The night was noisy. Noisier than Jaqueline would have imagined. She knew something strange was going on, as soon as she had opened her eyes to the darkness. Climbing out of the bed that was a bit too high for her small legs, she heard raised voices from down below. Father was shouting at the top of his voice, the words unintelligible to her. Quietly, she made her way to the landing and crept to the perfect position at the top of the stairs. Here she knew she would be able to see him, but he would not be able to spot her. Especially with the lights turned off on the upper floor.

Father had his back turned to Jaqueline, gesticulating wildly with his long arms, at who she did not know yet. His broad shoulders seemed to rotate in agitation, and she almost had to giggle at the mental image of his arms dislodging from his shoulders, still spinning in the air above his body. Naturally, that didn’t happen, but the thought amused her.

As if he felt her scrutinizing eyes on his back, Father abruptly turned and shot a glance up the stairs. She held her breath, hoping he hadn’t heard her anxious inhale at this sudden movement. As he started pacing up and down the hallway, Mother was made visible to her. She wasn’t crying, as she had done many times before when Father was shouting like this. Instead, Mother stood there, ice-cold, her fixed stare following his every movement. Rigidly, she held on to a suitcase next to her. It was the red suitcase, the one she had taken on the Italy trip last Easter. Father had driven five hours straight, over the Alps, and straight into Verona. They had all loved it there, her most treasured family memories were from Italy. These frightening nights where her parents fought, had started just after that holiday. Jaqueline did not understand, why there was so much yelling. She did not understand what her father was so upset about. She knew she needed to focus on his words, to find out what this fight was about. But all she could do was stare at the red suitcase.

Mother was leaving. She knew it as soon as she had spotted the all too familiar red. Jaqueline was frozen to her spot at the top of the staircase, wondering if she should run down and take that suitcase from Mother’s grasp. She knew she wasn’t strong enough if Mother resisted, but she hoped that there would be no resistance. Why would she leave? Why would she not take Jaqueline?

Father’s yelling had become less voluminous, and Jaqueline found it easier to bring order to her own thoughts. What she could make out so far from all the shouting was that Mother wanted to go live with another man. Father was furious. Why would she do this to him, he kept saying now, his voice growing quieter, more desperate. Mother’s demeanour changed with every pleading word coming out of his mouth. She seemed to grow in front of him, looking down at his bent over body, beseeching her to stay. Jaqueline watched Father crumble under the glacial glare of his own wife. Then, in a mocking tone, she said to him the words that would stay with Jaqueline her whole life, emblazoned into her brain.

“I’m pregnant. Unlike you, he managed to put a baby in me.”

Jaqueline gasped. Pregnant? Did that mean she would soon have a sibling? But why would Mother leave in that condition? Too late did she realise, that Mother had heard her incredulous reaction. Her cold eyes met Jaqueline’s and for a moment there was a warmth in them. Quickly, this was replaced with an apathy that made Jaqueline’s insides contract. Desperately wanting to hold on to Mother, she put one foot on the stairs and whispered:

“Will you take me, Mother?”

With a headshake, Mother severed the connection between them and whirled around. She opened the front door, patted herself down, as if to check she hadn’t forgotten anything and then walked out, her red suitcase in tow.

But you forgot ME, Jaqueline wanted to shout after her. Why she didn’t, she would never know. Father stood at the end of the staircase; his eyes locked on the now empty door frame. His slumped shoulders made Jaqueline well up and she took heart to finally descend the staircase. Reaching him, she hugged him from behind and felt his back quiver along his spine. Father was crying and there was nothing she could think of to comfort him.

Together, they sat on the stairs until the first rays of sun came shining in, through the still wide-open front door. They hadn’t said a word to each other, and Jaqueline was beginning to wonder if they would ever speak again. With a sigh, Father turned his face into the rising sun. It seemed to give him new energy, because when he finally opened his eyes again, he turned to his daughter and said: “I’ll make some breakfast, shall I?”

Jaqueline would never get an explanation from him, on what had happened on that fateful night. Her grandmother and aunts would fill her in on some of the details later on, but she was never sure, what was the truth. Her mother had left them for her new family. Another man and a baby in her belly. And Jaqueline had found peace with the knowledge that she had a father who loved her very much. At the very least, enough to not abandon her.

Decades later, when Father had already passed from this earth, Jaqueline had woken up to a startling memory. Mothers farewell sentence:

“Unlike you, he managed to put a baby in me.”

“Unlike you.” What did that mean? Hadn’t Father also put a baby in her? Namely Jaqueline? Or hadn’t he? This uncertainty did not leave her, once it was there. And Jaqueline realised that she needed to find out the whole truth. So, she went looking for answers from one of her aunts. Her aunt looked at her with an indescribable sadness and led her into a room full of books and folders. She searched for a document in one of the folders and when she found it, she made a sound of victory so much like Jaqueline’s father had used to make, it drove tears to both their eyes. “This is your birth certificate”, her aunt said with a wistful smile and handed her the document. Jaqueline took it, slightly bewildered, and glanced over it. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to find here, until she saw it, the empty space, where Father’s name should have been, and below it:

“Father unknown.”