Just the day before, the Child was care-free and innocent, at that age at which Father and Mother were wise and heroic. But that was then.
“There’s a Dragon under my bed,” said the Child at tuck-in time. Father and Mother smiled. Children often expressed fears of imaginary things. Father and Mother often read fairy tales and picture books to the Child to address such fantasies. “No there’s not,” said Father. “Just your imagination,” said Mother. They turned off the light.
Mother and Father were enjoying a glass of wine and a particularly gripping TV mystery when the Child called out, “There’s a Dragon under my bed.” They went to the Child’s bedroom. “There’s no Dragon,” Father reassured the Child. “But there is,” the Child said. “Have you seen it?” Mother asked. “Did it say anything?” The Child shuddered. Mother put her arm around the Child. “Then how do you know it’s there?”
“The Orange Man,” said the Child.
Father and Mother exchanged puzzled glances. First a Dragon, now the Orange Man? They praised the Child’s imagination—but this was not the time. “And where is the Orange Man?” Mother asked. “Under the bed with the Dragon?”
“Everywhere,” said the Child. “Which is where exactly?” Father asked. “Should we look for him?” Mother added. The Child seemed surprised at Mother and Father’s failure to understand. “Everywhere,” the Child repeated. “At school?” Father asked? The Child nodded. Mother followed up. “At the playground? The park? The supermarket?” The Child nodded again. “Everywhere.”
Mother and Father knew better than to make the Child feel guilty. The most delightful children sometimes found bedtime difficult. Dutifully, they sat with the Child. Each held a hand. Ten minutes later, the Child fell asleep. They tiptoed back to the family room to resume their wine and TV.
Later, they were barely asleep when the Child burst into their bedroom. “There’s a Dragon under my bed,” the Child cried. They made a comforting space between them. “Did it come out?” Mother asked. “Roar or breathe fire?” asked Father. He instantly regretted his question. It would only stoke the Child’s fears.
“You can’t see it,” said the Child. “You can’t hear it. But it’s there, and it wants to gobble me up. It wants to gobble youup. And Grandma and Grandpa and—”
Mother wished she’d left a glass of wine on her nightstand. “But if you can’t see the Dragon or hear it, how can it be real?” The Child began to shake. “The Orange Man says it is. He talks to all the kids. He says he knows things we don’t and our parents don’t. The Dragon is there. It wants to gobble us all up.”
Father and Mother let the Child fall asleep in their bed. Dutiful parents, they stayed awake in case the Child suffered nightmares or, worse, night terrors. They’d read up on that. Educated, hardworking and caring, they were confident that tomorrow, the Dragon and the Orange Man who announced its presence would disappear of their own accord. Or the next day. Surely a few days later. At most a week.
Reassured, Father leaned across the Child and kissed Mother. “Good night,” he whispered. “Nothing under the bed,” Mother returned. “Couldn’t be,” said Father.
They slept the sleep of the dead.
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