Elmo is fucking useless. He’s fallen on the floor again and stares up at me, eyes agog.
Get up here! I say in my mind.
I don’t actually have the words yet to enunciate that sentiment out loud. It’s odd. I get the words, I just can’t say them. I think they’ll come eventually, maybe even soon. But for now, all I’m able to produce is a strained, “Ehhh.”
Mommy looks at me in the rear view mirror.
“Elmo fall down?”
She talks to me like I’m an idiot but, in fairness, I can’t converse yet. She takes care of me, feeds me, loves me. She picks Elmo up off the floor, which is a full-time job because Elmo is a goddamn spaz. I don’t have a daddy or a brother or sister. It’s just Mommy and me. That’s okay. She’s all I need.
I let out another pained “Ehhh!” and then, despite my best intentions, I begin to cry.
“Shhh-shhh,” coos Mommy. She starts to sing, “La-la, la-la . . . ”
I join her. I can’t even say my name but somehow I manage to form the sounds of “Elmo’s World.” It makes Mommy happy to sing it.
Her eyes are off the mirror and back on the road. The rain is getting harder. This stretch has no street lights.
I think I liked it better when I rode backwards.
I love Mommy, but she’s kind of a klutz. We’re coming from the supermarket where she just took out half a Velveeta display with a shopping cart. I’m not sure how I feel about her steering five thousand pounds of minivan through a driving rain in the dark.
“La-la, la-la,” I keep singing and I can tell she’s smiling by the way her cheek puffs out on the side.
Mommy slows the minivan.
A car is spun out on the road ahead, facing the wrong way.
The front door is open and there’s a figure lying still on the ground.
We’re alone out here.
We should go.
Mommy brings the minivan to a full stop. She looks back at me, big beautiful almond eyes full of worry, and something else. Guilt? Sorrow? I’m not sure I know what those things are yet, but I think that’s what I see on her face. I don’t like the way they look on my mommy.
My eyes drift down to Elmo — useless prick! — flat on his back on the floor, surrounded by my discarded juice boxes. He looks like he’s just come off a cranberrylicious bender.
Mommy touches my chin. She lines her eyes up with mine and there’s absolute reassurance.
“Mommy’ll be right back,” she says.
She opens the door just long enough to slip out.
The falling rain is deafening.
She looks around, like maybe we aren’t alone out here. She flicks her key fob, locking all the minivan’s doors.
I watch her jog through the driving downpour, across the empty road. As she moves, her body remembers. Short, choppy strides, become long and graceful.
She squats down to check the silent figure on the ground.
That’s when I see it.
It’s big and moving from behind the other car. It’s not a person. It’s shadow and darkness. Cold. I get flashes of things I used to know, before I was with Mommy, things from the beginning, things I’ll forget in a few years.
I recognize the Cold Thing, or at least what it represents. I don’t think I could put it into words even if I had them. Instead, I just scream bloody murder.
Between the rain and the minivan’s soundproofing, there’s no hope in hell that’ll she’ll hear me. I watch, helpless, terrified, as the Cold Thing moves around my mommy, stopping with its back to me.
I can’t see her.
There’s nothing worse than not being able to see your mommy.
I scream louder, harder.
The Cold Thing’s head swivels on its neck, facing me at an unholy angle.
I think I’m going to pass out.
The Cold Thing rights its head and moves in on my mommy.
I want to pass out.
I flail and kick against the car seat. It’s useless. I’m useless. She’s everything in the world to me and it’s going to take her.
There’s movement. A struggle.
Did the Cold Thing just explode?
It’s gone, and all I see is my mommy lunging forward, her left fist cocked, her right arm extended. She’s holding a short, sharp piece of wood.
Surprise and relief.
Now, terror: the figure that was lying on the ground is standing behind Mommy.
It’s not alive either.
The New Thing lunges. Mommy dodges.
She leaps with the grace of a gymnast and pivots mid-air.
(The woman can’t parallel park!)
She lands a kick to the New Thing’s back, sending it sprawling on the wet asphalt.
Mommy dives, her fist and the stick leading. She finds her mark. The New Thing explodes into the rain.
Mommy looks around again and I think this time she knows we’re alone. She glides across the road, soft, confident loping strides.
She’s inside the van and all is right in the world. Her cheeks are flushed, but she’s smiling. She picks Elmo up and stuffs the little red monster into the side of my car seat. She wipes the drool from my chin and tells me it’s okay.
Her eyes meet mine and her smile fades a little. I see those things again, the ones I’m not sure I can name yet — sorrow? guilt?
She looks away from me and starts the car. Her eyes get wet.
“La-la, la-la,” I start to sing.
Mommy laughs a little as we pull back out onto the road.
MIKE SWEENEY received an honorable mention in the 1977 art fair for his pencil-and-marker rendering of “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” He was the first kindergartener in his school’s history to be so recognized.