I find the inspiration for this short in a video game. It begs a little explanation, so I will indulge. If you don't care about the explanation, feel free to skip ahead.
If you've played Dragon Age: Inquisition, or any of the DA games, then you know that your party has continuous banter throughout your travels. Usually, it's fun and lighthearted. Every once in a while, it's not. This was one of those times and one of the characters said something that struck a chord with me. The conversation between Blackwall and Cole (creepy psychic spirit kid) goes like this:
- Cole: We played by the fire so she would be warm. No, it's summer, Liddy.
- Blackwall: This thing you do? Maybe you should stop doing it.
- Cole: Got her flower but they'd taken her. Left it on her bed. Next eight on the sill.
- Cole: Tourney sands. A garden seat. Five to Chantry altars. One to a child with her hair. The sea? Too many to count.
- Cole: And thirty-six. Tossed off the battlements today.
- Blackwall: Go bother Solas.
- Cole: You have many feelings.
- Cole: I'm sorry she died
Focusing on the last two lines, there.
So, being that Blackwall is probably my favorite character in the game (and you don't know what Cole is talking about at all here), this line made me have many feelings. And with those feelings, I write.
It was her first one, too; a bunch of three-year-olds spinning around uncoordinated on stage didn’t sound like the best way to spend my evening, not after the work day I’d had, but at the same time I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I switched my briefcase to my other arm, which was less tired, and hurried on down the busy street.
At an intersection, I was stopped. I watched a few vehicles go by, the group of pedestrians around me waiting to cross growing larger by the second. I nervously stood on my toes, trying to see if the dance studio was visible from here, but the day was gray and a heavy fog had lain over the city all afternoon. I couldn’t see a thing.
I felt something brush against my leg and mindlessly swatted it away. Upon doing so, however, I felt a small hand. I glanced down to see a little girl, only a little older than Atarah, perhaps, standing beside me, tugging on my pants leg.
“Are you lost, little girl?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I am not, thank you for asking.”
“I like your suitcase. It’s very nice. And small. I like small things.”
Though it wasn’t a suitcase, what need was there in correcting her? “Thank you,” I replied.
As we waited for the signal to change, she stood by me, rocking back on forth on the balls of her feet, her arms crossed behind her back. “It’s a very foggy day,” she said.
I affirmed that it was.
The signal changed and the people ahead of us began to walk.
“It was nice talking to you,” I said with a smile.
She smiled back at me, locking her small eyes with mine. I couldn’t look away, surprised at the little child’s boldness. She put her hand on mine and said. “It was nice. You have a lot of feelings.”
I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was keep my eyes on hers.
She sighed, squeezing my hand. “I’m sorry she died.”
“Ellena!” came the shriek of the girl’s mother. She took the girl by the hand and pulled her away. “I’m so sorry if she bothered you,” she said, nodding once at me before disappearing into the crowd.
My mind leapt to my daughter. I broke into a sprint. The busy street became a tunnel as I raced toward the dance hall.
When I slung myself through the door, my hair tossed and breath gone, the music was just starting. I stood in the back, trying to catch my breath without causing a scene. I waited, heart still racing, as the little dancers began filing out onto the stage. She was there, fifth in the line. I exhaled in relief, covering my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. A quick glance into the audience and I could see the back of my wife’s head. There was an empty chair next to her. Another wave of relief washed over me.
Had that little girl’s words frightened me that much? With my wife and daughter now in my sight, I felt ridiculous for believing her for even a second. Children said all sorts of weird things. Why had I given her so much credit? After the first song ended, I snuck down the aisle and sat in the chair my wife had saved for me.
It was in the middle of the night when I thought of those words again.
I’m sorry she died.
I opened my eyes and looked over to my wife, who was sleeping soundly. She, I thought. What ‘she’ had that girl been talking about? No one I knew had died…not in my entire adult life. Perhaps that meant I should count myself as lucky, but in that moment, it only served to unnerve me.
I reminded myself it was a child, that children say strange, inexplicable things, and tried to roll over and fall back asleep.
When I left for work the next morning, I hugged my wife and daughter tight, told them I loved them. I didn’t know what would happen. My wife could tell something was wrong, but didn’t say anything. I assumed it was because Atarah was present. What could I have told her, anyway, had she asked?
I left for work, the same voice echoing in my mind. I couldn’t push it out. I couldn’t ignore it. It haunted my walk, my day, and by the time I was returning home in the evening, I was dreadfully certain I would walk home to a tragedy.
I’m sorry she died.