art by Melissa Mead
by Leigh Kimmel
When they came for her father, he hugged her tight and whispered into her ear, "Never forget your daddy loves you." Even as they tore her from his arms, she promised with all the earnestness a child of seven can muster that she would never, ever forget.
And she didn't, even when they handed her over to a stony-faced woman who told her to forget her father, then smacked her face until her mouth bled when she balked at this new name she couldn't even pronounce. In the orphanage to which that woman delivered her, she comforted herself with memories of his love when the staff took glee in pointing her out as a criminal's get so all the children would taunt her and nobody would ever dare break ranks and be her friend, lest they too be contaminated.
When her application to enter a music conservatory was denied and she was instead sent to toil in a factory, she'd despaired to the point of considering taking her own life. But the fear of never being allowed to rejoin her father in the next life stayed her hand, and she bore up even when people spread nasty rumors and the young man who'd been about to marry her instead dumped her like a stone and no subsequent relationship ever developed.
Even the memories of her father's love had been slender comfort as she'd undertaken to be a single mother to the daughter that callow youth refused to acknowledge or support. By the time her daughter grew up, she'd become inured to the pain sufficiently to say good-bye, because a loving mother wants the very best for her child. In her case it meant never knowing her grandchildren except through the occasional letter, written very guardedly so the youngsters wouldn't be outed as his descendants should it fall in the wrong hands.
When the political climate shifted and it became possible to re-examine the injustices of the past, she applied for her father's rehabilitation, although it meant placing herself in the public eye. She discovered afresh the price of holding fast to her father's love for her, when she fell under harsh criticism by those who believed she should keep her head down and her mouth shut, to live her life as an apology to the real victims. When she asked one of her critics what he would do if it were his father, he wouldn't answer, just looked at her as if the question itself were an intolerable affront.
When the final illness came and the doctors avoided her eyes when they spoke to her, she comforted herself with the thought that soon she would rejoin her father. As the agony worsened she meditated upon every memory of him she could recall, however faded by the passing decades.
And then the pain ended and she stood in a realm of light. Realizing she had arrived in Heaven at last, she called out her father's name.
Before her appeared a figure limned in light. "He is not here, my child."