The Legend of the Toy Monster

My daughter Rachel has more toys than she knows what to do with. For the longest time, my wife and I picked up after her. However, we eventually expected her to pick them up herself. At first, she tried, but it became easier to kick toys under the bed, into the closet, or pile them up unceremoniously in corners of her bedroom.

One day I pulled her aside. “Honey, you need to keep your toys off the floor.”

“I don’t want to,” Rachel whined. “It’s too hard.”

“You must,” I replied, my voice a low growl, “or else . . ..”

Rachel pursed her lips. “Or else what?”

I scratched my head. “Uh, or you will lose them.”

Eyes wide and her lips quivering she asked, “Are you going to take them away?”

I stared past her when an idea sprang into my fevered mind. A notion so horrible and twisted, I had to use it. “No, but the toy monster might get them.”

Her mouth dropped open. “The what?”

“Oh yes,” I replied. “The toy monster loves messy toy-filled bedrooms. They attract him like raw meat attracts lions. He will start small, eating one or two a night, until they are all gone. Of course by then, he might decide he’s had enough of toys . . ..”

“And eat my clothes?” she asked trembling.

“That,” I smiled crookedly, “Or what wears them.” Muhahahahah.

Shrieks followed me out the door as I smugly walked downstairs to finish the paper. But even the threat of nocturnal doll munching couldn’t convince Rachel to keep her room tidy. Finally, after removing sharp, nearly microscopic doll shoes from the soles of my bare feet, I decided to release the beast.

“Dad, did you see my Holiday Barbie? I left her next to my dresser.”

I’m going to hell for this. Oh well. “Sorry honey, I haven’t seen her. How long was she lying on the floor?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe two days.”

Shaking my head, I said, “Just as I feared.”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember when I told you about the toy monster?”

“You mean he . . ..”

“Yup, after two days he figures you won’t notice, so he eats it.”

“That was my favorite dolly!”

“Well, next time you should keep your toys off the floor.” Sniffles followed. Oh, I am a bad parent. Muhahahaha.

Even the loss of a favorite toy did not change her behavior, so as the days followed, more toys disappeared, until finally . . ..

“DADDY,” came the unearthly howl.

“Yes dear,” I said as I appeared in Rachel’s doorway.

She stood in the center of the bedroom, hands in her hair. “MY TOYS! THEY ARE ALL GONE!”

Sure enough, the room had been surgically scrubbed of toys.

“Uh oh,” I replied. “He’s eaten everything that means . . ..”

Face the picture of terror, she stared at me. “HE’S GOING TO EAT ME!”

“Not necessarily, there is something we can do.”

Hope painted her face. “What?”

“The toy monster hates being read to; it makes him sick.”

“Oh, I’ve got lots of books.”

Yes, and most of them covered in dust from lack of use. “Okay, read a book out loud each night, and he should stay away.”

Her shoulders slumped. “But reading is so hard,” Rachel said.

“I can help you, but you will need to do some of it yourself.”

“Ooooooohkaaaaaay,” she groused.

So for the next few weeks, she read her books, and most of her toys reappeared. Found, I said, outside her door in a gooey pile. It seems reading stories aloud made the toy monster so sick he spit up the toys, and now they were (after being cleaned, courtesy of her loving father) suitable for her to take back.

A few weeks later, I was putting Rachel to bed. “Daddy, is the toy monster real?”

“What do you think?”

She fixed me with a serious stare. “No. The other kids said there’s no such thing.”

Oh well. I suppressed a bemused grin as I nodded, but when I turned to go, something stuck to my foot. “Rachel?”

“Yes, Daddy?”

“Did you ever hear of the dirty underwear monster?”

“DAAADDDDYYYY!!!”

The Last Goodbye

Last Goodbye

I wanted to tell him before he left, now I may never get the chance. The thought kept replaying itself in my mind. So the trip had been to say goodbye to Dad, now ninety years old, and no longer in good health. Since my exit from that hell-hole of a town he lived in, I had allowed time and distance to erode our relationship. Slowly, age took away our means of communication — aches and pains made Dad turn away from typing or writing, hearing loss made phone conversations repetitious shouting matches, my job and kids took all my available free time. Before I knew it, months turned into years, and years into decades. Suddenly I realized we hadn’t seen each other for twenty years, and that at age ninety, he didn’t have the luxury of another couple of decades.

But sitting there, in his living room, looking at the crinkled old face, worn down by a lifetime of decisions, I wasn’t sure what to do. Instead, I could only manage, “Happy birthday dad.”

He glanced up from his paper and flashed me a brief smile.

I stood up and turned to face the door. I had every intention of making my exit, but instead walked over and knelt in front of him. He laid the paper down, looking at me with curiosity. I stared into his wizened gray eyes. “Dad,” I said with some urgency, “I am saying goodbye. I do not ever intend to come back here, except, perhaps, to bury you.”

His expression blurred before my eyes, moving between surprise and consternation. After all, it had been my idea to come back, perhaps my statement had taken him off guard.

But instead, his hand touched my forearm as his gaze bore into me. “I understand,” he said without further explanation.

Tact was never a valued commodity in my family, nor was sincerity or nostalgia, so my response felt tepid and somewhat unnatural. “I love you dad.  I just wanted you to know.”

A tear formed in the corner of his eye, “I understand,” he repeated with a small nod.

He sat quietly staring straight ahead, but when I moved to step away, he motioned for me to help him up. Slowly he rose off the sofa until we stood facing each other. What now? My mind spun in circles, but ultimately I pulled his bony shoulders to mine and hugged him.

He raised his hand to my face, “Take care of yourself.” The gentle admonishment washed over me as I let go. But as I turned, his hand caught my shoulder and I looked at him. His eyes stared into mine, as he gently squeezed my shoulder. Suddenly a smile crossed his features, “I’ve had a great life.”  Slowly, he drifted back into his chair, the ghost of a smile still on his face.

Tears appeared in my eyes, as I tried to reply but could not. I turned away, and walked out the door. Looking skyward, the sun bathed my face in warmth. My heart thumped in my chest. Closing my eyes I whispered, “Goodbye dad.”