Her father was not a kind person. That did not mean that he was a cruel person. He was just somebody that seemed to live at the house, not bothering to relate to anybody. The only person that merited more than a barely whispered order (he always spoke softly, as if he could not be bothered to raise his voice) was her mother. And even then, all their conversations were clinical and about daily management of the household, a lot like two accountants meeting to discuss the current situation of some company they did the books for.
One day, he did not come home. His absence went unnoticed to her until her mother explained, in a slightly sad tone, that she shouldn’t expect her father to return.
Since she did not know how to feel about that, she decided to reserve judgment.
She was five.
She was left with strange, contradictory feelings. The absence of her father did not really impact her day-to-day life: his intervention in it had always been non-existent. But at dinner…she was used to having him sitting silently at the head of the table, eating with an economy of motion that always felt to her like he was quietly pointing out that nothing around him was worth any effort. When she pointed this out to her mother, she told her that she would get used to it.
She didn’t. She missed the silence and indifference that her father exuded. Or maybe, it was the physical presence. She couldn’t really tell but kept mentioning it to her mother. One day, as she was sitting down for dinner, her mother did something completely alien: she broke the dinner routine. She had set another plate on the table, and, in front of it, she placed a tiny lead soldier, saying: “Pretend that is your father.”
“That it is not father,” she responded.
“Well, did your father ever speak to you during dinner, or in any way noticed you were there?” her mother asked.
“Neither will this.”
At first, she thought that the whole thing was just plain silly. But, as the meal progressed, she found herself stealing glances at the toy. As she had done when it was her father at the head of the table. In an indefinite, gradual way, she found herself settling in her old habits. Pretty soon, she was unable to have dinner without the little soldier presiding.
When she turned 8, her mother’s birthday present was the toy soldier. “Take care of it,” she said. That night, she cried silently in bed for a long time, the little lump of lead blindly watching over by her bedside.
She never actually got her mother to tell her where the toy had come from. Every time she’d ask, Mother would ignore the question. Only once she whispered something like, “That is all that’s left of him.” At the time, she couldn’t make any sense of that, although, in her later years, she became of the opinion that it was all that her father had left behind when he left. She always wondered whether it had been on purpose.
A relationship of sorts developed between her and the toy: each would ignore the other (not that the little soldier was capable of much interaction, a lot like her father), but she could not function without it. It had other uses, though: once, fed up with being bullied at school (like her father, she would not interact with others in any meaningful level), she used it as a street thug would use a roll of coins, to give her hand the firmness required to punch a boy in her class (one that she did not particularly dislike) until his face was bloody. Why she did not punch the bully instead of that boy was a question that never occurred to her.
She was left alone after that. She and the toy soldier, alone together.