Anne turned on the radio and hurriedly cranked the volume down. The kids had finally fallen asleep and the last thing she wanted was to wake them up.
Suzette, her gentle Down’s Syndrome child, had been a good girl and slept right away, followed by Pat, the newest member of her little foster family – a golden-haired, dimpled six-month-old darling inexplicably left on the sidewalk in a baby carrier by a single mother who had apparently tired of being one. Matthew, the oldest at three, had been the tenacious one – wanting one more drink and one more story, until finally his eyes closed.
She wiped down the counter, loaded the dishwasher and started it. The music changed, and she grinned. I used to dance to that, she thought, and tried out a few rusty dance steps. Being a foster parent meant that she didn’t have much of a social life – at least not at the moment – and Anne hadn’t been out dancing since her divorce.
Spinning, a little off-balance, she giggled – and stopped abruptly at the site of a teary-eyed Matthew, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, holding the Hobbes she had crocheted for him.
“You’re supposed to be in bed.” Quietly, she walked over and scooped him up. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s a monster in my room, mommyAnnie!”
“A monster,” she said, “where?”
The little boy pointed up at an angle. “By the see’ing. Up.”
“Let’s go take a look.”
“No!” He struggled to get away from Anne. “Can’t go. Can’t!”
Anne was taken aback. Matthew had been the least trouble of any child put in her care, at an age to be helpful, and very much thnking of himself as a brave big brother. This isn’t like him …
“Ok, Buster.” She put Matthew on his chair at the dining room table and headed down the hall.
As she entered the room, she shut the door to avoid waking the other children and flipped on the light switch. Maybe it’s a spider. Or some kind of bug. But the walls were clean and gleaming in the light from the fixture. Nothing seemed to be hanging out of the closet, home for the monsters of her childhood.
On her way out the door, she stopped. Just for an instant, she felt something, rather than seeing it, but the moment passed and she decided that she had just picked up on Matthew’s heebie-jeebies. She shut the light off and headed back to the kitchen.
“It ‘cared of you.” His eyes were still wide and he was sucking his thumb, something she hadn’t seen from him since the earliest days he’d been there.
“Scared of me? Why?”
Scared of me because I’m female, huh? Just like most of the guys I seem to meet these days.
“You need to go back to bed, sweetie.”
Matthew shook his head violently. “No, pleez, mommyAnnie. Plees. Mons’er’ll come back.”
“What did it look like?”
=“Din’t see it. Feeled it. Feeled bad!”
Anne sighed. She still had quite a bit to do before bed. “Ok. Tell you what. You can sack out on the couch until I’m done. Will that help?”
He nodded and jumped up on the couch, pulling the afghan off the back to cover up with.
She went back to the kitchen and finished cleaning the stove. Opening the cabinets, she built a shopping list for the next day. As she worked, Anne felt a growing sense of unease. She tapped the pen on the counter and then went to look in on Matthew.
He had pulled the afghan up, almost covering his face. “MommyAnnie,” he whispered, “it’s here again.”
Anne knelt by the couch and brushed the hair from the little boy’s eyes. “Shh, honey. You must have woke up from a bad dream and it just stuck with you. It happens all the time.”
“No, no, no, no, no ….” Matthew teared up again. “It wants hurt me.”
“But not me?”
“It’s ‘cared of you.”
“Because I’m a girl.”
He nodded gravely and scrubbed the tears from his face.
She hugged him and they stayed there; neither moved for a long time. Abruptly, the tension broke.
Matthew scrambled off the couch and wrapped himself as far around her as he could. “It’s gone.”
I hate to admit this, but I felt something. I really did.
She cuddled him. “Think you can go back to bed?”
Anne walked him back to the room, tucked him in, gave Hobbes a kiss and went back to the kitchen thoughtfully.
“I don’t know what that was all about, but I’m glad it’s over.” She whistled as she emptied the dishwasher. “Who ever heard of a monster that was scared of girls?” I guess Suzette’s safe, then.
She nearly fainted when an infant’s terrified scream came from Pat’s room.