by Shian Sparks

I press the red crayon harder onto the page of the princess coloring book that I hold in my lap, sitting on the last step at the bottom of the stairs. Pieces of the wax flake onto the page, and as I wipe them away, they leave faint red streaks across the princess’s face. At the top of the stairs, the door to my parents’ bedroom is closed, as if it will keep the shrieks that mommy is directing at daddy from piercing my eardrums. I hold my breath, waiting for the quiet that comes when daddy responds. The bass of his voice does not penetrate through the door like mommy’s voice does, and that’s when I can breathe. When the quiet finally comes, it is longer than usual. The fight must be over, I think. I could not have been more wrong. 

The door to my parents’ bedroom flies open and mommy comes thundering down the stairs. Maybe she has a bag in her hand, maybe she doesn’t; but I make myself as small as I can so as not to get in her way as she flees the scene. Her descent down the stairs puts me right between the two of them. Daddy stands at the top of the stairs, illuminated by light flooding out of the bedroom, and mommy stands in the dark shadows at the bottom of the stairs, one hand on the worn, brass door knob. 

“Tash, come on, let’s—”

“FUCK YOU!” she screams up the stairs. Her screams force my hands to shield my ears, and in doing so, the coloring book falls out of my lap, and onto the floor. The binding of the coloring book strikes the hardwood floor and adds to the concert of noise already surrounding me. Mommy turns her eyes to the fallen coloring book before looking at me. She raises her eyebrows at me, as though warning me to stay quiet. Then, without another word, she opens the front door and leaves, slamming the door so hard I fear that the window in the front room will shatter. 

I do not move my hands from my ears, nor do I move from my spot at the bottom of the stairs. I don’t know how much time passes before I feel daddy’s hand on my back. I follow him with my eyes as he steps past me to pick my coloring book off the floor and place it back in my lap. We sit wordlessly on the stairs until I feel it is safe for me to remove my hands from my ears, and return to my coloring page. I hand my red crayon to daddy, and he hands me a yellow one before beginning his gentle interrogation. 

“You know you’re my big girl, right?”

I say nothing, keeping my head down and my eyes on the princess page in front of me.

“I’m sorry you had to see mommy and daddy fight. You’re so brave and smart. Look at those colors.” He reaches up and smooths my hair before tucking a strand behind my ear. I hand him the yellow crayon, and he hands me a blue one before carrying on. 

“You know that I love you and mommy so much, right?” 

I nod my head yes but keep my eyes on the coloring page.

“Okay. . .I need you to tell me where you and mommy go on your walks at night.”

I stop coloring. Mommy told me that where we went at night was a secret. 

“I know mommy told you not to tell me, but daddy really needs to know where you go because daddy is worried that mommy might be in trouble.”

Mommy told me that daddy would say that he thought she was in trouble, but it was supposed to stay a secret. I start coloring again, hoping that if I stay quiet he will stop asking. He doesn’t.

“I know that you and mommy go somewhere that isn’t just on a walk. I need you to tell me where.”

Mommy prepared me for this.

“We go to Linda’s house on our walk.” I tell him. Word for word what mommy told me to say. I adjust my grip on the blue crayon and continue coloring, squirming under the weight of the lie. 

“Now what has daddy told you about lying?”

“It’s bad. . .But that’s where mommy says we go.” The image of the princess starts to blur as tears well in my eyes. 

“Baby. Hey, look at me.” I do not look at him. I can’t. I know it’s bad to lie. Daddy reaches up and physically lifts my chin so that I am looking at him. 

“You’re not in trouble. Daddy just really needs to know where mommy is.” Looking directly into daddy’s big brown eyes, I cannot contain the secrets anymore. I begin to cry, heavy teardrops falling onto my princess page as I slowly reveal to daddy where mommy and I go on our walks.

“I don’t know his name.”

“That’s okay, can you tell me where it is?” I cry harder and daddy reaches up to wipe my snot with his sleeve. 

“Mommy is going to be so mad at me,” I manage between sobs.

“No. No, baby, mommy is not going to be mad at you. And I’m not mad at you.”  

“He lives in the blue house next to the scary sidewalk.”

“The scary sidewalk?”

“Yeah, you know. The scary sidewalk with the tall, pointy bushes.”

“The one you walk on when you go to school in the morning?” I nod my head. Daddy knows exactly what house I am talking about. 

“Thank you, baby. I know that telling the truth is hard. You did a good job, and daddy is proud of you.” With that, he stands up and walks back up the stairs. I stay motionless at the bottom of the stairs, tears continuing to fall onto my coloring page. Even though daddy says mommy will not be mad, I know that she will be. When daddy comes back down the stairs, he is wearing a jacket and carrying keys in his hand. My crying ceases for a split second.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve got to go get mommy now.” 

“NO!! She will know that I told you our secret.” I resume crying and jump up from the stairs to hug daddy’s legs, as if that will keep him from leaving. Daddy pries me from his legs and sits me back on the bottom step of the stairs before squatting down so that he is level with me.

“You’re not going to get in trouble, I promise. Stay here and be a big girl.” Daddy kisses the top of my forehead before opening the front door. I take a deep breath and hold it, waiting for the shatter of the window, but it never comes. The door closes softly, and I watch daddy walk away. I stare after him long after he is gone before returning to my coloring page, but everything is ruined.

Shian Sparks is a nonfiction writer born and raised in Oregon. She served as the Poet Laureate for the inauguration of the 18th President at Pacific University, and is currently a Junior Editor for the internationally-distributed Silk Road Review.