by Isaiyan Morrison

He promised he'd be there.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



"Stay within the lines, honey."

Patricia Davidson whispered to her daughter, who swept the burgundy crayon over the page. She'd chosen dark colors for her abstract design. Her tongue curled and probed the air around her gaping mouth as she strained to confine her work to the outlined images of puffy clouds. Her coloring book was swallowed in the colors of her efforts.

Balancing her smoldering cigarette between two fingers, Patricia folded her arms over her chest and smiled at her daughter. Nikala and her toys. She stared at the frost collecting in the crevasses of the living room window panes. She desperately wanted to be here when her daughter blossomed into a young mature woman. She knew Nikala's fixation with coloring books, Barbie dolls, and untalented young pop stars was a passing phase. She wanted to be around for what came next.

It felt like only yesterday she'd experienced the monstrous pains of childbirth, the doctor instructing her to breathe and push harder. She recalled the nurse's cold, clammy hands against her forehead. Patricia had been terrified of having a stillborn. She'd stared at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling as she prayed, rivulets of sweat dripping from her brow, soaking the pillow. She'd refused anesthesia.

She blocked out the voices of the nurses who'd told her the baby was coming. The baby couldn't come now. He promised he'd be there.

But he never showed.

Instead, it was the nurse who cut the umbilical cord, and the sticky baby was placed upon Patricia's chest, instead of into his arms. The baby shrieked as salty rivers coursed down Patricia's cheeks. The medical staff welcomed Patricia's crying as happiness.

"Stay within the lines, honey." Patricia now leaned over her daughter's head and deeply inhaled, trying to remember the sweet smell of her baby-fine hair. She turned again toward the window, wishing the headlights of his Buick would pierce the room as he pulled into the driveway, his back seat littered with Christmas gifts for their daughter.

The clock over the mantle read 11:58 when the sun's rays finally broke through the turbid clouds. Tiny snowflakes glittered in the air outside. Patricia stirred dust motes with her heavy sigh, relieved to see a car approaching their home.

Yet, instead of pulling into the driveway, it passed by and disappeared around the bend

That bastard.

He'd missed Nikala's first steps and first words. He'd missed her first day of Head Start, her first homework assignment, and her first certificate of superb attendance. Each of those moments broke Patricia in half and resurrected her deep depression.

She felt Nikala's soft touch on her thigh, and she turned to see her daughter's beaming face as she held up the page she'd torn from her coloring book. Patricia stole another quick glance out the window, and forced herself to smile She didn't want Nikala to sense her mounting distress. Patricia nodded acceptance and knelt alongside her little girl.

"Make sure you show your grandmother," Patricia prompted. Nikala's curls bobbed as she nodded, and she skipped toward the kitchen.

Another car drove down the street. Its compact size told Patricia it wasn't his car. Patricia pressed her hand on the glass and watched the car disappear down the street.

"He'll be here, honey. Don't worry." Patricia's mother startled her from her thoughts.

Patricia lowered her hand from the glass, leaving the imprint of her palm in the frost. I didn't know I could do that! She glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed, but they'd retreated to the kitchen.

Clattering dishes echoed, and Patricia's nose picked up the scent of fresh-baked corn bread, spicy chicken wings, and smoked beans. I can smell again! She realized she had a lot of things to re-learn.

Patricia watched her mother carry a tray of sliced glazed ham into the dining area of the living room, Nikala on her heels, waving her colored masterpiece in the air.

"He'll be here, baby. Don't worry." Mrs. Davidson placed the tray on the dining table. "He's probably running late."

Don't lie to her, Mom. Patricia had heard her mother's hollow speech a thousand times. With years of lying to Nikala, Patricia was able to pick out the most innocent of lies. Even if he never appeared at the door bearing gifts, the same heartbreaking phrase would come from Mrs. Robinson's mouth.

"Mommy's here, Grandma," said Nikala, her voice reminding Patricia of champagne bubbles.

"It's for the best that you don't think of such things," Mrs. Robinson said sternly. She wiped her hands on her apron and marched to the kitchen.

That night, Patricia saw the headlights, first, and as the truck drew closer, they blinded her. She only closed her eyes for a second. "Hyacinth House" by The Doors blasted from the radio, yet still she heard the soft cries of Nikala's toy doll from the back seat and the continuous ring from an incoming call on his cell phone.

"Stay within the lines, honey," she squealed, reaching for his arm. He jerked the wheel, but the car didn't react. The morning rain had created a thin white layer of ice on the asphalt. The truck's horn blared, followed by the gruesome sound of twisting metal and splintering glass. Patricia felt her body yank forward, the seatbelt digging into her chest. Nikala's screams filled the car, yet couldn't drown the deafening sound of metal meeting metal. Someone lifted her from the seat. Sharp sensations pierced her face and chest, and she heard shards of glass fall and pepper the pavement as they moved her. The reek of gasoline filled her nose and took her breath. She felt a searing pain in her neck and heard the audible snap as they lay her on the stretcher.

Then blissful silence.

Until Nikala cried.

Patricia opened her eyes.


Now the sound of crunching snow filled her ears as a Lincoln Town Car slowly eased into the driveway. The door opened and, seconds later, he stepped out, gripping a bag full of presents near his chest.

He looked different than the last time Patricia saw him. He seemed taller and his smooth, hairless face now sported a prominent black beard. The thick winter jacket he wore covered his medium frame.

Nikala ran past her mother to the front door. She jumped up and down in excitement, her curly ponytails bouncing about her slender shoulders. Mrs. Davidson appeared from the kitchen, drying her hands on her Christmas apron. Nikala stood on tiptoes to reach the top lock on the door.

"Daddy's here!" Nikala's face glowed as she smiled at her mother.

I know, sweetie. Patricia couldn't help but smile with her.

Nikala glanced back at her grandmother.

"It's okay. Open the door," said Mrs. Davidson.

Nikala nodded vigorously and turned the door knob. She jumped into the arms of her father, and he stumbled back, struggling to juggle the presents. He laughed and grinned at Mrs. Davidson, who shooed him inside and closed the door behind him.

Nikala's joyous cries of happiness did little to calm Patricia's instability. He's going to disappoint her again. I know it! Patricia watched him examine the living room. His stared at a portrait of Patricia hanging above the fireplace. He carried his daughter over to take a closer look.

"It's the last picture I took of her," Mrs. Davidson said.

He nodded and turned around. "I remember when it was taken."

It stunned Patricia to see his eyes mist over as he shifted his gaze to their daughter. He hugged Nikala tight, and giggled with glee.

He titled back his head and sniffed the air.

"Yum!" He leaned over to let his daughter stand. "Let's go see what's cooking."

Nikala took her father's hand and led him toward the kitchen. Then she stopped and motioned for him to bend close so that she could whisper in his ear.

"Mommy's here." Nikala pointed toward the window.

He followed her gaze, then dropped his head. He cupped Nikala's cherubic face in his hands. "No, darling," he whispered. "I've told you before. Mommy's not coming."




Copyright © 2008 Isaiyan Morrison

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

A Native of Minnesota, Isaiyan Morrison spends her free time cuddling with her cat Pookie, researching historical events, watching foreign films, and swooning over movies starring Peter Lorre. Her stories have appeared in Silverthought, Whispers of Wickedness, Dream People, and Twisted Dreams Magazine. She's afraid to place her pen down, fearing the wrath of her cat. Visit her website at

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