You see a rainbow of ice cream choices in the window that captured her heart.
Your daughter wreaks havoc with keening soundwaves of perceived injustice, reverberating at the exact frequency of your collapsing resistance.
The ice cream counter assistant’s surface patience is betrayed by the rigidity of her back and the merest compression in the line of her lips.
Your daughter’s eyes coated in excess tears; the dam broken. It will only take her heart’s desire to stop the torrent now.
With the intuitive instinct of the family bloodline understanding, she possesses a superpower of reading your every nuance of weakness. She mercilessly negotiates for her way.
People pass. On a rational day, you would see their sympathy – they’re glad that it is you, not them, having to deal with this tsunami of a tantrum.
They are the cinematic whiteboard for casting your projections of self-doubt and you cherry-pick the negative that reflects back at you. Your filters allow little else.
Your daughter sticks a finger into the wound of your guilt and presses, knowing that it is all that it will take to get her way. She understands, primally, that she will beat you aided by the pressure of the judging audience within. She couldn’t put names to these feelings – but then feelings did come before words.
A woman in her later years has no compunction about stopping her comment, “She would have had a good hiding in my day”. You have no wit or energy to think of a reply one way or the other. You know the old lady looked pleased with herself. Something to cut through the bitterness of her day, material to protract into a tale of mesmerising boredom for some poor recipient, no doubt.
Your gaze wanders back to your charge. Is she eleven years old? Mother nature’s tools of argument and guile handed to her from the wrong draw: the one marked fifteen.
How can love for your ex-wife go from such heights to despondent lows and leave this victim in the no-fly zone? Your daughter, drawing code on the frosted glass of the coldness of her diminishing respect for you – her cry for help.
You and your only born. Fractured. Fracturing. Guilt is grist to your daily mill, micrometers of self-protection skimmed daily: complex self-harm played out.
You know that there is a part of her that yearns for a line to be drawn. To be pulled in from this outer space of running-rings-around-dad won freedom. You, the adult watching her force herself into just another mould.
You can’t deny it’s a gratifying revenge for the woman who pushed at you until there was no more ledge left. She was searching for the pushback – the show of love. Found none, so sought it elsewhere. Now there is only flint-edged distain for you – a lesson for your offspring.
Your daughter holds the ice cream.
Robert Fairbrother is a writer. Born in Brighton. Enjoying a career in academic publishing.
Currently writing his first novel Deadhead.
3rd Prize poetry competition at Nevill Secondary School, Hove.
Robert’s first writing entry was The Bramley Virtual Christmas Story Competition Dec 2020 and Cryto Christmas gained a first place.