We just wanted a tire swing.
After spending the winter sitting behind my big brother singing songs as we rode the Wonder horse in the garage, I was ready for some outdoor fun. He was six and knew everything. All it takes is a rope and an old tire, he said. Dad could hang it from a tree branch.
I picked out the perfect one.
In one of the shining victories of childhood, Dad agreed! This was a good idea. He had the rope in the garage. It was a sunny afternoon. Oh, the fun we would have.
I pressed up against my brother and watched as Dad tried to toss the rope over the branch I had chosen. Too high. Too many other branches in the way. He wouldn’t be deterred, though. He climbed.
My jaw dropped. My big strong father shimmied up the tree, rope over his shoulder. He pulled himself out on the branch, a little further, a little further. He didn’t want us to swing into the tree trunk.
The branch snapped.
My father fell, straight down, onto the hard ground, flat on his back.
He lay there. Eyes closed. Not breathing. Not moving.
A new epoch in my life began.
From that moment on, my whole world was different. The ambulances came. It was too late. The neighbors stared. The pretty little girl down the street with the shiny brown hair pitied the weird fatherless redhead.
There was a funeral. My mother cried. My brother had to wear that suit he hated. I was the little girl in the black dress who had killed her father.
Sooner or later everyone realized, of course. They knew I had picked out that branch myself. They knew who was to blame. Murderers do not get sent to jail when they are only four years old, but no one wants them in Kindergarten either.
No Dad meant no job. We were penniless. We had to move out of our house, in with my grandparents. They never forgave me for killing their son.
My mother still loved me, of course. She still tucked me in a night. Nothing could change that. But she was tired now. She had to work all day. There were no more thin pancakes for breakfast. No one to listen to my stories.
My brother understood. The tire swing had been partly his idea. He bore some of the blame. But he had to be the man in the family now. He aged before his time. He never rode the Wonder horse again. We had to sell it anyway. My grandmother hated the squeaky springs.
No thin pancakes. No Wonder horse. No Dad to make up stories or sing silly songs he claimed were from his childhood.
I wasn’t me anymore. I was some half-orphan murderer I didn’t even recognize.
I ran into the kitchen, where my mother stood washing dishes, still unaware that she was a widow. I pulled her hand, dripping water and suds everywhere.
She sprinted behind me to the garage, beginning to realize the severity of what had happened.
My dad was sitting up, shaking his head. Got the breath knocked out me, he said. That branch was too thin, my mom pointed out. I think you gave the kids quite a scare.
Her hand was on my shoulder. My dad was standing up now. I barely noticed either of them, too busy unliving the life I had just passed through.
There has never been any period of time in my life when I was fatherless.
As far as anyone knows.