My new husband’s daughter comes into our bedroom just before dawn. She is seven going on thirteen, thick-boned like her ancestors must have been, built for a day’s hard labor. She sits down on the edge of the bed. She is still new to me. Unsure, I reach out and begin to rub her back and when she leans back a little to meet my hand I only hesitate for a moment before I wrap both of my arms around her. She doesn’t have your gossamer heartbeat, your ribs that felt as delicate as a strung harp when I ran my hands over them. But she is here, stolid and alive and breathing hard through her stuffed-up nose in the dim room, and you are not.
She does not say much, this child. After a few minutes her breathing slows and I realize she had been scared, that this girl wakes in the night the same way you used to, that perhaps with time she will crawl into our bed when she is frightened and press her warm body up against mine for comfort. I squeeze her tight and she unclenches her hand, which had been shut in a fist this whole time. Inside is a small white pearl, a grain of rice, a piece of chipped china.
“Do you think the tooth fairy left it for me?” she asks, and I am crying, hot tears that slip down my cheeks and stain the back of her purple nightgown. I remember your pride when that tooth fell out, shouting to anyone who would listen I lost my toof! I remember putting it in the special enamel box we had bought for you with the little winged fairy painted on the top. Did I fail you in this as I did a thousand other things, not remember to sneak into your room and replace it with a dollar? “Do you think the tooth fairy got confused?” this new girl asks, and turning my head so she will not see my tears, I squeeze her tighter, saying, “It’s a special girl who gets left a tooth. Let’s put it under your pillow and maybe the tooth fairy will realize her mistake and bring you some money.” And together we get up and go into your bedroom and place the little bone in her bed, and I tuck her in as if she were my daughter, as if I loved her as much as I love you.
Whitney Scharer is a writer and graphic designer. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington, and her short fiction has appeared in Cimarron Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Mare Nostrum, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a St. Botolph Emerging Artists award, a Somerville Arts Council grant, and a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her first novel, based on the life of photographer Lee Miller, will be out from Little, Brown in early 2019. She lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with her family.