He watched the child in silence, not that he could be heard even if he wanted. If his math was correct, she was three years old now. Stepping into the room and away from the window, he watched her small body shake as she pressed an ear against the door. He couldn’t see her face with the fall of wavy black hair covering it. But he knew the face under her messed hair was round and angelic.
From the other side of the door she was carefully leaning against, he could hear the yelling...again. Her parents spent most of their time screaming at each other and breaking things. He’d sat with the child many times in the last year while the adults in her world showed her all the wrong ways to live.
It worried him that she no longer cried; no longer curled her tiny body into the corner and tried to make herself invisible. At least the quarrelling adults had never brought it to her; he didn’t know if he could stand to see her hurt in any way. He closed his eyes and cursed himself; what could he even do to help if they did?
A loud crash brought him back to the moment; he opened his eyes to see the girl remove her ear from the door. Her face was visible now and it pulled at his heart to see tears rolling down her round cheeks. It made her dark brown eyes seem blurry and vague. She hugged her tiny arms around her middle, trying to comfort herself. A small part of him wanted to take her in his arms and shelter her from the sadness, not that he knew how to hold a child.
She took two steps back from the door but still watching, as if she was afraid it was going to fly open. She sniffled once and raised her face, then looked right at him. Did she actually see him? He was tempted to look behind to see if there was something there that would catch her attention, but he was afraid to look away and go back to being invisible to all.
She blinked and cleared the tears from her eyes yet continued to look right at him. With her chin up she used her sleeve to wipe across her face, then raised her chin with a determination he knew all too well. Her eyes appeared as if they were looking right into his, causing his heart, if he truly still had one, to jolt inside of his body.
Finally, she turned from him, went to the little table in the corner, and sat on the small chair. She opened a book, took colored sticks from a messy carton, and scribbled in angry motions over the outline of the picture in front of her.
Sighing, he closed his eyes. She would be fine. He really did need to stop coming here.
He had tried to stay away, as he knew he should, and had been able to watch from a distance. But the child lay on the bed with her face hidden, shaking and distraught. He didn’t know what he could do, but he liked to believe his presence would be sensed and she would somehow be comforted.
Glancing away from her, he noticed papers crumpled up on the floor. He couldn’t pick them up to look at them, but he could read part of one. “Happy 7th birthday.” She was seven already? Had not only a few months passed since she was that tiny cherub-faced child? He frowned. How had he lost track of four entire years? What did he have to keep track of except time? All he had was time, endless expanses of time.
Shaking his head, he stepped closer to the bed. If only he could offer a calming touch to let her know she wasn’t alone. But in truth, she was; he could hear the screaming outside of the walls of her room, and knew that she was very much alone in this world.
She rolled onto her back, clutching something to her chest. With an angry swipe she wiped across her face and took a long shaky breath. He leaned down to see her better and was surprised to see how she had grown since he last let himself get this close. Gone was the childish softness. In its place, the beginning of a more mature form was now visible. He sighed and stepped back; this small one was going to be a world of trouble for some man in the years to come.
Looking back he found her eyes looking right at him, as only she had ever done. He stepped back in shock. He told himself she was just staring into space and it happened to be in his direction, but her eyes moved over his body in a slow, measured way. If he spoke would she hear him? He clenched his jaw; hadn’t he spent years trying to be heard by others? He wouldn’t waste one more ounce of energy on that ever again.
When she stood up, he almost stepped back again, afraid she’d go right through him and make him feel undetectable. Instead, she stopped in front of him to look up at his face. Inside his head he smiled at her, but the movement did not show on his face. She couldn’t really see him; he must be creating this from years of desire. She turned and walked to a shelf in the corner. He hesitantly took a few steps to follow her.
He was astounded when she turned and motioned to a ship sitting on the top shelf. He looked at her for a moment and then moved his eyes to the ship. He smiled; it was a small model of a galleon. While it looked quite like a real one, very majestic and formed well enough, he frowned. Why would she want him to see that? Why would a young girl of seven even want a scale model ship? He looked back to see she had calmed and wasn’t the distressed child she’d been just moments ago. He noticed the tilt of her chin and recognized that determined glint in her eyes. He smiled at her and hoped by some fanciful miracle that maybe he was partially responsible for this.