shared the bread with the birds, the ice cream with the mice, and she shared everything with me.
She didn't share me, though, because she didn't want anyone else to have me. She didn't love me, either, because she had so much more she wanted to love. She tried to, but she didn't. She would've liked to stay with the birds. The birds would've liked to stay with her. She almost looks - looked - like a bird sometimes, singing with an angel energy. Her hair flopped like two uneven wings. Maybe that's why she told me she liked it, because it made her look like what she really wanted to be. With wings, she could escape the hands that beat her. She could escape the wish she held towards her uncle, a wish that he would love her.
The old man across the street loved her. He knew she didn't have much, so he lowered the prices for his baskets when she came to look at them. The woman dating her uncle loved her. She brought her treats and talked to her and when she found out what he was doing to the little girl, she yelled at him and he kicked her out. The woman met her at the park, after that, and gave her toys on her birthday. Her friends at the park loved her because she was funny and loved to play tag. She was so bright and so loving that no one really had any choice but to love her. Except for the one person that she wanted it from most.
It's very cold today, and I shiver while the rain wets my skin. I can feel it coming, but I shake the thought away. I hear him yelling at her, but I can't bring myself to watch. Her eyes are pleading with him, but she doesn't fight him. That makes him angrier. He will sit in jail soon, trying to justify his actions to guard the wave of guilt that will soon crash over him. I hate him. I hear his fist make contact with her skin, and cover my ears with my hands. I don't want to take her. I don't want to take her. I shake my head violently. I don't want to take her.
Water rolls down my face and I take out my scythe. What I am most afraid of is having to collect the soul of someone I love. I walk into the room where her uncle has beaten her to Death, to me. He will give her no more bruises.