Banshee Lullaby Chazley Dotson
The night my daughter sings my death, I am sitting in the living room floor, sifting through old pictures. I’m on my second glass of wine, white wine because the carpet is new.
In this one photo, Emily is lying in her crib, staring up at a mobile that Aunt Linda made for her. Tiny, hand-sewn stuffed animals dangle over her head.
What catches my eye about the picture is that Emily looks like she’s about to cry. In all the others, she is smiling or staring placidly at whatever is closest or noisy or shiny, but here, she looks seconds away from tears.
I stare at that picture for an hour, through another half-bottle of wine in the dead-silent house.
Emily has never cried. Not as a baby, or as a toddler with scraped knees, or even as a teenager through a dozen broken hearts.
But that’s normal.
I never cried either, not until I was twenty-one.
It was Thanksgiving, I was home from college, and the cry came from me the moment I walked into the kitchen.
The tears startled me so badly that I just stood there, horrified, until the screaming, sobbing song burst out of my mouth.
My mother dropped the turkey-baster. Aunt Linda turned off the stove and dropped slowly into a chair. The whole family stopped to listen, their faces somber.
Uncle Jared dropped dead the next morning.
That wasn’t the best Thanksgiving.
It’s usually a family member first, so of course, I’m thrilled that Emily hasn’t sung. If I had it my way, she would live the rest of her life without singing. She and everyone she loves would be happier that way.
Except that it’s always hanging over her, the way it hung over me, not knowing who the first one will be.
In the next photo album, she’s older but just as round in the face, a cartoon drawing of a little girl, all pigtails and chubby cheeks. She’s four years old, hanging onto our neighbor’s hand.
Mrs. Westin lived next to us since Emily was a baby. That woman never seemed to rest. She was always bringing over cakes and fresh bread, and she bought a birthday present for Emily every year, even after she went to college.
Mrs. Westin never knew what we were.
I sang her death a few months ago in her own back yard. It terrified her, though it probably would’ve scared her more if she’d understood what was happening.
After it was over, I made some excuse. Choking or laryngitis or something equally ridiculous.
Then I stayed with her until she died.
When I was sure she was gone, I kissed her hand and told her how honored I was to sing her death.
Emily was devastated.
I get up to open another bottle of wine. This has become my Saturday night routine, and I’m secretly glad that no one is here to witness it.
I fill my glass and go back to my spot on the living room floor.
I’m pulling out the next leather-bound photo album when Emily bursts into the house, tears streaming. She stops in front of me, and her foot knocks over my wine glass.
We meet each other’s eyes. There’s no way to misunderstand. I am the only one at home, the only one who will hear her song.
Her tears fall faster.
“Mom,” she says, pleading.
But that’s all she has time to say before her mouth opens in a scream.
I never thought there was anything beautiful about the song. Something draws it out of us whether we like it or not, whether we love or hate the singing. It’s always loud and jarring, and there is no melody.
That’s what I’d always believed.
But I had never heard my own song.
When Emily finishes, she falls to her knees on the carpet, crying so hard her body shakes. I go to her and put my hands on her face, raising it so she can see my smile.
“I’m glad it was you,” I tell her.
I couldn’t have imagined the beauty of it, like a lullaby that will carry me into sleep and into the next world.
It is my life song in my daughter’s voice.
I kneel next to her and hold her hand. And she waits with me. And we sift through old pictures.
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