It even threw my shadow in front of me. „Don’t look back!“ I told myself. Whatever that was, I mustn’t look back.
My fingers stretched forward. Finally I could feel and grab a piece of rectangular wood and carpet. The open door! I had reached it! The strange glow faded rapidly.
I pulled myself up, clutching at the doorframe. Clouds of breath vapor puffed fast into the darkness of the house. „Stand up!“ I commandeered myself. My bad knee throbbed, it wouldn’t stretch properly. But I got up, anyway.
The wind had blown in enough snow, that it blocked the door, no thought on moving it. I propped my back against the hallway wall, swept off the framed family photo. My numbed muscles didn’t move. I reached after it, but was too slow. It fell to the ground.
The sound of shattered glass ripped the silence. No! Curled fingers hovered over broken Maria and Amy. Too late. Again! They gazed up to me, their eyes pierced me between the cracks in the glass. I felt pinned in place. They kept smiling happily. That smile… They were my last link to a better world, to a good and bright place, where things worked out just fine. Hadn’t I atoned? How much longer?
Something cracked. Their smiles tortured me, mocked me… But that wasn’t their fault, not at all… Only mine alone.
The shape of my daughter fogged up in the entrance. She materialized straight from the white wind gusts. Someone inhaled sharply. Everything was right again, back to normal, back to perfect. It was the little girl I saw earlier through the window. She was my Amy again.
„Daddy?“ She stood in the doorway, scared. A betrayed expression crawled over her face. As if I had taken her favorite plushy away, and have been waving it in front of her, out of reach. „Daddy? Are you mad?“ Her wary words trembled over to me. She was honestly hurt, and about to cry. I knew that face, the way her chin and lower lip quivered.
„What are you?“ I shouted, not sure I wanted to know. „What the hell are you?“ There was no answer to that. No answer she could give. Amy held her arms out, wanted me to pick her up. I was a real jerk, asking such stupid questions. How cruel from me, showing her my fear and hate — to a child! When did I start venting on my child? What was wrong with me? I’d never do that, at least I thought I’d never do that.
But she wasn’t my baby girl, was she?
She was something else. But did that make her less of a child? Amy grimaced, big tears formed clinging to her lashes. No. She was a nearly my baby girl. I knew, if she started crying, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She’d get those red spots all over her face and neck and hands, and she’d keep sobbing for hours. Like her mommy used to, when she got upset.
„Daddy? Up! Up, up.“ She demanded a bit more urgent. „Pwease?“ I took a step forward to her. Couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t want to. „Pweeeease?“ Come on, old man, pull yourself together!
„Are you… Amy?“ I asked carefully. Say something else! She nodded so eagerly, that her beanie almost came down. How strange… My hands shook, my knees almost gave out under me. Where did this feeling come from? A warmness spread from my navel to my back, leaving me without strength. She beamed up at me with her dark eyes. They glowed with a soft fire. „Are you really my baby girl?“
„Mhm.“ She smiled wholeheartedly. She believed it. I was her father. I wanted to believe it too.
That was crazy! But she was so real. On my doorstep, she stood there, wanting to be held. Like any other little girl would want to be held by her daddy.
Amy from the photos wasn’t here, Maria wasn’t here either. My wife would think I was crazy… And maybe I was. Even considering something this twisted…
I kept thinking, that I had gotten a second chance. That this time, everything was going to be okay. I’d take good care of her, I’d protect her, no matter what. I surprised myself by taking another step forward.
Should I hold back? Should I run? Where to? And why? I didn’t wanted to. Not anymore… I let my body do, what it longed for. I picked Amy up. She had the same weight, as the last time I held her.
My Amy! My other Amy, my second Amy. Her innocent child smell hit me. Crayons, cookies and strawberries. I’d never want to miss that again. My knees trembled a bit, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. This time I was going to be a proper father.
„Are you hungry, baby?“ She nodded and sighed with relief. „What do you want to eat?“ There had to be pancakes dough somewhere in the cupboards. „I can make us some pancakes with syrup and chocolate chips. How’d you like that?“
She hugged my neck and gave me a big wet smooch on my cheek. „You’re the bestest daddy in the woods.“ I smiled.
Something bright and warm whirled in my chest.
I — I thought, this time…
I could be happy.