It started with the low whispers that adults use when something is very wrong. The rapid hissing and sudden stops. If they really want to hide things from children, they should just talk normally.
So it came as no surprise, really, when my father came upstairs, his face drawn and grave. "Lizzie," he said, "sit down."
I obediently took a seat on the edge of my bed, and my father sat next to me. He looked at me for a long time, and I looked back, unflinching, willing him to just come out with it.
After what seemed like years, he said, "Your mother..."
I shifted where I sat, which seemed to break his concentration. My parents were no longer married. Mom lived across town in a nice house that I visited infrequently. It wasn't hers; it belonged to her family, and her two brothers and mother still lived in it. At least, I thought they did. It was difficult to tell. My mother and her family were a strange lot. I much preferred the relative quiet of living with just my father.
Dad got back on track. "She's..."
I squinted at him, trying to see into his head so he wouldn't have to say whatever he was having such trouble saying.
"Dead," he finally said. I wondered whether he'd been testing other words in his mind: gone, passed away... But Dad and I were alike in more than a few ways, and being clear and direct in our words was one of them.
Now he squinted at me, gauging my reaction. "They're going to move us, aren't they?" I asked.
Dad grimaced. "Probably."
I sighed. "Was it because of you?"
"We don't know."
Was it because of me? But I didn't ask that. It made little difference if it was because of Dad or me; we were a package deal. Mom had said so herself when swearing us off, unable to live under the heavy hand of the government any longer.
But that hand had also protected her.