I could hear the bellows of my father down at the ice rink from our living room.
The windows were cracked open, letting the fresh air inside our house, but the gloom of winter lingered everywhere else.
Snow had melted, the leaves of the ash trees started to turn bright yellow, and birds that left during the winter time were starting to show up again in our backyard.
Today was another good day to go outside and paint.
“Munchkin, where do you want to set up your table today?” I heard Nanny Tilda’s voice from a few feet away, and I pointed towards the balcony.
She nodded her head and I watched as she picked up the small table in the corner of the nook, along with my board and brushes.
I stood up holding the tubes of paint that Bishop had left by the side of my bed last night.
I don’t know how my brother knew that I wanted more colors; I found the ten new paint colors in my room and I couldn’t wait to mix them today and see what other colors I could create.
“Do it again. Dammit!” My father’s loud voice permeated through the air, and I breathed in through my nose.
I sat on the small chair that Nanny Tilda brought out, and I set up my paints and paper on the small table, placing the dolphin paperweight on top of the paper so that they wouldn’t get blown away by the wind.
“Is there anything else you need, sweetie?” Nanny Tilda’s kind eyes asked and I shook my head no as I smiled at her.
She touched the top of my head before placing the small glass of water on the left side of the table.
“Lovely view today,” she said, eyeing the blue skies and clouds that formed hundreds of different shapes in the sky above us.
I didn’t say anything.
She was right; Montreal’s skyline was beautiful today.
The fluffy clouds interspersed with different shades of whites and blues was magnificent.
“Haven’t you learned anything? You’re getting older not dumber!” Dad was shouting now, and I looked down towards the east side of my parents’ property. I saw my brother skating in perfect circles and figure eights. Bishop was going fast, really fast, but the shapes he formed with his ice skates never changed.
Nanny Tilda’s arm felt heavy on my right shoulder, “He loves you. In his own way, he loves you.”
She was talking about my father, but it was hard to believe her. I saw the annoyance and frustration in Dad’s eyes when he was in the room with me. Every time he said, “Why can’t you talk? Are you mute or just spineless?”
My brother shielded me from him by saying, “Leave her alone, Dad. Let’s go practice. Didn’t you say I needed to work on my passing?”
Bishop always defended me.
He sheltered me from the pain and the insults that my father hurled my way whenever I was in his line of sight.
I heard him tell his friends many times that he wished he had another son, instead of a girl like me.
My mother wasn’t around when he said those things.
She was never around anyways. She was always traveling for business.
I used to go with her. She used to put me in front of the camera to smile and make googly eyes, but after a while, she’d stopped.
I couldn’t ask Bishop why.
I couldn’t ask my mother why she stopped giving me attention.
I couldn’t ask anyone why.
Because I didn’t have a voice.
Three tutors had come in to help me out, help me find my voice, but they all left after informing my parents that something was wrong with me and they didn’t know what or why.
I talked a lot in my head.
But no one ever heard me.
Only my brother did.
Bishop gave me hugs and he always whispered, “I’ll make it better, Bridge. I’ll convince them to send you to a school where they have kids who love to paint, and then one day you’ll talk again.”
My brother was three and a half years older than me, but you’d think that he was ten years older.
The burden he carried in his eyes was painful for me to watch.
Every day when he came inside the house after a long day of practice with our father, he’d have a hard time getting on his bed because his legs were sore and bruised. I’d learned to soak bandages in warm water to help him out. It was hard for me to reach the faucet in his bathroom because I wasn’t tall enough yet, but I tried not to make a mess of everything by taking my time in filling the small blue basin with water. I mixed the water with the solution that Nanny Tilda placed under the sink. She said it helped wounds heal better, faster.
I looked around my surroundings.
I’d heard from a few girls who attended the holiday party that Mom hosted last year that they’d love to live inside our house.
They said that it was huge, like a palace.
I remembered their names, Kate and Cherry. They were both blonde and adorable. I thought they wanted to play with me, but after a few minutes of them asking me questions and me not answering them, they left me and they played together in my toy room.
Everyone at the party complimented Mom and Dad on how great our house looked. The tall ceiling height of a Christmas tree, the intricate holiday decorations that the interior designer had put in the foyer, and the massive feast that my parents had the caterers prepare, made our guests ooh and aah in appreciation.
But what our guests didn’t know was that our house may have looked like a palace, but the life we lived was far from a fairy tale.
My father pushed my brother past the brink of tears and pain every time Bishop stepped on the ice rink that my father had built for him.
As Beau Cordello, he wanted my brother to grow up as a legendary hockey player. Just like him.
My mother was rarely home. She had assistants everywhere, following her around. There were cameras that trailed her, even when we were at home. If I turned on the internet, mom’s face was everywhere. At the age of 3, I was able to read without any effort. It was one of the good things that my tutor taught me, even when I never said a word back to her.
I read English books.
I read Spanish books.
I read French literature.
I was starting to learn Chinese characters and was fascinated by them.
My brother thought it was the coolest thing, but my parents thought it was freaky, especially since no words came out of my mouth except for grunts, growls, and sighs.
“Shit! Shit! This is all shit, Bishop! You’re not getting it in your head. You’re not going to go anywhere as a hockey player if you keep holding the stick like that. You have to control it.” My father’s curse words rang through the quiet spring air.
Nanny Tilda shifted on my side; she was standing and watching the scene below us, “Paint the beautiful sky today, sweetie.”
Every day, I asked Nanny Tilda to bring me out here. With her, I didn’t have to use my vocal cords. Points, nods, and smiles from me were more than enough.
When the skies rained down with snow and sleet, the automated glass roof and cover that came down over the balcony protected me from the cold, but I stayed there.
Right in that spot.
Where I watched my brother be punished by our father.
I painted the skies, from when the sun shone to when the sun set in the horizon.
I didn’t know how much time passed.
Sometimes I read books. Other times I listened to music.
But every day I watched him, them. My brother and my father. Sometimes my father’s friends came to visit and give pointers to Bishop.
I watched as my brother ran, skated, and performed drills that would be unbearable for regular kids his age.
I watched my father try to break my brother’s spirit every time he screamed and shouted at him.
But Bishop didn’t give up even though I wished he did, just so his body could get some rest, and his knees would get a chance to heal.
I stayed in my spot because while my brother battered his body to pieces; I wanted to share in his pain.
I dipped my brush in water and on a blank piece of paper started painting again.
Lots of black.
I might not speak, but I could still express anger, pain, and fear in the blank sheets that rustled in the air, beside my elbow.
So I painted.