Yellow suits April, with her tiny porcelain doll face, wispy blonde hair, and raspy voice. She looks so pretty in yellow. It’s a warm late summer afternoon. April’s yellow sundress flutters as we walk along the stone path through her mother’s vegetable garden. She’s wearing red plastic sandals that slap the path stones. Muscular tomato vines grow along the weathered privacy fence, with cracking red fists of tomatoes. Big zucchinis hang from a bamboo pergola like the legs of green giants. Things fly about, small dark birds and glinting insects; big blue flies knock into us; everything smells of tomato stalks and rotting tomatoes and snails.
Come, April says. Come with me. At the end of the path stands the peeling white garage with the broken door and its red roof softening like crayon in the sun. It’s cool in there, April says and takes my hand in her hand, waxy and warm. It is cool in the garage, but not that cool. It smells of gasoline and mown lawn. But there is no car. She shows me a red iron pump her father uses to pump air into the tires of his red bicycle. He rides the bicycle to his job at the steel mill about a mile down the road. My father used to work there. He worked there before the fire. We lived in a different house before the fire. I only remember it a bit, in little bits.
April and I play checkers. She beats me. She says that she never beats her daddy. I don’t say anything, but I think her father must be mean not to let her beat him now and then. What about your daddy? she asks. He died, I say, in a fire. That’s sad, she says.
She unfastens her right sandal, removes it from her foot, and shakes out a stone. Her foot is small and white and delicate. Her baby toe has no toenail. I smile at her. She puts her sandal back on, tightens the strap. We play checkers again. She beats me again. I don’t like losing, but I don’t mind losing to her. Winning makes her so happy. Do you miss your daddy? she asks. I tell her I don’t remember much of him; I was small when he died. I hope my daddy never dies, she says. We play checkers again. This time I win.
Her mother brings us lemonade. Her mother all bright and wearing white with red polka dots, red lipstick, white sandals, and toenails painted red. How you kids doing? she brightly asks. We’re fine, April says. That’s terrif, says her mom. That’s just dandy.
Mommy, April says, you know what I want? I want daddy to live forever. Aw, her mother says, that’s so sweet. I’ll tell daddy what you said, hon. Okay, now, you kids be good. I’ll bring snacks in a bit. Does your friend like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Do you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, little man? she asks me. I nod. I like them. I’m not hungry, but I like them.
Later, I tell April that her daddy will die one day. She stares at me with her small blue doll eyes; they look like little marbles. After a long moment she asks, Why would you say that? Well, everybody’s going to die one day, I say — but now I know I’ve made a mistake. The vibration between us has changed. I should not have said that about her father dying, no matter how true. I try to apologize, but she lowers her head and curls a hand to her mouth. Big tears drop from her eyes.
April, I say softly, I’m really sorry I said that about your father. But my words only make her cry harder. I’m afraid that if her mother comes out she will think I hit her daughter or hurt her somehow. I’m so sorry, I say again, but April makes a sound in her chest and points to the garage door. Out, she says. I want you out. Without another word I leave.
A week goes by and I don’t see April. I don’t try to call 0n her. I feel bad for what I said. I feel like a bad kid. I am a bad kid. I try hard to be good, but I am bad. My grandmother used to say I was born that way. She died. Now she says nothing. Then Mr. Ward next door tells me a dump truck hit April’s father while he rode his bicycle to work. He died immediately, Mr. Ward says. Poor bugger.
My mother goes to the funeral, but I don’t. She tells me it was very sad, almost as sad as my father’s funeral. Poor bugger.
I don’t see April for the rest of the year. Every day I think about her. I miss her. I miss her little face, her button nose, her small white feet, her blue doll eyes. I hear she’s gone to stay at her grandmother’s place for now because her mother is having problems. When I see her mother standing on her front porch she looks sad, so sad. Her eyes are dark; she’s lost a lot of weight. She doesn’t say hello to me. She doesn’t even see me. April must have told her what I said in the garage. Maybe she blames me for her husband’s death. I should have never said anything.
Angry with me once for talking back to her, my mother told me that I had started the fire that caused my father’s death. She said that I’d been playing with matches in the basement — after she had told me more than once to never do this — near a can of kerosene, and set everything on fire. Later she said it wasn’t true. But I believed her the first time.
Sal Difalco is a Sicilian-Canadian satirist and writer currently living in Toronto.