Five-year-old Donna tapped the plastic red person over the colored spaces on the Candyland board. She reached the last space and took her plastic person high in the air and dropped it on the Candy Castle.
“I win!” she screamed.
“You did? Let me see that.” Her father leaned closer to the board, reached across it, and tickled Donna.
She giggled and screamed.
“Stop, stop! No! Haha!” she said.
The front door shut and in walked her mother, carrying a backpack full of textbooks. Donna got up and ran to give her mother a hug. Her father followed.
“How was it?” he asked.
“Fine,” she said, her face still. She turned and walked up the stairs and into their bedroom.
Donna picked through her mother’s backpack and felt the weight of the textbooks. One had a mountain on the cover.
“Mommy? What’s this book?” she called.
“Carla, what’s wrong?” asked her father as he followed her mother up the stairs.
Her mother poked her head outside of the bedroom doorway and said, “Does Susan ring a bell?”
She spoke with such hatred that Donna froze at her voice. Donna’s father glanced back at her, his face suddenly sunken and shallow. He stepped into the bedroom. Donna slowly walked up the stairs, making an effort to not wake the creaky steps, and crept around the doorway of her parents’ bedroom. Her father put on his coat and held a bulging suitcase in his hand. He and her mother argued intensely, but whispered so Donna wouldn’t overhear. A few louder words slipped out through their anger, but Donna didn’t understand them.
“Cheater… College… Secrets… Money,” said her mother.
“Care, Carla… fucking… out… deal with this,” said her father.
Donna remembered hearing some of those words in a movie her parents watched and her mother saying to never repeat them. If they were such horrible words, why was he saying them to her mother? Her mother grabbed the suitcase by the handle and pulled it to herself, but her father pulled it back so hard that her mother cried out. He turned around and Donna lightly ran back to her room and peeked out her doorway.
“You don’t have to leave!” yelled Donna’s mother.
“Yes, I do,” said her father as he walked down the hallway with his head hanging low.
He slumped down the stairs and disappeared on the first floor. The front door slammed shut and her father’s car engine revved and faded away.
Donna’s stomach did a flip and she fell to her knees.
“Daddy! Daddy, come back!” she cried.
Donna’s mother ran from her bedroom at the sound of Donna’s cries and wrapped her arms around her. She kissed her on the forehead.
“It’s going to be alright, Donna. We’ll get through this,” she said.
Donna sniffled and looked into her mother’s eyes. “Why didn’t he say goodbye to me? Why didn’t he tuck me in?”
Donna’s mother looked at her daughter and sighed. Her brown hair fell into her face.
“We’re big girls now, Donna. We can do things on our own.”
“Big girls?” Donna repeated.
“That’s right,” said her mother.
Neither of them felt very big. Her mother picked her up and carried her to the giant bed that she had shared with her husband for six years. She curled up next to Donna and they slept, both with hair glued to their cheeks by tears.