The Monsters I Live With
Illinois, United States
The monster under my bed is named Mildred.
But Mildred isn’t a monster, not really. She’s too sweet to hurt anyone. In fact, I know that Mildred would much rather have a tea party with me than scare me in my sleep. I know this because that’s what we do almost every night.
Mildred doesn’t come out until Mommy and Daddy fall asleep, so we have to start our tea parties pretty late. Mildred says I have to keep our parties a secret. I don’t mind though. Mommy always says I’m mature. Even though I’m only six years old, Mommy says I’m responsible enough to stay home alone as long as I keep the curtains closed and stay quiet. Daddy says I’m smart too. Smart enough to follow the rules if I don’t want to be taken away. I don’t want to leave Mildred, so I make sure to follow all the rules. Except for my tea parties, that is.
It’s 1:00 A.M. now. Mommy and Daddy went to bed earlier than normal today which means I can have a longer tea party with Mildred. I leave my room to get the food, my socks tiptoeing along the edge of the hallway. Quiet. Unfortunately, Daddy is sleeping on the couch today. He has one of his special drinks in hand; he says it’s to help him sleep, but sometimes I see him drink the same thing during the day so I’m not so sure. Either way, I move it to the table before I go over to the pantry so it doesn’t shatter against the floor again like last week. Inside the pantry, I push away more of Daddy’s special drinks and Mommy’s snow cone powder. The plastic water bottles are located next to four mugs in the back, concealed in shadows except for the thin horizontal lines of moonlight that seep through the blinds. After grabbing the water, I rearrange the shelf back to normal before I walk over to the fridge. Mommy forgot to go to the store again, but I find a couple of cookies in the back and a plastic bag of ham that I stick under my arm. The soft hum of the fridge grows softer as I leave the kitchen.
I tiptoe back towards my room, careful not to step on Daddy’s work papers that are on the ground. Unfortunately, as I turn the corner, I run into Mommy. I freeze. I was so excited about my tea party that I forgot to listen to Mommy’s breaths to make sure she was asleep. She rubs her eyes as if trying to figure out who or what I am.
“Rachel dear, why are you out here holding all our food?” Mommy says. I breathe a sigh of relief. She is in mouse mode. At least, that’s what I call it when her voice gets hazy and she talks more high-pitched than usual. She has a runny nose too, just like the mouse I found in our basement. Usually, she forgets things we talk about when she is in mouse mode. Like if I have seen her snow cone powder. Or that she needs to get groceries. Hopefully, she will forget that I did not stay in my room like I was supposed to.
“I’m getting food for Mildred,” I say, trying to move around her legs and back to my room. I don’t like talking when she is in mouse mode. But Mommy stops me. She looks much more alert now.
Uh oh. I’m not supposed to tell Mommy about Mildred.
I hear footsteps behind me and turn around to see Daddy getting up from the couch.
“What’s going on?” he slurs.
Mommy looks paranoid now. Her hands are twitching a few inches from my face and her breaths are uneven and thin.
“Mildred,” she squeaks, pointing at me with a shaking finger.
“You know Mildred?” I ask, surprised.
Daddy glares at me, a sign to be quiet. He brings his arm up to his mouth before he realizes his special drink is gone. He then lumbers back over to the kitchen, grumbling words I’m not allowed to say as he struggles to pull his shirt on. I look at the ground. I don’t want Mommy and Daddy to be mad at me. They aren’t supposed to know about my tea parties. Will they stop me from seeing Mildred now?
Suddenly, someone knocks on our front door. Mommy grabs my shoulder, her fingernails digging into my skin. It hurts, but I am too busy watching the door. I hope the person on the other side decides not to come in. Mommy never lets us have visitors. The last time another woman was in the house, she cried the whole day and wouldn’t talk to Daddy for the whole week.
The door does open, but the person on the other side isn’t a pretty woman like last time. He is a man, taller than Mommy with arms much bigger than Daddy’s. He is wearing a black suit that reminds me of the dragons in my books. There is a shiny badge on his chest that reflects the streetlight into our house. When I look up, Mommy’s face is as pale as the moon.
“Hands up where I can see them,” he commands. I lift my arms on cue, the pack of ham falling from where it was tucked against my side. It falls against the floor with a feeling of finality.
The strange man says some other things but I don’t hear them. I keep looking back at my room, wishing for Mildred to help me understand what is happening, but she is not there. Mildred only comes out when Mommy and Daddy are asleep, and right now they are very awake.
The next thing I know, more dragon men have entered the house. They are shining flashlights at our furniture, looking into our pantries and taking things off our shelves. My cheeks flush red when one of them looks at the picture I drew of me, Mommy, and Daddy.
One of the men who isn’t busy ransacking our house comes up to me and leads me outside. His hand is rough. Once we get to the sidewalk, he stops and pulls out a piece of paper from his pocket. When he shows it to me, I panic.
It’s a picture of Mildred.
Down to the sharp angle of her jaw and her slightly sunken eyes, this man has found a photograph of the monster under my bed. He keeps asking me something - do you recognize her? My mind is shooting flares. I suppress a scream. She’s a secret. No one can know about her. But I nod. When I do, the man thanks me for my cooperation and leads me into his car with the flashing red and blue lights.
Inside, I curl into a ball. I prop my chin up against my knees as I lean my cheek on the frosted window. The man who showed me a picture of Mildred shouts something to the other men, and they lead Mommy and Daddy to the other car. Daddy was right. I didn’t follow the rules and now I’ll never see them again. This is all my fault. I’ll never see Mildred again either.
The dragon man gets in the front of the car and switches on the ignition. I subdue my breaths, and he respectfully ignores the shaky exhales I emit every few seconds. He doesn’t ask any more questions, just switches on the soft murmur of the radio and starts rumbling down the road. A Christmas carol starts playing, way too early in the year.
As we leave, I see a glimpse of something in the window. It’s Mildred, coming out from hiding even though Mommy and Daddy are awake. She is saying something to me, her lips moving in graceful o’s.
Be fearless, I make out.
I press my hand against the window, condensation building an imprint along it. Ok, I whisper, I’ll be brave. For you.
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