There are days when I don’t mind being alone, and then there are days when I remember what my family was like.
That almost excludes Ryden; not because I don’t consider her family- if anything, she’s all I have left- but because I have actually seen her in in the past six years.
My papa was like thunder, coming in with the storms. I somehow thought I would have more of a recollection of him, but the only thing I can really remember is his shoes. I do not remember his face. I do not remember his voice. I do not even remember his clothes, but I remember his shoes. His size thirteen, worn-down and well-loved hiking boots were always either on his feet or at the foot of his bed during the night. I do not remember how my papa smelled, but I remember how his shoes smelled. They were terrible, even though my little sister would sometimes put fresh pine needles inside of them while my papa slept. She did things like that a lot- trying to fix what was unfixable. Ryden was the rain.
My mama was the lightning, fleeting in her appearances and quick with her strikes. I never knew when she would leave next, and I never knew when she would return. I remember her seated at the foot of my bed every night, gently running her fingertips over the veins in my hand as she assured me, Do not worry bambino, I am here. In the dead of winter, I remember that I would sit on her lap as Ryden sat in my papa’s, and the flames would roar wild in the fireplace next to us. We were very young, and we had no idea that we were all one gigantic storm.
Throughout my childhood, it was like my mama was a bird that was constantly on the verge of migrating south forever. As I grew older, she grew restless, and I knew this. I knew this very well. I never thought she would go, though, and while she would be gone for periods of time, she never truly did leave… until three days after my eighth birthday.
I remember waking up that morning. It was a grey day. The days always had colors when I was little- I don’t remember when that stopped, exactly, or even if it stopped. Maybe they all just started to be grey. Sometimes the day’s color would form as it went along, and sometimes I knew from the moment I woke up. This was one of those days.
From the moment I opened my eyes, everything was grey. The sparse droplets against the window next to my bed were gray. They were hardly droplets even; it was less of a rain than it was a falling mist. Connecticut is prone to this type of weather in November.
I heard Ryden shift around from the other side of the room. I knew it must be early if my little sister wasn’t up yet; she was always an early riser. I glanced over at the light peeking in from under our door. It was grey.
I slipped out from other the covers, taking one glance at the window and my sister’s bed covers before opening the door and letting in the light that seeped through the crack between it and the floor. Grey. All of it was grey.
And then I saw them.
My papa’s shoes.
Strewn carelessly across the floor in the middle of the hallway.
My papa’s shoes.
I stumbled over to them, in a daze. I did not dare to pick them up.
My papa’s shoes were not on his feet.
The day turned black as I turned the knob on the door that led out of the hallway into the kitchen.
The door opened in slow motion, though whether this is a trick of my memory or I actually took my time in opening it I can’t say. But eventually it was open, and I was standing in the hallway with my hand on the doorknob, impossibly small against the gravity of those abandoned shoes. A figure was slumped on the floor by the oven.
Papa was sitting on the ground, a sight so incredibly out of character that it took me several moments to register that it was, indeed, him. For a terrifying moment I thought he was dead- when he looked up, I instinctively jerked back, as if he would lurch forward and try to slice me open. Instead he just let out a long, ragged breath.
“Mama is gone, cuore mio.” His pajamas were black.
My hand fell from the doorknob. “What do you mean, gone?”
“She left us, mimmo. She’s not coming back.”
Anger swelled up inside of me, something that would soon be familiar. I had many red days in my future. “How do you know? You don’t! You don’t know!”
Papa just shook his head, dropping his gaze back to the wooden flooring.
That previous night, my mama had sat at the foot of my bed as always. She had placed her hand on top of mine and gazed at the ceiling of the room, short, straight, black hair falling into her blue eyes. It was as if she saw stars up there, because she let out this great big sigh and gave my hand a squeeze.
“Is everything okay, Mama?”
She looked down at me and gave me what seemed to be a reassuring smile.
“Yes, Liam. Io ti amo.”
And I believed her. Because when you’re eight years old, your parents don’t lie to you.
Or at least you don’t know it.
This is just something detailing a part of one of my character’s pasts. Huge thanks to my friend Rory for helping with writing it.