Chapter nine – Picking up
For the past five years, I’ve entrusted Micah to the care of her grandparents.
I ignored her birthdays, Christmas holidays and summer trips, with the excuse of looking for work. Catherine brought Micah to my house every once in a while, but during those visits, I’d never even taken a good look at her face.
Micah silently looked at me for a few seconds, and then dropped herself on the floor. She started playing with her legs and fiddling with her shoelaces, while constantly keeping her eyes on me. I was so distracted by their colour that it took over fifteen seconds to realise she was sitting on something.
‘What have you got there…?’
I bowed down and lifted Micah from the note. There were words on it, in a handwriting I suspected to be Cathy’s. With narrowed eyes, I began to read.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me…’
Micah was giggling next to me.
‘Say again?’ I put her down on the floor and tried not to look in her eyes.
‘She’s not here,’ I sighed.
‘The old man’s not here, either.’
I looked down on her uncomfortably. What was I supposed to do now? Both Catherine and Julian were nowhere in sight, and I couldn’t exactly go home and leave her by herself. Did I have their cell-phone numbers?
…No, I deleted those years ago. I had no way of getting in contact with them.
‘Trip!’ Micah giggled again. I let out another sigh.
‘That’s impossible, Cath and the old man aren’t here. Let’s just wait until they get back and then we can go.’
Micah just laughed and continued to play with her feet. Did she really understand what I said?
The day went by slowly and silently. I spent it reading books and lazing about the house, avoiding Natalia’s pictures by any means necessary.
Micah seemed to accept I was not going to do anything with her and quickly left to play by herself. She seemed… a bit boyish, ignoring the dollhouse and plush toys and playing with the toybox instead.
When nightfall came, I gave Micah a green bottle from the fridge and heated some chicken soup for myself. Surely Catherine and Julian would be home any minute now. I ate extra slowly, hoping the front door would open by the time I finished my dinner.
So an hour came… and went… and they still hadn’t returned.
Micah was playfully throwing all of the toys out of her toy box. When I got up from the table and walked towards her, she quickly shut the lid.
‘Do you think you’re hiding?’ I said. ‘I can totally see you, you know. Get out of there.’
She obeyed and climbed out of the box.
‘Buvday trip,’ she mumbled, while sucking on her thumb. I remembered what day it was; exactly five years since… the incident. It would probably be Micah’smilestone birthday today.
‘I told you, we can’t go until your grandparents are back. So be a good girl and wait until then, okay?’
I yawned and glanced at the front door again. No one in sight.
… a short nap wouldn’t hurt, would it?
I left Micah on her own again and headed towards the couch. The idle waiting all day had taken its toll on me. I lowered myself on the pillows and quickly drifted off to sleep.
‘Micah… how does Micah sound?’
‘Let’s take it back here once it’s born. Just the three of us, in a few months.’
I woke up abruptly, as if someone had screamed into my ear. The promise. I remembered now. We were going to take Micah to the place where we had named her, to celebrate her being born. Just the three of us. Was that what Catherine had meant with ‘a celebration trip’?
…Hey. I’d gone to sleep with the sounds of Micah throwing toys around, but now it was silent. Could she have fallen asleep in the box?
…No, the lid wouldn’t be closed completely if she had, and she wasn’t anywhere around the box as well. Where had she gone?
I searched the ground floor, and when I couldn’t find her, I headed upstairs. Surely a little toddler couldn’t climb a big staircase like this, could she? But then where else could she be? All the outside doors were shut.
‘Micah? Hello, are you in here?’
I was just about to turn around when I spotted a tiny, golden-haired head around the corner. Did she…?
‘Hey, I told you to wait with that until Catherine and the old man came back!’
She flinched and quickly retreated behind the wall again. I frowned.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. Come out from behind there. I don’t bite, I promise.’
It took a while, but eventually she stepped away from the wall and faced me.
‘That’s more like it. This is a problem, though. Now your grandparents missed your milestone birthday. I’m sure they’ll be sad.’
‘It can’t be helped,’ she muttered.
‘And why is that?’ I asked.
‘They’re not coming.’
I frowned at those words and lost myself in thought. If she knew they weren’t coming… that means they probably planned this. And that would mean…
I brooded it over for a while, and then saw she was still here, looking at me with big, grey eyes.
‘Do you need something else?’ I asked. Micah flinched again and quickly looked away.
‘Then don’t look. It’s rude to stare at people like that. Don’t do it again.’
I looked away again, thinking another nap on the couch would be a good idea. Or maybe I could take Thomas’ old bed. Micah should probably go to sleep my now, too. I faced the girl to say that out loud and saw she was staring at me again.
‘Listen, I know you have something to ask me. I already told you, I don’t bite. Just ask me what you want to ask.’
She fiddled with her sleeve for a second and then opened her mouth.
‘Tell me about mommy…’
The shock left me speechless for a while. And hurting. A lot.
‘Ask Catherine about her,’ I finally growled. Micah shook her head.
‘She won’t tell me.’
‘And so you came to me, huh,’ I mumbled. Anger was building up inside of me. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘I said NO!’
I regretted that right away. Micah’s eyes grew big and frightened and her lip started to tremble.
‘I-toilet,’ she muttered, turning around quickly. Within a few steps she was out of the room.
‘Micah- hey, wait!’
I could hear from the footsteps that she was indeed running straight to the bathroom. A door slammed shut and then it was silent. I exited the baby room and waited for her just outside of the bathroom door.
It took really long for Micah to come out again and when she finally did, she refused to look me in the eyes. I felt a bit guilty and tried to make eye contact with her anyway.
Was I just imagining it, or did her eyes look a little bit more red than before?
‘Have you been crying?’
She averted her gaze and looked down at a point to my right.
‘She said no crying,’ Micah muttered. I raised my eyebrows a little.
She’s unexpectedly strict, I thought to myself. Natalia had cried so many times when she was little- no, don’t think about that.
‘But she said there are places you can cry.’
‘Where?’ I asked, a little curious. Micah gave me a very strange look. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then muttered:
‘Oh… I see. I guess no one will notice you crying on the toilet,’ I nodded. ‘But I think you should just cry when you feel like crying. When you’re older there will be plenty of times where you can’t cry even if you want to.’
I turned around and headed back downstairs, to sleep on the couch some more. I was already halfway the stairs when I stopped.
‘Catherine and Julian… they’re really not coming, are they?’
‘Say… do you still want to go on a trip?’
‘Yes!’ Micah said, with a little excitement in her voice.
‘Are you sure? It’ll be just the two of us, your grandparents won’t come. Do you still want to go?’
She smiled at me. It was the first smile I’d ever seen her make as a child.
‘Yes. I want to go together with daddy.’
‘All right then!’ I said, smiling too. ‘We’ll leave at noon tomorrow. Make sure you’re ready before then.’
‘Are you ready, Micah?’
‘Locked all the doors and windows? You didn’t forget anything?’
‘Nope! I’m ready.’
‘Good,’ I smiled. ‘Let’s go, then.’
Micah nodded and ran out of the front door before me. She seemed eager. I looked at her tiny back and realised that this would be the first trip we’ve ever made with just the two of us. Before, every time she’d visit my home, Catherine would be there as well. But now it was just us.
I’d be all alone with Micah, for the first time in five years.