What I’m writing right now is my worst fear: a story, born from fact, of a woman who loses her son in the Erie Canal, drowned by a really large puppy. This actually happened, though the particulars are fictionalized.
Stalled, and re-started, and re-stalled on this story, I figured what I need is
actually more emotion because I tend to avoid emotional avalanche in my fiction.
I’ve read conflicting accounts of the story from national newspapers, local newspapers, anecdotal histories, and then corroborated with Ancestry.com, obituaries, and yes, sometimes I feel like a stalker. I mull through histories that aren’t mine, like shopping at an estate sale, buying photographs with unnamed faces and features that aren’t mine, so I last night, before I fell asleep, I imagined it to be mine.
I listened to the late-summer bugs and scared myself with thoughts about how vulnerable my children were. My oldest son’s fingers were twitching with sleep, his mouth slightly open, and he was sweating in the humid air, refusing before bedtime to remove his Disney comforter for some sort of security.
Lately, before bed, he’s been asking about monsters and ghosts and something called the “silly silly gumbo” from a cartoon, and THAT scares the business out of him. He drapes his arms around me, having asked for a hug, and his grip is tight because he’s not letting go. I refuse to pull away and leave him with his arms open and empty, so I just sit there, waiting for him to say something like, “You know, mommy? Superheroes protect us.” And then I say, “Yes, but policemen do, too. And so do the walls of our house, and Molly, and Mommy and Daddy do, too.” And then he asks where the naughty guys live, and I tell him they live far far away. And he says, “In the woods?” And I think hard, because everything matters, and there are woods around our house, so I say, “No, not around here. I’ve never seen a naughty guy.” And I lie like that until he feels safe enough to loosen his grip, to give me his kiss.
God. And he’s just three.
So my husband was snoring beside me last night, and I thought, what if I were Mabel, the mother from my story? It is something I hesitated to think, but my mind had already gone there. What would I miss most? Mabel is consumed with the Lindbergh baby, and so my mind wandered to that, how the family was unaware their child had been kidnapped from his bedroom window. When I hear on the news that that’s happened, I turn skeptical, imagine the parents are neglectful, drunk, or involved somehow.
My mind reeled around the conversation I had with Johnny before bed, and then Sammy, my other boy, who’s just learning to sit still while I read him bedtime stories about fireflies, that his thick fingers turn the cardboard pages for me. How, when he curls up to go to sleep, he still pushes his butt high up in the air with his knees underneath. For security.
Every night, before my husband and I go to sleep, he peeks in on the boys and latches their doors closed.
I got out of bed before I could stop myself, and tip-toed down the hall to see for myself that everything I’d imagined about my boys asleep was true, that they were there. And they were.
I left their bedroom doors open, not worried about noise, wanting to hear everything that happened in their rooms, every breath even.