“You promised...you promised...!” No one paid any attention to Rosa, nobody cared about what she had gone through. All she felt was discomfort in this place that had once been as familiar to her as her own hands and face. Now, she felt the coldness of dead eyes piercing her neck in this place that Brinna was working so hard to make a home. Was and will never again. The homeyness was gone, all traces of Brinna’s labour removed.
Why was it like this? Rosa was a heartless child, turned cold against the world because no one accepted her. No one cherished her life or begged her to stay on here. Now, unfamiliar as it was to her, she felt a strange sensation just below her heart. It felt like her dog, Samus, tugging at her, only worse. It pulled and wrenched at her until she would utter a low, moaning sob, and set it free. But now even her beloved dog was dead. There was nothing left.
So, with a heavy heart, Rosa walked. She walked with the moon frowning down at her disapprovingly; she walked under the sun’s resentful glare. She walked as the sun climbed rung after rung on the sky’s ladder, never pausing as it reached the top and climbed back down the other side to make way for the moon once again.
Day and night she marched, all the while thinking of Papa and how he promised her this would never happen, but didn’t care if it did. He would go out at eight o’clock while Rosa bathed in the tin bucket they kept in their yard, and would not come back until the early hours of the morning. He never told Rosa where he went, but she was sure it was nowhere she would want to go. Because of years like this, she turned her heart away and placed it in a corner under her right rib. She would store it there; she never dared let anyone visit it, or the pain might accidentally spill out, like it did now.
Suddenly jolted from her miserable thoughts, she became aware of the market that lay beneath her. She stopped and stood at the foot of the hill, taking in her surroundings. Quickly, though she saw many distractions in her path, she chose her route to Benji’s stall, knowing that all the rest could wait. She started down the hill at a quickening pace; she knew that she must get there as quickly as possible, before Benji found out she was coming and decided to run away.
“You promised...you promised...!” There came those words again. This time Rosa was not muttering them to herself. She hurled the words at Benji, gasping from the effort.
“Brinna is dead...! Brinna is dead...” The words came out in a hoarse whisper now, so Benji had to strain to hear. “How could you! I did what you said and what did I get in return? Brinna is dead, Samus is dead, and Papa is hardly better. Benji...you promised...”
Though Rosa wasn’t making any sense, Benji completely understood. His face grew paler by the second, his eyes as dead as all those people Rosa had lost. He could do nothing now, even though Rosa believed he could. She thought he was hiding something, something that made him in control of this mess. Benji knew that the problem with Rosa was that because she was so afraid of herself, she could not believe that she was not beneath everybody else. Only, when you asked her what it was she believed others could do and she couldn’t, she sobbed and ran. It was a sensitive subject with her.
Once Rosa stopped beating Benji with her fists, she heaved the bundle she was carrying on her back at Benji, dumping its cold contents on him. Benji choked in fear. He knew Rosa had now gone too far. She needed help.
“Make him better, Benji! Help him!” Rosa was referring to the ice-cold mass on Benji’s lap, the body of her dead dog. This was too much. What had gotten into her, thinking he could cure this dead thing she used to love as her dog, Samus? “Rosa...I...I...” Speechless. “No. Brinna is dead, but I cannot help her or Samus. Go far away. This is no place for you. They do not accept your kind here. They will just...” Benji trailed off as he realized someone had heard him. Talking too much on this dangerous subject was risky in these parts. Alas, it was too late for Benji, and he had been caught. Punishment would be in order for him.
Now even Benji was gone. Rosa had no one.
As Rosa replaced her bundle on her back, she resumed her depressing thoughts and slowly let everything sink in. Brinna, who was but their maid, had been everything to her, almost like a sister. Papa had promised to hide her well, for she had angered a man in the market and he had sworn to take her life. But, alas, Papa had not taken care, and Rosa had come home to find their few possessions smashed, and Brinna gone. Her dear friend, Benji, had known this man in the market very well, and had told Rosa that he would convince him to forget about Brinna as long as she agreed to stay close to Rosa. The poor girl would be in danger otherwise.
Papa did not know anything, but did not care. Rosa didn’t doubt for a second that it was he who betrayed Brinna’s dwellings to the man in the market. He often made ill decisions when he was drunk. Afterwards he would carry them out without a second thought.
Rosa shrugged away the feelings of regret and pity that were beginning to well up inside her. It was Papa’s own fault that he always worked himself into a state and turned to the bottle to forget his worries. She could not go back to him, would not. Though she was heartless, or consoled herself by pretending she was, Rosa could feel some things and she knew that justice was one of them. Despite the fact that she pushed and shoved these feelings aside, Rosa found her weary and neglected heart still stronger than her mind, and it willed her to turn back and retrace the worn path she had come on.
Rosa’s heart felt heavy, even when it was broken into two pieces. Could she forgive Papa? No, it just didn’t seem fair. She was returning. Perhaps she would help him keep house, but she would never, ever, forgive him.
The sunlight poured down on her, burning her long, pale neck. She walked for a long time, past the Market square and over the hills that stretched beyond it for miles. Finally, when she neared the charred and sagging shack that was her home, she let out a stupefied yelp. Her house was burning, and though the sight of it only brought back distressing memories, she could not watch it burn. She rushed into the house, her first thought being Papa. She found Papa sprawled on the floor, his tunic ablaze. Rosa did not let her calmness desert her. She hastily brought in the tin bucket from the yard, which was still filled with the dirty bath water from a week before. She spilled it over Papa and quickly rushed for help. Mr. Dolton, the butcher, was at his stall busily grinding meat. When Rosa alerted him, he hurriedly gathered some other folk and they set of to douse the fire. An hour later they left for their respective homes and left Rosa with her unconscious father.
Later, when he came to, Rosa explained what had just happened and Papa told her that the fire came about because he dropped a match he was lighting. As usual, he was drunk at the time.
Papa was badly burned, but the ache of regret that he felt was far greater than any physical pain he could endure.
Rosa had already sent for the doctor and a carriage, and as the sound of hoof beats drew closer, Papa’s breathing slowed.
With his last breath, he whispered the words, “Thank you for coming back.”
© 2004 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board