I tuck the covers all the way around him, a cocoon, and smooth the hair from his forehead. I never expected to be raising our son on my own. Things don’t always work out the way you expect.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, I lean over and wrap my arms around him. I try to encompass him in a love so full, that it will hopefully be enough to make up for everything else that’s missing.
He squirms and giggles beneath me until I reluctantly let go. To look into his eyes reminds me of his father. So bright, inquisitive. But there’s an underlying worry there, too. Searching my face, almost as if he’s not sure that I’m really here. It took weeks, months of me reassuring him that, no, I wouldn’t leave him, too. You couldn’t get rid of me if you wanted to, I would tell him.
I kiss his soft cheek once, twice, and reach for the lamp on the bedside table. “Mommy?” he says and stretches out his hand. “Leave it on. Please?”
“You’re a big boy now. Aren’t you?” He nods. But the look on his face says otherwise.
He blinks up at me with those eyes and I can’t think of a good enough reason not to leave the light on for a little while longer.
Still, “You know that I won’t let anything bad happen?” I tell him. “We’re safe. And there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Not even the monster?”
I smile, reach out and give his nose a playful squeeze. “There’s no such thing.”
“I’ve seen it,” he whispers.
“Well, maybe it’s a nice one,” I say, hoping that will appease him. It’s getting late. I yawn. There’s another full day ahead.
He runs a finger over a long scratch on my arm. Steering his thoughts from monsters, I say “Want to help make a pie in the morning with all the blackberries we picked today?”
He smiles up at me and nods. “Then you need to sleep now.” I kiss his forehead and let him keep the light for awhile.
I shuffle down the hall to the bathroom before heading to my own bed. Two pills from the prescription bottle in the medicine cabinet to keep away the nightmares. Or maybe the bad dreams are still there and the pills only help me to forget. Either way, the fog they induce is the only thing that helps me sleep.
It’s three a.m. when the familiar scratching at my door pulls me to the edge of my fog, lifts the veil.
Gnashing teeth, nails sharp like thorns that can rip and tear. Wild, sleep-tousled hair, and empty, dark eyes that refuse to see.
There is a monster.
It’s the reason why his father left. And the reason why I can’t. But when morning’s here, he’s just my little boy again and, thankfully, I won’t remember the monster he becomes.
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