"I don't want to hear about my father!" I said. "I don't want to hear about him! I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT HIM!"
I was shouting at my mother. We were sitting by the swimming pool in the spring sunset, and everything about the evening had been relaxed and pleasant until my mother mentioned my father.
"You're getting to look like him," she said as I pulled up my skirt to keep it from getting wet. "Your hair is turning dark and so are your eyes." She watched me splashing my feet in the pool.
"You sit like him, too," she added.
That's when I did the shouting. It surprised both of us.
Mother stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray on her chair arm. She twisted it round and round and round, long after the red coal blackened and fell apart.
"What's wrong with you, Marty?" She was shocked, but she was also puzzled. "What's come over you all of a sudden? Why don't you want to hear about your father?" Her fingers were soiled from the cigarette ash, and she wiped them on the grass.
"Shut up about my father!" I said. I knew I was being heartless as well as rude, but I said it anyhow. "I hate my father! I'll always hate him!"
My mother killed a mosquito on her knee.
"It isn't your father you'll always hate," she told me as she brushed the mosquito away. "It's the war."
"It's my father." It troubled me to see I was hurting her, so I became defensive. "I guess I ought to know," I said.
Mother gazed at the sun slipping like a shined penny into a slot between the mountains.
"Try to be fair," she said to me or the sun. "Think back. Can't you remember your father when you were a little girl? Can't you remember his Spring Song? Can't you remember how he used to build you castles in the sand?"
"No, I can't remember," I said.
The sun was gone, so Mother stopped looking at the sky. She lowered her gaze to watch a robin moving across the lawn. Hop, hop, hop; stop. Hop, hop, hop; stop. She had no great interest in birds, but she concentrated on the robin.
"I didn't think you'd ever forget," she said, and her old sorrow began making its wall between us.
"Never mind," I said, because I'd had enough of the sorrow and I'd had enough of walls.
Mother opened her mouth to say something else.
"Never mind!" I repeated.
I must have been nine years old then. Or ten. I don't know. All I know is I dreamed again that night.
Mother was standing by the bed when I opened my eyes.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"You were screaming," she answered. "Would you like a glass of warm milk?"
"No," I said. "I'm sorry I woke you up."
"I was awake anyway." Mother flipped her hair out from under her bathrobe collar. "What were you screaming about?"
"I had that dream again," I said.
"What dream?" The night air was chilly, and she pulled her robe closer around her.
"I told you about the dream," I said.
"I suppose you did." Her tone was vague. "Or did you?"
"I did," I answered, though for a minute I wasn't sure I had.
"Well, it doesn't matter." She pretended to yawn. "Dreams don't mean anything. Not even the bad ones. Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right."
"That's what Father used to say." I wished I hadn't spoken, but I couldn't take back the words.
Mother was silent a minute. I hoped she hadn't forgotten our conversation by the pool.
She hadn't forgotten.
"We won't discuss your father," she said. "We won't ever discuss your father after this unless you say so. I fixed your purple jumper so you could wear it to school tomorrow. How do you like your new school?"
Excerpted from The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird. Copyright © 2013 by Kaye Starbird. Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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