She was four years old. Maybe five. And her father’s little monkey, because she would climb doorways.
The formal dining room had folding glass doors with teak wood frames, sectioned off and reserved for important occasions and guests. On the ends there was a set of wooden shelves.
She liked climbing on those shelves, often left empty, because everyone knew she would climb on those shelves.
And then came the china vases (or perhaps they were porcelain?), like the big ones her aunt had that were as tall as her, but these vases were smaller. And they fit on the shelves. “Be careful, don’t climb on the shelves,” her mother said. She promised not to. But she was little, and she wasn’t her father’s little monkey for nothing, so one day when she got tired of climbing doorways she climbed those shelves-
-and broke her mother’s expensive china vase.
Her mother was angry. Perhaps, said her mother, I should break you like you broke the vase. And she was holding a knife.
She screamed and fled. Her big sister came with her, and she sat on the swing out on their balcony, the big white swing that looked like a hug to her every time she needed one, and when her mother followed with the knife and the screams, her sister held her and covered her with her arm and she was safe in her sister’s arms like that, sobbing and sobbing and saying she was sorry she broke the vase, and her father pulled the knife and her mother away. That’s what she remembers; crying into her sister’s arms when what she wanted to ask was “why does she love that vase more than me?” And maybe she should have; maybe she should have also said “vases don’t bleed, ma”.
That night her mother cried and apologized; and then again the next day; and again when the girl was fifteen and she said “of all the things I’ve done, that’s what I’ve regretted the most”, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times you apologize if that fear becomes as familiar and as lingering as the shadows in the crevices between your fingers.
In the end that fear makes people break anyway, like vases on teak wood shelves because people were careless with them and didn’t keep their promises.