Tea Party (PG-13)

A small round table and chairs in a corner of her bedroom. Plastic cups and saucers laid out for two. I watch her from just outside the doorway. She pours pretend tea and carries on her polite hostess conversation. I start to leave when she says something wrong. Or maybe she didn't. I listen some more. A few words escape me but the ones I hear sound all right. I stay for another minute before going downstairs to make dinner.

She comes down and sits at the table. I finish cooking and serve the food. We talk about the day for a while. She stops talking and looks down at her plate. I can hear her giggling softly. I ask her what is so funny and she looks up with a mischievous grin.

I have a secret, she says.

About what?

About you, Daddy.

Who told you?

Mommy did.

Oh...okay. Now finish your dinner, I say.

We follow the routine of bedtime. I kiss her goodnight and turn out the light. On the way to the living room I think about her secret. I wonder what it could be. Nothing good on television so I might as well go to bed. I hear her voice as I pass her room and take a peek. Nothing doing in there. Guess she was talking in her sleep.

More giggles at breakfast. She's up to something. I get her on the school bus and go to the study. On my desk is a picture she drew of herself holding hands with someone. Her mother. Something in her other hand that I can't make out. Too busy to think about it so I put the picture away and start working.

Afternoon comes and I go outside to meet her bus. She goes to her room to play. I bring up a snack and find her back at the table only not serving tea. She's paying close attention to an empty chair. I put the plate on the table and ask if she is going to share with her guest.

No Daddy, she doesn't eat.

What about tea?

She doesn't drink either, she says.

No laughing at the dinner table tonight. She looks serious. I ask what's wrong and she won't say.

Did something happen at school?

No, Daddy, she says.

Then what is it?

I'm not supposed to tell.

Why not?

Just because, she says.

She leaves to put on her pajamas and I go to the study. I sit down and take out the picture. Is that the dress her mother wore the day she was killed? She was only a year old. How could she remember that? I hear her slipper scuff the floor behind me as I feel something cold slide into my neck. I fall out of my chair and on to my hands and knees. The handle of a kitchen knife is quivering above my shoulder. Blood is pooling all around. I don't understand. She's standing there looking at me. I ask for help and she points to the hallway.

I can't, Daddy. Mommy told me not to.

Her mother is hovering there watching. She looks pleased. Payback is a bitch. I collapse into a spreading red puddle. My world is losing its color. Almost over so I close my eyes and let the darkness take me.

I'm next to her now. We go upstairs to our daughter's room. A small round table and chairs in a corner of her bedroom. Plastic cups and saucers laid out for three. She's waiting for us, big smile and fake pot in hand.

Anyone for tea?