The Monster came
every evening. You could set your watch by it. My mother and I would sit and
watch television and as the clock approached nine, we could sense each other’s
unease knowing that any second, it would arrive. Sometimes there were false
alarms. We would sit terrified for a few moments, then nothing would happen.
Maybe it was the wind blowing on the front gate, maybe people walking down the
street. Either way, it got our attention. When the front gate made a loud clank,
the Monster was here.

I could never figure
out why it chose us, but it did. Mom didn’t latch the door because the
lumbering Monster had broken it before. It would push the door open and step
inside. You may wonder what it looked like. I can only give you the perspective
of a nine-year-old boy. It was huge. Small pieces of metal hung from it that
clinked when it walked. There were two bloodshot eyes, although I couldn’t tell
you the color. Over the years we had learned not to make eye contact, because that
only made it angry. Sometimes it seemed like could have been a man, but it was
just too hard to tell. What really hit the senses was the smell; it smelled as
though the earth had soured, a combination of dirt and some kind of vile
excretion. I had never smelled anything like it before or since.

It looked right
through us, like it had a bigger purpose and we were in its way. Usually it
stomped through the house just looking, looking for something it could never
find. Occasionally it would turn its attention to one of us. It would make a
speedy charge, then stop just short of any contact. It roared and slobbered
like an old dog, seemingly expecting us to understand it. We only understood
its gestures. Other times it would walk straight to the kitchen and eat our
food. We could hear plates and cups smashing, along with noises of smacking and
chewing, like it would never get another meal. After it ate, it would return to
scare us even more. I came to believe it existed for one reason, and that was to
terrify us.

You may wonder how
a thing that behaved the same way night after night but never actually
physically harmed us kept us so terrified. Think of a coiled rattle snake; if
you stood a foot away from it, knowing what it could do while at the same time never being sure of what it would do, would you be afraid? Would you
be afraid of something that had the power to kill you in seconds, something
even more unpredictable than that Rattle Snake?

My mother and I never
spoke about the Monster. I never spoke to anyone out of fear they would think
me crazy. Who gets visited every day by a monster? Once when I was brave I
hinted to my friends about the Monster. They turned and walked away. I learned
quickly. No one truly cared about me, except, of course, my mother.

Was life all bad? No.
We had fun. It seems dealing with the Monster day after day allowed us to take
great joy in the little things. We would go grocery shopping and laugh the
whole time. My mother would buy us a pack of Archway cookies, the chewy ones
with the splotch of gummy raspberry in the middle. Sometimes in the evening
when the Monster would leave, she would take me to the local department store
where we would get Coca-Cola ices, then stalk the aisle waiting patiently for
the blue light to flash. We would see it and quickly walk to find what middle
class treasure had been offered for a greatly discounted price.

Then one day, what we feared the most
happened. On this day, the Monster was not satisfied with our fears. It was out
for blood. It attacked me first, and then I saw my mother’s rage. She went
after the monster with a lamp. It clumsily batted the lamp away and struck her
hard, propelling her against the wall. The Monster was wailing, thrashing,
attacking, as I jumped on it to save my mother. We fought with all we had. We
fought for our lives–I don’t remember how long–but suddenly, it was over.
The battle was done. The Monster was gone.

My mother and I were crying and
breathing hard as I hugged her. I got up, went to the bathroom, and brought her
a damp cloth to clean the blood from her face.
As we dabbed her wounds, I could see in her eyes that something had
changed. But what hadn’t changed was
that the Monster would be back. We both knew he would return to finish the job.

The following morning,
I awoke to find boxes on the living room floor and our suitcases open on the couch.
My mother worked harder and faster and with more determination than I had ever
seen her work before. We carried the boxes out to the old station wagon. She
slammed the tailgate as I asked her, "Where are we goin’, Momma?"

"You’ll find out when
we get there," she answered.

We drove down the
street and I looked back over the top of the seat. My mother said, "Turn around,
Jack. Never look back."

She turned onto the entrance
ramp to the expressway and hit the gas. After merging with traffic, she turned
on the radio. Jackson Browne was singing "Running on Empty."

That was the day my father came home to
an empty house.

The End

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