A little girl was out walking with her Grandmother. It was December, 31, 1923, some time in the early afternoon, and it was her birthday. She would be three years old when the big clock in the downstairs parlour of the Thompson home on Melville Avenue in Toronto struck midnight.
The little girl looked up at her grandma several times as they walked toward Christie Street, and then turned right toward Bloor. She wondered why she was so quiet, quieter than usual. The child had seen that look before, many times lately, with all that was happening; and it frightened her.
She had seen what happened to poor Lila, poor, beautiful Lila, never to be the same again, as time would tell.
It was the stern mask her grandma put on when something bad had happened, or was happening. Little Beatrix, for that was the little girl’s name, already had remarkable instincts about how the people in her family were feeling, and had already learned to adjust her behaviour accordingly. So, as they walked down the sidewalk, she knew she just had to be quiet, hold her Grandma’s hand, and not say or do anything that might . . . upset her more.
They had left her mother in the hall downstairs near the front door. She was dressed to go out in the cold. Several bags of belongings were on the floor. There had been a terrible argument. She was waiting for someone to come for her, to take her away from that house.
She was going away. That’s what her mother had told her – that she was going away for a while, that she couldn’t take her with her, that she didn’t know how long she might be gone.
Then her grandma, also dressed to go out, had taken her by the hand and told her mother, “I’m taking the child for a walk. I expect you’ll be gone by the time we get back.”
“Yes, I expect so,” her mother had replied.
The little girl looked first at her mother, then at her grandmother. They weren’t looking at each other. Many years later the elderly woman the little girl became would say she couldn’t remember if her mother had hugged and kissed her goodbye, or otherwise said or done anything that might have been an expression of love.
And then the little girl and her gramdma were out the door and on their way down the street. At some point, on Melville Avenue, not far from Christie Street the child’s attention was drawn to a car that went by. The man driving glanced over at them, and then quickly turned away as he carried on.
As she and her Grandma walked along Bloor Street some little time later, the little girl knew the moment her mother was gone. She gripped the hand she was holding tighter. Her grandma looked down at her and tried to smile – she could see that.
If only she had picked her up and given her a hug, said something, anything, however foolish under the circumstances, something like, “don’t worry, everything will be all right, your Mommy loves you, I love you, we all love you.”
But she didn’t, it was not in her at that angry, bitter point in her life, if it ever was, to speak such words of consolation even to a little girl desperately in need of someone to tell her she was loved.
They stopped at a store show-window. There was a carousel on display. It had been there throughout the Christmas Season, and was still there for the New Year’s celebration. It had been turning all that time perhaps, powered by a little electric motor and playing a Christmas Carol, Joy to the World, over and over again.
The little girl stood and watched it turn, and so did her grandmother, for that matter, as if staring into space. But the little girl was concentrating very hard on the little ponies. Maybe they could tell her something she needed to know. And there was a lion, its claws extended as if climbing the air to be free. She could almost hear it roar. He must be unhappy too, she thought. Maybe he knew the answer.
And so the carousel continued to turn, and as the little girl watched she started going around and around herself that day, trying to understand, telling herself the same stories over and over, around and around, but always coming back to the same place she started, never actually getting anywhere.
Perhaps the ponies and the lion – in some utterly mysterious way, manufactured little figures of plaster or cermaic though they were – saw the child’s great need, her hunger for love, and would have reached out for her if they could. But there they were too, after all, tied to their fate of going around in circles, perhaps wondering how it happened, and why.
If the truth be known, though, it was the little girl’s imagination that had brought them to a kind of being. But far be it from me now to belittle anyone’s need for the fanciful in the face of despair.
Maybe they’re still there, the child at the store window and the carousel with its little creatures, still going around in circles, trying to find the answers.
Do not think for one moment that’s not possible. Do not think the streets, houses and old store windows of Toronto, or of your city, town or village are not haunted by broken hearts still searching for love.
Oh, they are, my children, they are.