by Beth Konkoski
When Anna was five, she pretended to watch Belle in her yellow gown bring the forgotten castle to life. The movie, a magic dilemma of unruly furniture and songs, couldn’t hold her attention. She was thinking of the new baby brother who was supposed to arrive soon. During her mother’s final weeks of pregnancy, Anna loved to set her hand on her mother’s stomach and feel him kick. She would picture him in there, tight and stretched, like a face pressed against glass. It seemed like days had passed at Aunt Mary’s; finally, her father came and said this brother would not stay with them, could not stay because he was sick, like her dog had been sick and had gone to heaven.
“I can’t even tell you how sick,” he said, his forehead resting against hers until she could feel each ridge of the skin above his eyes. When he sighed, everything ended in a shudder and she smelled a hot, grown-up smell, like the diner where he sometimes took her for breakfast.
“Then Mommy will.” She reached for his hand, his fingers thick and rough from the nails he pounded all day, the walls he told her about connecting together, until a house stood where it hadn’t stood before. “It’s all right not to know, Daddy. Aunt Mary says things take time.”
So, she waited for the brother who could not stay, and she tried to watch Belle’s dress twirl in a fog around her happiness. In the kitchen, Aunt Mary and the other adults talked over cigarettes, their voices prowling like cats. When the Beast on screen transformed into a prince, Anna’s father kissed the top of her head and stood up.
From the corner of her eye, she saw her mother come through the room, a Bundle clutched against her chest, a secret to hide.
“How did you get here?” Anna shouted, leaping to her feet. She felt her father’s fingers choke her arm and she dropped to her knees, slipped through his grasp. She dove at her mother, needing to hug her, to touch her, not just the thought of her. But her mother’s palm met her chest, shoved her away.
“Keep her back,” her mother screamed and for a moment, the blanket slipped. Anna saw the shadow of a face, a scrambled, mixed-around face like her Mr. Potato Head toy when she put all the pieces in the wrong holes. And then her mother pulled the bundle tight to her chest and rushed away, while Anna’s father caught her in his arms, his palms tough and clumsy through the fabric of her nightgown. They landed together on the couch in a bear hug she struggled to break through.
Keeping her face locked against his chest, he rocked her while the voices of adults swirled in the room and the front door banged close.
“It’s all right, it’s all right,” he whispered and continued to hold her as the house fell silent.
She could hear in his voice that he didn’t believe his words. When she opened her eyes and was at last allowed to move out of her father’s arms, there was only the empty room and the blank screen where Belle lived happily ever after.
BETH KONKOSKI is a writer and high school English teacher living in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in journals such as: Story, Mid-American Review, and The Baltimore Review. A second chapbook of her poetry, “Water Shedding” is available from Finishing Line Press.