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art by Melissa Mead

Daddy's Girl

Leigh Kimmel is a writer, artist and bookseller living in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has degrees in Russian language and literature and in history, and has worked in libraries and archives. Her short story "Red Star, Yellow Sign" appeared in the Innsmouth Free Press anthology Historical Lovecraft, and "The Damnable Asteroid" will be appearing in its companion volume Future Lovecraft. Further information on her current projects can be found at her website: leighkimmel.com .

When they came for her father, he hugged her tight and whispered into her ear, "Never forget your daddy loves you." Even as they tore her from his arms, she promised with all the earnestness a child of seven can muster that she would never, ever forget.
And she didn't, even when they handed her over to a stony-faced woman who told her to forget her father, then smacked her face until her mouth bled when she balked at this new name she couldn't even pronounce. In the orphanage to which that woman delivered her, she comforted herself with memories of his love when the staff took glee in pointing her out as a criminal's get so all the children would taunt her and nobody would ever dare break ranks and be her friend, lest they too be contaminated.
When her application to enter a music conservatory was denied and she was instead sent to toil in a factory, she'd despaired to the point of considering taking her own life. But the fear of never being allowed to rejoin her father in the next life stayed her hand, and she bore up even when people spread nasty rumors and the young man who'd been about to marry her instead dumped her like a stone and no subsequent relationship ever developed.
Even the memories of her father's love had been slender comfort as she'd undertaken to be a single mother to the daughter that callow youth refused to acknowledge or support. By the time her daughter grew up, she'd become inured to the pain sufficiently to say good-bye, because a loving mother wants the very best for her child. In her case it meant never knowing her grandchildren except through the occasional letter, written very guardedly so the youngsters wouldn't be outed as his descendants should it fall in the wrong hands.
When the political climate shifted and it became possible to re-examine the injustices of the past, she applied for her father's rehabilitation, although it meant placing herself in the public eye. She discovered afresh the price of holding fast to her father's love for her, when she fell under harsh criticism by those who believed she should keep her head down and her mouth shut, to live her life as an apology to the real victims. When she asked one of her critics what he would do if it were his father, he wouldn't answer, just looked at her as if the question itself were an intolerable affront.
When the final illness came and the doctors avoided her eyes when they spoke to her, she comforted herself with the thought that soon she would rejoin her father. As the agony worsened she meditated upon every memory of him she could recall, however faded by the passing decades.
And then the pain ended and she stood in a realm of light. Realizing she had arrived in Heaven at last, she called out her father's name.
Before her appeared a figure limned in light. "He is not here, my child."
She stared. "Why not? I have spent my entire life longing to be reunited with him."
"What would you want with the damned? We are, after all, discussing one of the worst monsters of history, a man who slaughtered so indiscriminately that his own masters had to put a stop to him."
"That's my father you're talking about."
The response was at once both patient and chiding. "You do realize he's not your real father, that he adopted you from the very orphanage where the children of his victims were sent."
"He's the only father I ever knew, and he loved me. That's real enough for me."
"Since you refused to be dissuaded, here he is."
Before her stood her father--there could be no mistaking the face she'd sought so many times among photographs from forgotten piles of yellowed newspapers. But when his lips curled upward, there was none of the warmth that had comforted her through life as a political football. Instead, his smile reminded her of a particularly cruel orphanage worker who delighted in making her eat polenta made from rotten cornmeal, saying, "I saved this just for you." When she objected, the worker would beat her until the blood ran down her legs.
She reached for him, imploring, "Daddy, don't you remember me, how we used to play together, how you made my playthings with your own hands? It was the memory of your love that sustained me in the orphanage where all the kids called me names and smashed my things so I'd get in trouble for carelessness, in the factories where people kept whispering about me and getting me crosswise with the supervisors...." Her voice choked up, halting the rush of bitter memories, and she had to pause before she could go on.
"I know my memories were true, that they weren't just wishful thinking like people keep telling me. The last thing you ever told me was to never forget you loved me. What happened to that love?"
He laughed, and from his mouth poured maggots and corruption. "Don't you understand? The damned can will only evil. Whatever virtue may have been in us in life is now erased forever."
"But why? How does it benefit goodness to destroy what is good?"
He gestured to her Heavenly guide. "Ask Him. He did it to me."
She cried out in anguish, "My father loved me. You destroyed that love. Who's the monster now?"
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Author Comments

Authors talk about ideas coming to them out of the blue, but this one jumped out of a dark alley and ambushed me. I found the idea sufficiently upsetting that I didn't want to commit it to paper, but the cursed thing refused to let me go until I wrote it, polished it, and sent it out. I sure hope I'm done with it now.

- Leigh Kimmel
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