She knew it was an unfair question the moment she opened her mouth. But it snuck out, accidentally or on purpose.
“Promise me you’ll take care of your sister.”
The urgency in her own voice was almost unrecognizable and she realized it was the first time she had admitted out loud that something was really wrong. Of course she and Grant had talked about their fears for their oldest daughter before, but only to each other and always at the wrong time keeping the discussion halted: a moment of panic after Chloe melted down again or in the early morning hours unable to sleep with the gnawing sensation that their child would end up helpless and alone, a prisoner of her own mind.
“Who will take care of her when we’re gone?” would repeat on infinite loop until Margot finally fell asleep.
There weren’t any Aunts or Uncles to step in. Those beloved friends that were just like family had never materialized for them. And the last thing she would be able to leave her children would be a trust, providing financial security for life.
Security for life. She remembered her most recent interview and the point at which she despised her subject. “I’ve been lucky to be financially independent my whole life.” He said it so casually and self-assuredly, that she felt the tears well up almost immediately and the wave of jealousy crash down on her. “That’s great,” she heard herself say, a little too enthusiastically. Margot had forced herself to smile and casually brushed the tears from her cheek, hoping he hadn’t noticed. She had never wished for wealth before, but at that moment it seemed as though it would solve a growing concern – security for life for her daughters. Or just one daughter, as unfair as it sounded.
She had been so startled and disturbed by her reaction that months had passed before she could finally bring herself to transcribe the tape and start writing. Security for life. She missed her first deadline and then her second. The story had gone on to become her most successful yet, bringing name recognition and accolades. But for Margot the only measure of its success was to provide a constant reminder of her greatest fear.
“Really,” she repeated, the guilt washing away. She needed to plant the seed. “I know I shouldn’t ask. I really do, but I need you to promise you’ll take care of Chloe when you’re older.”
There’s no way Anna could have really understood what was being asked of her. Not at her age. But without any hesitation her daughter looked back up at her.
“I promise, mommy,” said the tiny voice. Anna took her mother’s hand and looked at her as if she really understood what was being asked, but more importantly, why.
Margot looked at the chubby little hand in hers, felt its warmth and tenderness, and carressed Anna’s wrinkled little knuckles. How had it come to this? How had she gotten to the point of unfairly asking one child to take care of another?
Anna’s hand slipped out of hers and she raced across the room, her attention suddenly caught by a plastic horse poking out from under the dining room buffet, encased in dust and dog fur. And with that her daughter was gone, off to look for more hidden treasures.
Margot watched her play and dabbed at her eyes, uncertain of when she had started crying. Any moment Chloe would be home from school.
The pact, for all of its inappropriateness, was made. As much of a pact as you can make with a five year old Margot reminded herself.