Posts Tagged 'monsters'

Dusk

Sunday afternoon, the neighborhood next to ours catches fire. We sit with our neighbors, Cord and Jamie, on their deck and stare at smoke and fire engines and helicopters dropping water on orange flames a mile away. We’re safe where we are, the blaze the other side of the lake, the wind blowing it to the east. So we sit. We stare. That’s all we can do.

“We should probably take a shot now,” Cord says after a few minutes.

“We probably should,” I say while Eli and Slade race around the deck and propane tanks explode across the lake and black clouds rise like mean skyscrapers.

We eat fish tacos and take a tequila shot there on Cord and Jamie’s deck, the smoke sometimes black, sometimes white, the children oblivious to the trees and cars and houses burning so close by.

“What would you grab if you had to evacuate?” Cord or maybe Jamie asks. Kids and pets, I say. A laptop, possibly. Important documents, if there was time.

But everything else, the furniture, Eli’s and Slade’s drawings, the flat screen TVs, the china we’ve never used, would be left to burn. Some of that stuff matters; most of it doesn’t.

***

The next afternoon, which is Labor Day, the phone rings.

“Your dogs are down at the lake,” a neighbor tells Sally.

“At the lake?” Sally says. “That’s just wonderful. We’ll be right there.”

From the waterfront park, smoke still snakes above the trees from the neighborhood just across the narrow lake. 24 houses have been destroyed, we’ve heard on the news. 30 more damaged. 4000 people evacuated. We swim at our waterfront park and laugh about our dogs escaping and watch Eli and Slade bound off the boat dock into green water.

“Helicopter, Mommy! Daddy! Helicopter!” Slade exclaims each time a helicopter buzzes us with a giant sack of water sloshing underneath it like a saggy boob.

By that afternoon, a wildfire is igniting houses 15 miles to the north of us, and another, this one to the west, has grown to over 6000 acres, and another, east of town, has roared to over 25,000 acres. In our front yard, the air is the color of copper, and flakes of white ash drizzle on the grass. From which fire, we can’t tell.

As hazy dusk settles, someone pounds on the front door just after we put the boys to bed. Sally and I look at each other.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” a woman we’ve never seen yells and runs up the driveway. Running Deer and Jack’s Pass. That’s a block away.

Horns honk outside and Sally gets the boys up and I push Snurp in the cat carrier and we grab the laptop and leash the dogs and locate birth certificates and find car keys.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” I hear again somewhere as I open the front door and step into purple twilight.

At Jack’s Pass and Running Deer, the spot of the fire, I see a jeep, a car, and a motorcycle stopped in the road, but nothing burning. A dozen or so people stand on the edge of the street, looking down a steep hill. Cord is among them. He’s holding a shovel.

“Where’s the fire?” I ask.

“We just put it out,” Cord says.

“How’d it start?”

“Some dude threw a bottle rocket out of his truck and then drove off.”

“You’re kidding me,” I say. “Some prick shot off fireworks? That’s not dumb; it’s deliberate.”

***

All this week, lying in bed, washing dishes, parking my car, I’ve been thinking this: What if the wind hadn’t died down just a few minutes before? What if nobody had been there to see the smoke in time at Jack’s Pass and Running Deer? What if that asshole in the truck had started a fire that swallowed Slade or Eli or Sally?

It didn’t happen, I tell myself. We’re all fine, I remind myself.

And I feel better then. But not much.

***

When I was in middle school, my father told me the story of Beowulf as we drove home from Des Moines on a black February night. My old man, an English professor, explained the notion of fate in that poem and how, in many ways, the story was existential. Existentialism didn’t mean much to the 13-year-old me.

But this did: “In Beowulf, it’s not if the monster comes but when,” my dad said that evening. “The monster always comes. King Hrothgar. The other characters in the epic. They all accept that in the middle of the night, the monster comes.”

And I think that’s what I’ve really been thinking about this week. The monster in the truck shooting the bottle rocket. The monster smoking in the woods. Smirking. Biding. Coming for you. Coming for them. Coming for me.

All that quality programming on TV is to blame. Honest.

I haven’t wanted to blog this summer. I’m not sure why. Maybe the drought here has dried out my brain. Or maybe it’s all the quality programming on TV. Or maybe I’ve just grown soft.

Whichever. Whatever.

I have been writing, though. I can’t help myself. Stories are a flooded river inside my head, and they pour out, in invitations to fictitious birthday parties that only I find funny, in stupid lists, in secret tales I type in the strong current of the night.

Here’s a sample of some of what’s seeped out. As with everything else here, some of this is very personal and most of it is very silly.

***

Some several days ago, I inquired of Sally, my wife, my delicate flower, my forever mate, which she might prefer for her birthday.

“An evening at the ballet?” I suggested. “Or, if you feel particularly adventurous, perhaps we might attend the opera? They’re performing Le nozze di Figaro in German at the Performing Arts Center. Yes! In German! Can you even imagine!”

Sally stared at me, slowly chewing a piece of gum. She sighed.

“Listen,” my beautiful daisy replied. “I want to get shit faced on my birthday. You understand me? I want to get polluted, loaded, plowed, pickled, fucked all the way up. Can you get that through that stone skull of yours?”

She exhaled noisily.

I replied, yes, that I quite well understood her intentions and that I could indeed arrange such festivities, adding that I was acquainted with just the respectable, responsible, upstanding citizens who would very much enjoy conversing with her and raising a glass of well-aged pinot in her honor.

“Whatever,” the love of my life said, scratching her arm pit and sniffing her hand. “I sure as shit don’t mind getting blitzed alone, but I guess it’s okay to have someone there to hold my hair if I puke.”

(Someone to hold her hair! My sweet thinks of the minutest of details!)

Thus, in honor of Sally’s forthcoming birthday, I would like to formally invite you—kindly neighbors, well-regarded friends, custodians of the greater good—to bless us with your presence at the waterfront park commencing at 5:00 this very Saturday. At my darling Sally’s insistence, we will provide an ample portion of an alcoholic beverage she’s dubbed “jungle juice.”

“Pray tell, what is jungle juice?” I inquired when she mentioned the libation. “Is that the vernacular for a martini?”

“Sure. Fine,” said my lovely lady. “Call it a martini. Call it a dingus. Call it whatever faggot name you want.”

(That gentle girl of mine! Inventing such colorful language! Such a card!)

We do so hope that you will be available on Saturday.

***

Slade’s new thing? Licking the floor. Sure. I know. The floor. The good news is that he only does this at day care and he only licks the bathroom floor.

Wait. That isn’t exactly good news, is it?

***

I wonder if I’ll catch that night flicker in your face again. I suspect I will. Some booze-blurry evening you’ll turn just so or giggle until you glow or sink a little, and I’ll glimpse it, electric as a full moon, that night, that kitchen, that pretty girl crying inaudibly on her birthday.

***

Slade’s favorite things:

  • The golf cart. “Golf cart, daddy! Golf cart!” he exclaims over and over and over, which was sweet at first but isn’t now.
  • Taco Bell.
  • His three blankets. He lugs them up and down the stairs and into the kitchen and bathrooms and garage and sometimes out into the front yard.
  • Doodle bugs.
  • School buses.
  • Rocks.
  • Balloons.
  • Grammy and Papoo.
  • Bubbles.

***

I’m trying to get Eli down for the night when he tells me he’s seen a monster.

“Really, Dad. It was standing there.” He points out the bedroom window.

“I see. What’d it look like?”

“Like a monster.”

“You mean purple and breathing fire and tall as a tree?”

“Daaad.”

“What? Oh. That’s right. Monsters aren’t purple. They’re black and they smell like shellfish and they look like enormous poop lumps.”

“Daaaad, monsters don’t look like poop.”

“They don’t?”

“No,” Eli sighs. “Monsters look like monsters.”

Monsters look like monsters. I get that, I think, and I suppose he’s right. Monsters do look like monsters, even if most of the time they appear like you and me.

Falls the shadow

“I’m scared, Mom and Dad,” exclaims Eli, our four year old, who’s standing on the landing outside his room well after his bedtime. “I’m scared of the monsters.”

Sometimes Sally looks in on him, but tonight I’m the one to amble up the stairs from the living room. As I tuck him back into bed, I assure him he’s safe and remind him that his mom and dad are here in the house. I leave the dogs to comfort the boy and walk back to the living room.

I don’t mention monsters when I talk to Eli. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I should console him by explaining that monsters aren’t real, that they don’t exist.

But that wouldn’t be honest.

The truth is I believe in monsters. And I believe in the Bogeyman.

I keep thinking about Kimberly Saenz. You know about her, I’m sure, the nurse in Lufkin who injected bleach into her dialysis patients, burning them from the inside out, telling jokes as she ignited her patients all along their veins.

No doubt, you know about lots of other monsters, too.

And if you’re honest to the bone, you know that they’re not just out there. They’re in here, in our thoughts and dreams; in our monsterous urges to be cruel, ruthless, and violent; in that savage hiss that instructs us to leap from the ledge.

But how do you tell a four year old and his little brother that the Bogeyman lurks in the park and at the church and on the computer? How do you explain that an invisible beast hides in their heads?

You don’t, I suspect.

You warn about stranger danger. You remind your kids to be smart in the streets. You teach them to fight when they have to fight.

But you don’t mention the shapes without form, the hollow center in the stuff of us. You don’t tell them about the Bogeyman, slouching in the woods, lean, empty, waiting. And you don’t tell them that one day, the Bogeyman will come. One day he’ll come for us all.

An hour after putting Eli back to bed, I make my way up the stairs to check on him. Asleep in his Power Ranger pajamas, the boy spoons with his favorite blanket, blameless and perfect.

Gazing at this fragile child who is part Sally, part me, and all himself, I’m flooded by emotion. I want to linger in this instant, to hold on to this feeling that’s as profound and inscrutable as a river, to always remember this blond-haired boy sleeping in his bed.

And then my mind drifts, and I think about Eli going to kindergarten in the fall, about the hard years ahead for him, about the Bogeyman skulking in the shadows. And standing there in his room with the Matchbox cars scattered on the carpet and the dogs sacked out on floor, my heart starts beating fast and strong, and I clinch my fists.

Thugs. Pedophiles. Monsters. I’ll gut you if you hurt my sleeping boys, I promise to myself. I’ll paint my face red and stab you right in the throat.

I bend down next to Eli to pull the covers up, and I consider murmuring something about protecting him from the monsters.

Instead, as I often do, I whisper, “Sweet dreams, Little Dude. Your Mom and Dad love you. Your Mom and Dad love you very much.”

A fragment of a poem repeats in my head.

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

I close Eli’s window to keep the night out.

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

I shuffle down the hall to go to sleep.