Tinkling prisms fractured the morning sunlight into rainbows and beamed
colors into the crib. Emily stretched up chubby arms and babbled her
frustration. Tiny fists opened and closed in demand. The pieces rattled
their wires, then rained around her.
Before she could claim her prize, she felt a pinch on her toe. "Bad
Emily should never make the pretties fall down."
Such cruel treatment from her kindly old nanny made her hold her breath a long time. Then she cried.
* * *
Emily's first word was doggie. Long before she named Mommy, who kissed her in the morning then left for the whole day, or Daddy, who seldom appeared before Emily closed her eyes at night, or Nanny, who was always there, she called to a young stray. The puppy answered by wiggling through the bars of her playpen and licking her face. One day as she watched, he discovered something to eat at the edge of the yard. He choked it down like all the other scraps Nanny put out then started to moan. He crawled to the edge of her playpen and stopped. His tongue hung limp.
"Doggie?" Emily reached for the mutt and pulled him to her. No matter how she poked his side, he wouldn't move. As she hugged him, she started to cry. "Doggie, doggie."
She wished he would play like he did before. She wished hard. So hard the puppy coughed and wriggled. "Doggie!"
Nanny ripped him from her grasp. "Good girls leave dead things alone."
Nanny's rough hands snapped the dog's neck before putting him into a trash can.
* * *
"Tell Mommy what color you see."
Emily stared at the cardboard square. She liked to please her mother, who smiled when she got the answer right, but she only knew red, yellow, white, blue, black, green, purple and sometimes orange, which looked a lot like red and a little like yellow. The color on the card was an ugly color, like the color on Nanny's face when she huffed and had to sit down. Emily didn't know its name.
"I'm on hold, " her mother said into the phone between her shoulder and ear. She gulped her coffee. "Come on, sweetie. Mommy has to leave soon."
Emily fretted. She hated to disappoint her mother, who'd stayed home specially to teach her the things she needed to know.
"You remember, precious. We learned it last week. What's the name of this color?" She shook the cardboard in a way that meant, "Hurry up."
Emily guessed the color was orange. That was the one she'd learned last time they'd done the color cards. She didn't want to disappoint Mommy. She needed to peek to make sure. In the kitchen Nanny stood cutting bananas. Emily closed her eyes and wished hard. The opposite side of the color card wasn't orange at all. "Purple," Emily said.
"Right, baby doll." Her mother smiled and showed the backside of the next card. "Now what's this?"
Emily wished again. "Yellow."
Mommy stared at the squares in her lap. The phone dropped to the floor. "Emily, I had the cards backward. You named the colors without seeing them. How did you do that? Try this one."
Emily didn't want to say the card was white because Nanny was sure to hear.
Her mother flipped to the next card. "Nanny come in here. You won't believe what Emily can do. Show her, baby. What's this color?"
Nanny's face turned red. Emily refused to wish for a peek with her looking so mad.
"Don't encourage her, missus. This is witch stuff. I know. Seen it in my own granny, devil take her evil soul."
"For god's sake, nobody's believed witches are evil for eons. This is a special talent. If Emily can see things that are hidden, imagine what else she might be able to do. I have to go, but I want you to keep flashing these cards." Her mother handed the stack to the nanny and pocketed her phone.
"Keep track of how many she gets right. I want some documentation we can show to experts."
Her mother headed for the door. "Now be good for Nanny till I get home, Emily."
Emily held out her arms, but the door had already closed. She looked into Nanny's angry face.
"Child, this'll hurt me worse than it'll hurt you, but we got to stop Satan in his tracks." The woman held up the back of a card.
"Now tell Nanny what color you see."
Emily closed her lips tight.
"Come on, child. It's for your own good. Tell Nanny."
Emily blinked and the color came clear. "Black."
"No! It's gray. Only a demon would say black." The flat of Nanny's palm slapped Emily's face. "You got to learn. A good girl only sees what's in front of her eyes."
Nanny raised another card. "What's this one?"
She'd never been hit before. The pain confused her. Which color did Nanny want her to say? Gray on the front? Or red on the back? She couldn't figure out the right answer.
"It's a pretty color. Tell me its name," Nanny coaxed.
The old woman raised her arm to strike again, but quickly lowered it to her chest. Her face lost all color, turning grayer than the cardboard. "Help me,child. I know you can."
Emily shook her head.
Nanny dropped to the floor. "Emily, please," she said, then went silent.
Emily approached her cautiously. The old woman's tongue lolled like the dog's. Her eyes stared. She lay very still. Emily reached out a pudgy hand.
Just in time she remembered. Good girls leave dead things alone.