“I can do a cartwheel, want to see?” The little girl turned hand over feet across the playground. She cartwheeled three times and landed on her knees, smiling over her shoulder.
I wondered who this little girl was and why she came up to me. Maybe I looked like someone she knew, her mother’s friend, a distant aunt. I looked around for her parent. Among the dozen or so people in the park, no one seemed to know her.
The little girl picked herself up and laughed. She spread her arms out and spun on one foot.
“Spinning makes me happy,” she said, twirling around like an unbalanced top. When she stopped she struggled to stay on her feet, laughing as she stepped drunkenly in broken circles.
I smiled before realizing I was smiling. The feeling rushed over me like an avalanche, like a break in the ice. God — how long has it been since I smiled?
The little girl eyed me, as though gazing upon a fascinating insect, before stepping closer. Closer and closer, until her body pressed against mine, and her arms wrapped around me, and her head, light and heavy, lay flat on my chest.
I burst into tears, shattering the ice as I held her close.
“Don’t be sad,” she said. “It’s okay. She’s happy.”
“Your daughter. She’s happy.”
“How do you know about my daughter?”
“She told me, silly.”
“My daughter… she’s — she—”
The word caught in my throat. I quivered.
“Do you believe me?” she asked. Her eyes, warm and bold, swathed me in such tenderness. I nodded.
“Close your eyes.”
I closed my eyes.
Gently, she held my face in her small hands.
“Now you see,” she said.
Her words echoed in me like a lullaby, rocking forward and backward, until I was weightless and floating, high above the trees, above the clouds, beyond the stars.
I saw her then. My daughter. Bright and beautiful. Long flowing hair. Before the treatments. Only her. The way I remembered.
Huy Le lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has been previously published in CafeLit. He usually writes with music in the background. Currently alt-J is playing on loop.