Even as a child, the woman had intrinsically known that she was supposed to love her father, but with a man like him, all she had felt was fear.
Her clearest memory of him was when she was eight years old, just old enough to be independent and just young enough to still be blindly courageous. It had been her birthday and almost a year since her mother's death.
Every day for nearly a month, she had been trying to leave her father hints about wanting the Rainbow Dash My Little Pony, complete with ruddy cheeks, a rainbow-colored mane, and long black eyelashes. She had strategically placed cutouts from magazines upon his pillow, and ever so suavely brought the subject of horses and toys into what few conversations they’d had between her father's benders.
When her mother was still alive, she had always made her birthday a week-long extravaganza, complete with petting zoos for her friends, at least a dozen gifts wrapped in glittery pink paper, and bows as big as her head. The whole week smelled of fresh cake and blown out candles. Everything had been grand and larger than life.
But now it was the smallest things she looked forward to. The few minutes in the morning when her father was still sluggish and easy to please. One tiny cup of coffee for him and two white pills, and she could avoid his belt.
And yet, she held out faith that this week, this one special week of the year—her week—would be different.
But when her week arrived, her father mentioned nothing. Instead, they slogged through the same routine of him coming home in the early morning hours, stinking of beer and stale cigarettes and yelling and screaming about one of her many failings. His favorite tirade was that she’d simply had the audacity to be born.
She hadn't said anything about her birthday, both out of the fear of upsetting their tenuous balance and out of the hope that he would come to his senses and remember. Maybe, just maybe, her second wish would come true—that he would be the man she remembered from the days her mother had been alive.
She missed the way things had been. She missed the daddy who would take her to the park to swing and would comb her hair after her bath and sing her songs about monkeys and blackbirds. More than anything, she longed for a day when she would no longer have to cringe away from his touch out of the knowledge that it was most likely to bring pain.
Once, she had told her nana how he had hit her, how after school she had come home too early and disturbed his sleep and he had split her lip. Her nana had told her she was making a mountain out of a molehill. Then she reminded her that she was to be a good girl for her daddy, that good girls remained quiet and kept the men in their life happy.
But her father's happiness had been buried in the ground along with her mother.
Just like her, nothing could bring happiness back—death was forever.
The day of her birthday, she had tugged on her favorite purple, floral dress from last year's party. It was tight and far too short for the sake of modesty, but her mother would have loved it.
When she walked out into the kitchen, there were no presents with glittery paper, no large bows, and the scent of freshly made buttercream had been replaced by the fetid odor of overflowing garbage pails. Where she had once found a giant teddy bear with a big red bow waiting for her, this morning, she found her father lying motionless on the floor. Bloody spittle dotted his mouth and puddled around his mottled lips. His sooty gray eyes were closed.
When she had found her mother, her icy blue eyes had been open.
He was probably alive.
Thoughts of the My Little Pony and teddy bears disappeared as the last vestiges of childhood slipped from her body.
Whether he was alive or dead, the only thing she would be getting this birthday was the knowledge that she was, and would continue to be, on her own.