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When I was small, Father would come late to my room to whisper with me. He'd often begin by saying something like "can't wake Stepmother," with a blackened finger to his lips. His slippers would make small shushing sounds on my floor as he carefully made his way to my bed. I'd wait in the quiet light my open door let in, all of my childish fears instantly assuaged from his mere presence. He usually came right at the moment of truth, the moment I was just about to call for him to scare my shadows away. Sometimes he brought books to read to me in a low voice, but not on this night. Other times he would just come to stroke my head and murmur incoherently about his love for me. I preferred the latter anyway.
My life as a child was filled with dullness. It had to be this way, even though it made my young mind wild with boredom. I can only remember getting into trouble back then; it was just something I did to expel what I could. There was no thought in any of it. No thought for any of the pain or the frustration I had probably left in my wake. I remember I had been a loud, unruly child. I didn't much like being told to be quiet, especially by my tutors, but for Father I would allow myself to be hushed as many times as was necessary. I would give up my very voice if he would eternally whisper with me. Our nightly secrets were what I lived for.
I had no friends besides him and Stepmother. Sometimes my very old grandmother would visit. She liked to rock back and forth in a chair and stare at me mutely. Maybe, once in a blue moon, she would bring the tastiest cookies. Usually she would come to stare. She also didn't like Father coddling me before I fell asleep every night.
"She's such a big thing!" She would cry out in a weak old voice, unable to really yell. I would sit in the next room and inspect our kitchen table, my emptied dinner plate, the burn on my hand. I would wait until Father came to bring me to bed, his hands closing loosely but firmly over mine. I would wail pathetically if he ever tried to weasel out of his time with me on the nights Grandmother visited. I eventually beat Grandmother. He now never skipped a day sitting with me on my bed.
The secrets I shared covered many things. From the fights I had with a neighbor's kid to the food I had just sneaked out to Gibbers, our dog. He would ask and I would tell. My doings would come pouring out of my little mouth, babbling and babbling until I had fully confessed of every little thing. Every little evil I might have committed for the day. And no matter what I told him, Father wouldn't get mad. His voice would never waver, his body stayed pressed gently against me, keeping the dark away. His chin would rest on the top of my head, grinding almost painfully into my scalp with his weight. I loved the feeling.
He would always end his visit by asking, "Did you spark at all?"
Always I would shake my head no. Then he'd smooth the back of my hair and stumble over my toys and books to join Stepmother.
I liked giving up my secrets. I liked glancing up at Father's kind face while I told them to him. I made the mistake of revealing my mischief to Stepmother once. She had gone red and trembling, with slit eyes and wide blowing nostrils. She had slapped me; a quick slice of a palm that had shocked me more than hurt me. I had cried as burns welled against my skin. She hadn't acknowledged me for weeks after that.
I was saddened to see her fear of me after what had happened. I stayed away from her like a Gibbers scorned. It was not because I was mad at or scared of Stepmother. I could never be angry with my spirited stepmother, the only mother I have ever known. It was because of Father, of what I have shared, and what he now knows.
Anger is my undoing. It brings upon the spark, and then this one's life is done.
I did not share much with Stepmother from then on. Nor did I tell Father about her bouts of heated yelling. I also kept silent about her angry confusion, and her resentment of Father for insisting on keeping me. Father has always taken extra care to keep me from anger or hurt in any form. He has been tortured by me and even by another like me for a very long time. But he is strong, he is loyal, and his cautions put in place are taken extremely seriously. He would take Stepmother from me if he knew what she does. He would do anything to keep me intact. What he couldn't do with Mother.
I have two sets of secrets. I have one with Father and another with Stepmother. Two sets with my two friends. This is what makes up my entire world.
"Did you spark today?" My father's ever-so-gentle voice cooed into my ear. My hands clenched underneath my blankets, the skin on my fingers festering away. It was always my hands and my arms, never anything else. They've burned and melted until no feeling can ever be felt again. The burns will one day spread, engulf my whole body so that I may never heal, and then I'll be ash.
I shake my head in Father's arms. No, Father, I did not spark like Mother sparked. I don't think I ever will as it has been so long, but I do not tell him that. Mother burned up, there was nothing he could do, and no way can it ever happen differently. One day I will burn up too, and this man who loves me will die. I do not know why I hate that thought. My wrists begin to blister and fill with ooze. Flesh starts to melt. His hands are over them, pressing, silently tensing. I stare at his finger, the one mark Mother left on him, the blackened tip a bit shriveled.
She should have killed him. Now I must be the one.
I take my hands back into my lap, the gore already disappearing. The only kindness I do for Father is to share with him all of my secrets as I do every night. Everything I know about my cycle I have given to him in the hopes that he would free me. Of course Father is too loyal to let something as terrible as me loose on this world, it was why he trapped Mother. He weakened her, showed her an affection we do not know. In her end, she saved him.
My Father has been so very kind to me. No matter what I do there is this tender love somewhere in his eyes. And it is all for me, or for the woman who used to be me. The only time his beautiful eyes go dark is when he asks me whether or not I've sparked.
He can keep me from anger, but anger knows no boundaries. No matter what roils in my gut, I will be the one to do what we all must. He knows that when I do spark, I will kill him. I am not Mother, no matter how much he wishes me to be. Yet I will forever be her, as long as I burn. When my captor is dead, the phoenix will become free again.