a short story by Jeremy C Kester
She was sitting calmly on the blanket laid out on the ground. The air was cool, only a hint of chill in the slight breeze. Before her, her doll, headless with a limb torn free, the remains of the couple of times she threw a tantrum. She had named it Dolly. I tried to convince her to replace the doll; she insisted on it still.
Food was in front of her, barely touched. The enjoyment of the day was foremost on our mind, although it was obvious that she would rather have stayed at home. Eating was always a fight to begin with. Because of the special occasion, I had prepared all her favorites, food that was certain to get her to at least eat something. My plan was failing, though.
She sat there, bored, but silent for most of the brief time that we were there. At least she wasn’t complaining like she had done for the whole drive. Maybe she was enjoying it, despite the obvious appearance otherwise.
“Mommy,” she said, her voice bland, stoic. “What will happen when you die?”
Such things were normal questions from her. Ever since her father had died a year earlier, she had started to ask questions about death. It had to be a general morbid curiosity given the events of her life. I tried to take the question in stride.
“I will go to heaven with daddy,” I said, trying not to sound concerned or hurt by the question. “And you would go to live with your mommom and poppop. But let’s hope that never has to happen.”
“Dolly says that you should go to see daddy.”
“Like going to his grave? I mean, we can do that if you would like,” I said. My eyes furrowed a bit as I looked at her. She was playing with Dolly. She didn’t look like she was watching anything in particular. The doll bobbed up and down as she remained looking off in the distance.
“No. Just you,” she said as-a-matter-of-fact. “You can die and go see daddy.”
I frowned as I bit my lip. I knew that I hadn’t been her favorite. That was never a big problem, at least while her father was still alive. When he died though, I don’t remember if she even cried. Since that day though, it was as though I was just an incidental occurrence in her life, as though she was surprised that I was still there. And when she did look at me, I felt like she wished that it was me who wanted to die.
Her gaze continued to look off at the horizon. Whatever she was looking at appeared to have her enthralled. I asked her a few more questions, trying to get her attention, but she was preoccupied. I almost think that she was deliberately ignoring me, of punishing me for her being here when the person that she preferred was gone.
I glanced up, happy to see that there was something happier in the distance, something that appeared to be making the entire event worth it to some level, rather than it being my child asking me to die.
Off in the distance there was a hot-air balloon. I tried to get her attention, tried to see if that was what she was truly looking at, but again, once she committed me to be dead, she was content no longer paying me any mind. Part of me wanted to rip that doll from her so she would pay me some attention for once. Anger was the wrong way to go. She only needed love. That would bring her closer to me.
That hot-air balloon continued to come towards us. Strange that it was the only one in the sky and that it was hanging so low. I looked closer to see that there appeared something hanging off the side. Was it one of those weight bags or something — seemed too large by my thoughts, really.
It wasn’t until it got closer that revealed what I couldn’t have imagined. Basket empty, a body hung, dead, from a rope as the balloon moved through the calm air, slowly coming to the ground.
I struggled to reach for my phone as she looked up with Dolly, pointing. “See, mom?! You should do that! You should ride a hot-air balloon!”
Story is copyright 2020 Jeremy C Kester. Please do not duplicate without written permission. Linking is permitted.