Trapped Magic (784 Words)
It was a fight, of sorts. The wife blamed herself for not being firm and the husband blamed himself because he was helpless and could do nothing to ease this new danger, this new obstacle, in their lives. It was a fight without the direct savagery of accusation, but showed itself instead in raw feelings and vulnerability that frightened them both. If there was blame, the blame was directed at the cause of the problem—the Eastern Shore Institution for Mythical Creatures—but sometimes, inevitably, one or the other suffered the crossfire of their mutual pain.
Their energy burned fast, too fast, like fat on fire. Perhaps a cruel word was said or some fear was spoken as if it were fact. Whatever happened, one of the listening children cried out and ran, so grieved, so scared, that she turned to her own little bed for safety from the nightmare that had somehow become life.
The two adults were silent. A pause followed the child’s cry that was like cold shock. They went to the children’s room and found the two oldest sitting up, not looking at them, the youngest sobbing and shaking in her own bed. Both parents were attentive to the little one, forgetting for a moment their harshness to each other in their shared grief for their child. The woman rocked the little girl on her breast while the man bent close and stroked the child’s hair, her little back.
The eldest, only seven, was the one to speak. “Is Papa leaving?”
“God in Heaven.” The man rose, unable to suppress himself. His immediate response was less profane than an actual prayer, his anguish showing itself like trapped distress. He knelt so that he looked directly at the two figures huddled in bed, the sisters cuddled close, their faces solemn, wary, tight. “No,” he said, “I am not leaving. I would never leave you. Do you understand me?”
They nodded at him. His mouth quivered, the first time they had ever seen their father so shaken, so defenseless.
“Not if they took everything else,” he said, “would I go. I love you. You are all that I have. My babies.”
He held out his arms. The two girls threw themselves on him, desperate for his embrace. His wife went to them, carrying the youngest, and sat with her husband on the floor. The little family pressed close. In a way, the fury of their past emotion needed a release like this. Only brokenness could follow something so violent and raging, a fear so terrible that it only either be survived or finish them.
For a moment they held together, recognizing only the simple truths of each other’s presence. The children wanted to feel both their parents together—to know that there was still love between them, unshaken love, and that they would be sheltered in that love.
“You were listening, weren’t you?” said the woman, half-chiding, still soft. “You were supposed to be in bed.”
“We weren’t fighting,” said the man, equally low. “There’s a lot going on, but believe me, we are in this together.”
“They won’t take us away?” asked the eldest child, her voice quivering.
Her father kissed her gently. For a moment his eyes burned, but the child did not see it. There was wildness in that look, something primitive and raw, and his wife recognized in that look the man’s utter desperation. She spoke for him.
“No,” she said, “they won’t take you. What Sally’s doing has rattled them. Her research on the unicorn we found wasn’t approved, and they want to blame us for its disappearing, though it wasn’t her fault or ours. It could cost us a lot of money, but we can handle it. We’ll be alright.”
The parents’ eyes met. Although her voice was calm, the woman’s eyes met her husband’s with new grief. They were both young, and although they longed to reassure their children their own fears remained, fears that they would be so burdened with debt that they would have no hope. The suit against their parenting was by far the most grievous wound, threatening to take from them their own little daughters. Meeting her husband’s eyes, the woman knew that there was nothing either would withhold if the final battle meant losing their children.
“If worse comes to worse,” said the man, softly, “I will give up my business. If that is what it comes to, I will do it. Nothing is more important to me than you.”
His children hugged his neck.
“It may not come to that,” said the woman, quietly, watching him.
The man nodded. “It may not.”
Written in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt, Present.