I found her father’s footprints outlined in the dew. Retraced those footprints from the grass edging the steps, down the driveway and around the live oaks that shielded our house from the road. I stared at those live oaks. Prayed they wouldn’t whisper what they saw. I held my daughter close that night, shushing her hiccupping sobs. She missed her father. I pretended to miss him, too. I asked her what would make her the happiest girl in the world again. She twirled the wedding band around my finger. A castle of my very own, she at last said. I smiled and buried my nose in her strawberry-scented hair. —But wouldn’t you be lonely in that big old castle with all those rooms? I would live in just one room with a big bed, but I would leave all the windows open and birds would come to visit me every day. —Wouldn’t you be scared in that big old castle with all those rooms? I would lock my door and only I would have the key. She patted my hand. Silly Mama. —That’s very smart of you. But how would you find food and water, being such a little girl all on your own in the big old castle? The birds would bring me water in their beaks. And when I got hungry, the birds would bring me berries. —That’s very resourceful of you. But what if a handsome king arrived at the big old castle’s gates one day because he heard you were the fairest of them all, and desired to watch over you and make you queen? Oh, she sighed, silly Mama, that doesn’t sound good at all. Kings only think of themselves. That’s how they get to be kings. I would turn him into a frog and let the alligators swimming around the castle walls eat him right up. —Like this?, and a big snapping mouth chomped at her shoulder in the light thrown against the bedroom wall. My daughter squealed and wiggled in my arms, and we saved naming the castle for another day.
L Mari Harris’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Tiny Molecules, Cheat River Review, Trampset, Bending Genres, among others. She lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at www.lmariharris.wordpress.com.