mother has brought you and your sister Maria into your fathers
study. She says she has had enough of you both, but you know she
means you. She has little time for you and hates to be reminded
that you are as much her child as Maria is. She remembers only
the discomfort and the pain of it all. The joy of giving birth
seems to have eluded her, as beauty has eluded her features. She
stands looking at your father with the expression of one suffering
I was hoping for a little time to finish my studies,
Mr. Bellini says, turning his slight bulk toward you like a hippopotamus
finding itself in a bathtub. What is it that necessitates
you disturbing me so soon?
I have had enough, Mrs. Bellini states, raising her
chin slightly, looking over her nose at her husband. Nothing
but lies and deceit. Mischief each time I turn my head.
Its Anna, your sister Maria says, standing erect
as if she were posing for some role in a Shakespearean drama.
I dont see why I should be blamed for her misdoing.
You sit on the chair by your fathers table and look at him
with your eyes pleading innocence and that martyred look which
he so hates you to reveal. Your mother folds her arms and glares
at you with her dark hawk-like eyes, and you know she is whispering
under her breath that Mr. Bellini will do something to make you
regret the disturbance of his studies.
Cant you deal with the child? Must you always bring
her to me? he says, looking over your head at his wife.
However, your mothers glare informs him of the negative
and he sits back and sighs, returning his look upon you. Anna,
he says in a tone that reminds you of a judge about to pass sentence,
I think you need to be taught a lesson.
She climbed that tree you told us not to climb, Maria
informs, her features stiff and white. I told her not to,
but she said she wanted to and so she would.
Mrs. Bellini unfolds her arms and brings her hands in front of
her stomach and clenches them as if she were about to strangle
you. See what I mean? she moans. And you sit
here with your books and pens and letters and peace and I'm out
there with these girls and the servants and the bills to pay and
the cook asking about meals. She stops and pushes her thin
fingers through her dark hair.
Mr. Bellini leans forward and rests his chin on his right hand.
Leave me with the child, he says, waving his left
hand at his wife and Maria. They leave the room in silence, closing
the door behind them.
Must you be such a child? your father asks, leaning
back as if to look at you from a distance. Must I always
have you to contend with?
You look at the door behind you and then look back at your father.
I dont think Mother likes me, you mutter softly.
She looks at me, waiting for me to do something wrong and
once she's convinced that I've done something or else Maria says
I've done something, here I am. You release a little smile
but your fathers stern features ignore it. You know he can
lose his temper as fast as he loses his hair.
How old are you now? your father asks.
The same age I was this morning, Father, you reply
unthinking, moving back in the chair so that you can feel the
hard wood against your spine.
I meant what age this day and year and minute? he
says, his voice stiffening and his face reddening like it does
when he has wind.
Eight, you reply. You bring your small hands across
your lap and look at your black shoes highly polished for church
that morning by Sally Hawkins. And three months and seventeen
days, you add for precision.
Mr. Bellini stands up and pushes his chair back. You notice a
small piece of breadcrumb resting amongst his whiskers that seems
to move up and down as he nods his head or speaks. He walks to
the fireplace and stands with his back to the fire and stares
at you. I thought you understood how things worked in this
house, my child, he says moving the breadcrumb up and down.
Maybe I was wrong to imagine such a thing. Maybe you need
to be punished again to remind you. He looks at you and
expresses a face of frustration.
Your eyes cannot be drawn away from the breadcrumb. It holds your
attention as if it were some work of art that had been hidden
from you for years. You dare not utter a word in case your fascination
turns to humor and a laugh escape from you that might anger your
father more than he is.
Have you nothing to say? he asks. Silence your
only defense? His eyes are on you now and his hairy hand
but a few paces away.
is something, you begin to say but you clamp your hand over
your mouth and stare at the floor.
What? Mr. Bellini asks. What?
The carpet you notice has a burn mark under his chair. And raising
your eyes to your fathers chin, you notice the breadcrumb
has detached itself slightly and hangs on for dear life on the
extreme edge. It hangs like one about to consider suicide.
Well? your father asks loudly. His hands are on his
hips. His feet are spread apart as if he were about to sprint
off at any moment if his bulk were not too much for such a feat.
You pause. Looking over your fathers
shoulder, you stare at the clock on the mantelpiece.
There is what? he bellows.
There is sorrow in my heart for what I have done and I ask
you have pity on me because I did not mean to be so naughty and
if you will
The breadcrumb falls to the carpet. Its
Mr. Bellini frowns at you. What's fallen?
My feet into Hell, you mumble softly and to prevent
yourself from breaking into laughter, you cry like one who has
been punished and stands on edge of some dark room awaiting for
blackness and doom.
Anna, Anna, Mr. Bellini says, moving towards you like
a buffalo about to attempt a mating game. I understand.
Do not upset yourself, dear child. His hands touch you as
if they sought to bless and his arms embrace you and hold you
to his tobacco-scented waistcoat.
His feet have hidden the breadcrumb. Your eyes are blinded by
the tears. However, the memory of that drama will out last any
of punishments or angry words. And as your father pats your hair,
you see another breadcrumb lodged in his waistcoat pocket along
side his watch. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Collett has been writing poetry and fiction since 1972.