Volume 1, Number 1 -- August, 1996
Walter and BrittanyFiction by Dave Lind "Woman!" ranted the old man, "I forbid you to go!"
"Oh, don't be such a big baby!" scolded the old woman, "I'll only be gone for a few minutes, I think you can survive without me."
Walter knew it was useless to argue, he never had quite mastered the art of saying 'No' to that woman.
"Besides," she smirked, "I'm leaving Brittany here to keep an eye on you." Walter shot a disapproving glance at his little blonde grand-niece playing with dolls in the middle of the room. He huffed as he closed the door behind his wife and skulked over to his chair, settling down with his newspaper and trying to pretend he was alone.
He had just begun to read when a tiny hand thrust a doll at him and said, "Could you help me get Barbie's dress on?"
Walter gave her his best scowl and followed it up with a truly inspired huff, but neither was able to deter the child. Finally he shoved his newspaper aside and indignantly snatched the doll from the girl's hand. After much fumbling and grumbling he returned the doll to its owner and started to reach for his paper only to be interrupted once again as the child crawled into his lap and began to comb the doll's hair.
The startled old man stared at the little girl for several minutes, as if by sheer will alone be would be able to hoist the child from his lap and deposit her on the other side of the room. He was just opening his mouth to speak when her tiny voice cut him off.
"Daddy says you hate kids."
Walter stammered for a moment before responding, "Now why would your daddy tell you a thing like that?"
"I heard him telling my Mommy." she said matter-of-factly, still combing the doll's hair. "He said you was a bitter old man and you don't even like your own self."
Walter tried to think of a response, but failed.
"But Mommy says it's just 'cause you don't know how to act around little kids," continued Brittany, "'cause you didn't have any of your own."
The faintest flicker of pain shot across the old man's eyes, disappearing almost as soon as it appeared. Almost.
Brittany paused from combing her doll's hair as her eyes caught something shiny hanging from Walter's shirt pocket. She reached up and, brown eyes wide with wonder, pulled from the old man's pocket a gold watch. It seemed almost heavy in her tiny hands, and the sight of her holding it stirred something deep in the old man's soul. Something long forgotten. Something deeply buried.
"You like that, do you?" said Walter, his voice less harsh than before. He popped the watch open so she could see inside, forgetting for a moment what else was contained in the watch.
"Who's that?" asked Brittany with a reverence that only children can attain. Walter looked at the picture inside and the pain returned to his eyes, only this time it lingered a bit longer.
"That," he whispered softly, "is ... was ... a very special little girl."
"Was that your little girl?" asked Brittany.
"Yes." whispered Walter.
"You was her Daddy?"
"Yes." breathed Walter, "Yes, I was."
"Where is she now?"
Walter paused for a moment, trying to find the words that a four-year-old might understand.
"She got real sick," he finally said, "and she never got better."
"Is she in heaven?" asked the girl innocently.
"Yes," replied Walter with warmth that surprised even him, "she's in heaven."
"Oh." said Brittany simply, in that unique way that kids have of saying things that make grown-ups realize that they understand far more than we give them credit for.
"She is most certainly in heaven." whispered Walter, his eyes starting to cloud over and his mind starting to drift back to a time when his life was ... perfect. He paused for a long moment before suddenly snapping the watch shut, startling the little girl and causing her to jump, then to giggle. The child's laughter broke through Walter's reverie and pulled him back to the present. He opened the watch and snapped it closed again, again delighting the little girl and evoking more giggles. Soon she was shrieking with glee and Walter's eyes were moist from laughter.
Eventually she tossed her head back on Walter's shoulder and soon was fast asleep. When the old woman returned she found Brittany cuddled warmly against Walter's shoulder in a deep sleep and Walter his grumpy old self. She listened to his grumbling and groaning as she took the child from his lap and carried her to the bedroom, pausing only briefly at the doorway to note with curiosity the oddly serene look on the old fool's face.
When she returned he was reading the newspaper and complaining about the amount of money athletes make. She strolled over and kissed him right on the top of his balding head.
"Careful, woman." he gruffed, "Don't start what you can't finish."
"Oh, you're all talk, you old poop." she muttered as she smoothed a few wisps of hair across his scalp before wandering off to other parts of the house, leaving Walter to himself.
Walter read the paper for a few more minutes, then put it down and stretched his tired muscles. It was then that be noticed that the reassuring weight of his gold watch was gone. He patted his pocket to be certain, then remembered that Brittany had been playing with it.
He stood and quietly stole into her room. He silently padded over to her sleeping form and reached down to pull the chain from her tiny hand, but his hand paused before it reached the watch. He gently stroked her tiny cheek and his mind again drifted back to those years long past, and that so very special little girl who used to sit in his lap and play with that watch. As was usually the case when he thought of such things, a tear trickled down his weathered face. But unlike before, this time he felt just a tinge of warmth. Of contentment. Even, of happiness. The memories were not so very painful anymore, and for the first time in many, many years he felt at peace.
He bent over low and softly kissed her little cheek, then he left the room. As he closed the door the girl stirred ever so slightly, then drifted back to sleep, still clutching the gold watch in her delicate little hands.
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