Please listen to this as you read.
She felt numb to the world. She knew that there were people around her, murmuring condolences, squeezing her arm, hugging her. She vaguely felt a pressure at the small of her back, guiding her around as she went through the motions of being alive. A wine glass was pressed into her hand, and she sipped, enjoying the spicy heat of it.
“Papa!” the blond girl struggled against the heavy wooden door to their estate, running out into the chill morning air, hair wild and wearing nought but a nightgown.
Ethanael looked across the courtyard at his precious daughter, scolding gently. “Temariah, I’ve told you a hundred times, this cannot be put off any--”
“Papa, wait!” she cried once more, interrupting him as she ran barefoot across the paving stones to the stable. A tiny crease marred her brow as she jerked to a stop at his side, reaching up to pull at his pant leg. “Papa, I brought you something, so that you won’t forget me.”
He couldn’t help a chuckle. “My darling daughter, I could never forget you.” But he did pause, looking down at her expectantly.
She smiled up at him before extending her arm and uncurling small fingers to reveal her present: a small teal button.
Ethanael took the thing gingerly. “And what is this?”
“It’s a button, papa. Don’t you know what a button is?”
“Of course I know what a button is,” he chuckled. “But why are you giving it to me?”
“It’s from my fluffy jacket. It doesn’t close right now, because I took all the buttons off!” she explained, as though her implicit meanings were crystal clear now.
“Child, why would you...dismember your clothes so?”
Her eyes fell, and she mumbled… “So that... when you look at that button you’ll know that I’ll be all cold without it, and I won’t be warm again until you come home, so maybe you’ll come back sooner.”
“Then I shall just have to hurry back to you, it seems. But get yourself back inside. It ruins the drama if you catch cold while I’m still here.”
Another glass of wine, her lips stained red with its warmth. The second went down even more smoothly than the first. She heard voices around her, but everyone was being so quiet, she couldn’t make out their words.
She slipped her way through the crowd. Father must truly be loved, such was the gathering…
“Why do they have different colored labels, papa?”
“Because there are different types of wines, my dove.” He strolled along the shelf, one hand gently grazing the corks as he moved. “And then they’re sorted by age; usually the longer they age, the better they become, much like myself I must say.” He struck a portrait pose, chin raising and his hand moving to his hip.
“Oh papa, you’ve always been the best!” the girl bubbled, scampering forward to shove her father. The force was enough that he took a step to avoid stumbling, thus ruining his pose.
“My! When did you become such a wonderful liar? That’s a true life skill.” She giggled, and his deeper laugh joined hers in harmony. “Now, come this way. I’ve something I wish to show you.”
Temariah tilted her head, immediately perking. This was all so interesting! “Yes papa?”
He held a finger to his lips, then beckoned her forward. He paused to scan the labels upon several rows of shelves before turning down one aisle. His head bobbed as he counted down the line, then he stopped, turning to his daughter and raising that finger to his lips again. “Your mother must never know of this.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll never tell a soul! … what am I not telling?”
“Hah!” He took a small package from the pocket of his long jacket, unfolding the wrapping paper to reveal two tiny shot glasses. “Well, if your mother found out I was giving our twelve year old daughter wine, I’m sure I would...stop aging, if you get my meaning.”
Temariah’s eyes went wider than wide. “Oh.”
A particular bottle was gently taken from the shelf, and the cork stopper pulled out. “I wished for this to be your first taste of the family’s fortune. It’s my favorite, only for special occasions.”
The great bowls of red wine were placed upon a long table, and servants stood at the ready with wine glasses and ladles. A second glass couldn’t hurt. It was papa’s favorite, after all. She handed off her empty vessel for a full one and turned away, ever trying to find a smile that wouldn’t come to her lips.
Father often said she should always aim to look the part of a lady.
She was vaguely aware that the crowd was dwindling, felt the touch of hands upon her less frequently, heard their quiet whispered talk less frequently.
A timid knock tapped against the thick door, but no answer was heard. “Father? You must eat something…” Muffled words too quiet to make out could be heard from Temariah’s side, and she sighed. She counted to twenty, just to give him another chance to open the door.
Her tray of food was set aside, and she plucked a thin, two pronged pin from her hair. She took to a knee and squinted, one eye closed, inserting the pin into the lock hole while her other hand stabilized. A few moments of working the mechanism, and a quiet click.
“I’m coming in, father,” she said as she eased open the door, retrieving her tray before budging the door open with a hip.
Ethanael sat at the large desk in the sitting area of his suite. As Temariah edged forward, she saw that his head was bowed, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. The tray was shoved upon the desk and she wrapped her father in her arms. “Papa!”
They were quiet for some time as the man silently cried out his soul. “My daughter left me, and now my wife…”
“Andrea will be back, papa…”
“But Nanette won’t…”
There was no response to this, just more silence. Temariah released him and sat upon the floor against his chair.
She was unsure how much time passed before her father spoke again. “What have you brought me?” His eyes glazed over the tray.
“Food… papa you have to eat.”
“And… lilies. Because even if mother is gone, you have to remember her. Or at least… I don’t want to forget.” She turned to place a hand upon his leg. “So, remember for me. But remember the good times.”
“Papa, do you remember when we went out to old Marlo’s to trade some wine for a pony?” There was no response, so she kept talking. “I was too little, but I wanted a horse so bad. Did I ever tell you why I demanded a horse that year for my birthday?” His head turned to his daughter, but he didn’t respond. “Well…” she gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I asked Edvar to teach me how to ride a horse. It didn’t go well and I just wanted to show him!”
The man snorted. “So stubborn,” he said with the most amount of life she had heard from him in the last five days.
“Too stubborn to let you wallow away here…”
“I need you.”
A familiar figure stood, head bowed near the vase. The woman gently reached up to touch one of the pale lilies, a melancholy smile curving her lips. The flower was removed from the arrangement, and the woman held it to her heart.
The night air had caught a chill, and Temariah looked for another passing servant with wine. The spicy drink warmed its way down her throat as she sipped, and though she rarely drank, two glasses would do her no harm.
Temariah peered through the courtyard, squinting through the night to find her mother’s thin silhouette. Nanette stood beneath their greatest oak tree, one single lily upon the smooth wood of the casket.
Temariah approached, but found she couldn’t confront the woman. Instead, she watched from a dozen paces away as her mother cried over the lifeless form of her once-husband. She only observed for a moment before she unsteadily made her way within the estate.
The stairs loomed before her, and she frowned up at them before deciding to sleep in one of the many vacant servant’s quarters on the first floor.
She collapsed into the firm bed, curling into the fetal position, and only then allowing her grief to overtake her.
“Papa...I need you.”