A breeze creeps through the attic door like a cautious thief and makes its way to a mobile containing an elephant, two giraffes, a hippo and a posse of three monkeys. The mysterious gust sets the parade of species in gentle motion while the victorian-style nursery decor that surrounded remains ominous and without life. A dreamy realm blanketed by a monochrome facade of shapes that would appear bright and animate whence daybreak came.
The monkeys are his favorite, even during the unfamiliar hours he often woke. They jump side by side in an alternating synchronism which makes them appear to be the happiest of the animals. The hippo and elephant are both bulky and sluggish while the giraffes seem extraterrestrial and awkward. They breathe through a gust that sets them in slow logarithmic acceleration and the hypnotic familiarity of their dance guides the child beyond this world and into another.
He watches them with attentive dismissal of dark shadows gathering around a glistening night-light plugged in somewhere beyond the parallel bars stretching upward beyond his feet. The unlit sea beyond the penetrating rays of light is where the horror comes from. In a state of fear he concentrates on the monkeys above, moving with expectant precision.
The child’s mother lies bull-legged on a recliner downstairs staring into the bottom of a glimmering bottle filled with clear liquid. Through the glass she drowns her woes with jaded visions of television drama, talk shows and soap operas. Sometimes the AM radio would murmur the voices of tent preachers, their voices barely recognizable through oscillating static. The toxic fluid burns as it goes down bringing tears to her eyes and she never remembers what she sees or what she does as the late night hours pass with the tick tock of an old grandfather clock. Time passes absent of her existence and she’s too selfish to care.
An antique framed mirror creaks with an echoing pop when a breeze causes a startling chill to dash through her numb peripheral nervous system. Without prior cognition of danger or awareness, she experiences a sudden panic from the memories before the birth of her son. The apparition of a man’s open hand triggers sudden stress and she takes another swig to forget.
Momma squeezes her eyes shut and feels more than a tickle from the passing breeze starting at her right foot. Next, she perceives the location of a small creature on her leg, tripping and desperately clinging to the skin above her knee cap. Its movements are jagged and unpredictable just like her thoughts. She stares at the small entity making its way up her limb in a drunken haze. The thing is black and glossy and, while she knows nothing of its purpose for taking residence on her aging skin, she experiences a floodgate of authentic terror.
The bottle drops from her hand and she screams and flails about in the reclining chair. The nightstand is surrounded by shattered glass and she aimlessly falls to the ground slobbering and drooling over newly bloodied hands that were sliced by broken shards. Her wails and moans and cries echo into the nursery and her son feels her pain and begins to cry too. As the monkeys trail behind a plump hippopotamus he helplessly listens to momma.
She remembers not knowing if she was awake or asleep after his father was sentenced. The abusive man would never again see his son and she was going to make sure of it even if she didn’t know how. The boy would never know what his father had done to her, but he did know when momma was in pain. He knows that he needs her now because he is hurting too. His cries escalate to a cacophony of terror.
Momma crawls his way because she’s too drunk to stand. On any other night she would have passed out in her chair until the depressing sanity of dawn forced her to wake and feed her son. Blood stains the carpet and nearly matches the spilt wine splatters trailing up to her son’s room. Every time she enters the nursery she thinks of that man and what he’d done to her. As she lies beside the crib, unable to pull herself up, it’s as if reality itself pauses.
As he wails at the top of his lungs, thrashing about with every bit of strength he has, time and place dissolve in an aqueous solution of fear. The fragmented recollection combining sharp pain, aberrant fright and helpless trepidation are the last echoing memories of the boy’s father. Now, it is just momma and the pungent vodka breath that any child who has been through hell knows well.
Momma lies crying but she’s touched by God to rise. Bloody hands grab the wood lattice crib slats and like Noah rising from the trauma of the flood she wobbles on her feet observing her desperate child. Beyond the oblivion of her evocation, somewhere in the abyss, there was a path leading up. At first she’s too shaken by the morbid memories to touch her son, but instantly she’s too awe-struck by his innocence to leave him be.
She wipes her hands on a gnawed pair of pajama pants and picks him up. His cold skin on her arms makes her weep more. She holds him as she wobbles and trembles but he stops crying. Sunlight begins to creep into the haunted house and plants itself like a weed of hope.
“It’s okay, Dante. Shhhhh. There, there, now. Momma is here.” The child has his same eyes. She swallows the fear. “I’m trying son, I’m really trying. But. I. Don’t. Know. How. To,” she says as if the wind is knocked out of her. “…to make this okay.” His bright eyes shed innocence upon her guilt and shame. “If you remember this as bad, at least you won’t remember him.”
Blood leaks on his chubby arms as she squeezes him tight. The night passes like a glitch in the fabric of time. He lays back in his crib as the animals turn above him on an angelic halo that bounces and moves around and around. He will always remember momma’s pain. In the sobering hours that follow, momma prays he never remembers like she will.