She was under the table that day, the day that she changed.
It felt like she had always been under the table; in fact, she felt, she knew she had been under the table, knew she would always be under the table. In every corner of her life, there she was, stowed away under the table in the corner.
They said something was wrong with her. She thought not - something must be wrong with them, for there was surely nothing wrong with her. The table was just a table, and she was just a girl and there was nothing wrong with a girl being under a table. Yes, something most definitely must be wrong with them.
Only, it must not be something so large, so noticeable, that was wrong with them. In fact, they seemed utterly, boringly, normal. The mother washed and sat and cleaned and cooked and walked and breathed and whispered. The father left and worked and worked and drank and worked and came back and ate and slept. The brothers, they sat and went to school and were quiet and sat and worked and read and whispered and ate and slept. And she, she sat under the table.
The table was a wonderful piece of work. The mother had cherished it, before. The mother’s great grandmother had given it to the mother in her will, the beautiful piece of wood. Before, the mother had explained the story of the table to the daughter, the one who sat beneath the table.
It had been a loved table, worn and used through generations of the mother’s family. It now sat in the corner of the house, a faded lace tablecloth shielding its old beauty from the world. And, as a result, the girl.
Before, there had been much sound. And light. There had been a river beside the house, there had been a sun and trees and sky and leaves and wind. Senses to fill to bursting. The girl had hardly ever noticed the table, before, the table that sat in the corner. It had only come out - had been dusted off, its beauty shown - on certain occasions. Occasions when other people - people to be impressed - came about with their lovely sound. They would all sit and drink their wine, give toasts and coddle the baby and the brothers.
Now it sat in the corner, and she sat beneath it in the dark.
She barely remembered the sounds, the crackling joy and warmth of before. The mother had been beautiful, she knew that. The father had been kind, had had none of his current exhausted wrinkles, had lacked the shadows that smeared below his eyes the day she changed.
The brothers, sometimes, even now, would sit across the small room from the table and her and whisper, the two of them, of the way things had been when she was a child. Whispering to her, it seemed, of the way things should still be, now that she was older.
She was still a child, she knew.
But it was not the same.
When she first found refuge beneath the table, they had asked. Had asked, “Where are you?
“Where are you?”
‘Where are you?’ she had thought in response. ‘If I am here, where are you?’
The day that it all changed, she was sitting under the table. She liked the cool, the dark, the shield from the empty, aching house, the bare bones of what had been.
They said something was wrong with her. That she was not like the other children. That she was not the same, incapable of what others had been doing for ages, incapable of thought, of speech.
They were wrong.
Because that day, that day as she sat under the table in her cool shade, she was thinking.
She was thinking.
She was thinking, and she knew what had to be done.
The day she changed, she crawled out from under the table. The brothers had just returned home, the father had just walked through the door behind them. Out she crawled and they stopped. Paused, as if suddenly frozen, with only their eyes tracking her movements.
Breath was held and the air stilled.
The girl blinked slowly, three times - three times - once for each of them. Slowly, she reached the switch on the wall, the wall of the room that held the table, and flicked it. Light shuddered on from above, light swept in, light dusted the air.
She stepped slowly, almost gliding, into the foyer, slipped past, between, the brothers, the father.
She flicked another switch.
The light was blinding.
Off she went, at her slow, ghostly pace, flicking switches, burning away dust, lighting up the world.
The mother froze when she beheld the daughter.
They were all frozen in the house.
The light was melting them.
The girl flicked the last switch, and turned to face them, the family. A pale smile rested on her lips; her eyes were far away and close, far too close, all at the same time.
She slid her gaze to each of them, from each of them.
“If I am here,” she breathed, “then where are you?”
The girl slipped between them, slipped out the door.
There was the river, there was the sky, the trees, the wind, the leaves. There she was, on the edge of the bank, gazing into a future. The water thrashed and rolled in greeting.
“If I am here,” she tasted the words, the breath on her tongue. “Then where are you?”
She took the last step.