“When you were my age, were you scared of the dark?” Liv asked.
“I was,” I said. “Well, not the dark itself. Things in the dark. Things under the bed, in the closet, inside the shadows.” I didn’t worry that I would give Liv ideas, because she already had them. We talked about her fears often. I made it a point to never poke fun at the kids I took care of because I wanted them to be comfortable sharing their feelings with me. Liv’s mother and father tried to sympathize, but their understanding was an obvious effort, a thin veneer laid over a core of impatience. They didn’t take her seriously. Do parents ever? I often think they don’t remember being convinced that the dark was full of teeth. Maybe they’ve simply aged out of the fear, whereas I understood it because I was just the babysitter, still sleeping in my own childhood bed during summers and vacations. Or maybe it’s something that happens when you have children, as if you trade some of your memories for the new baby, and you no longer recall what it was like to be terrified to go to the bathroom by yourself in the night.
She nodded, big brown eyes looking very solemn in her elfin little face. It was the things in the dark that scared her too. “How old were you when you weren’t scared anymore? Ten?”
“Oh, probably a little older than that.” I tried to be vague about answering this question, partially because I didn’t want her to feel like she had a looming deadline, or that she was abnormal. But also because when the shadows were very deep and the night very dark, I still read in bed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Sometimes I fell asleep with the lamp on. Though I believed at the time—still do—in being honest with children whenever possible, I decided that a seven-year-old sleeping by herself needed to be comforted more than she needed to be told the absolute truth, which was that occasionally I still felt the possibility of sharp dangers just beyond the reach of my light.
I changed the subject then and read her a story, not wanting her fears to be the last thing on her mind before lights out. She let herself be distracted, though I could tell she was still worried. Sometimes it seems that most everything we do is a game. “Okay, Liv, one more story and then it’s time for bed.” She bit her lip and made worry lines in her forehead. “It’ll be okay. I’ll check on you while you’re asleep.”
“Pinky swear?” she asked.
“Pinky swear,” I replied.
I didn’t mean at the time to break that promise, but I did. I suppose everyone has regrets. That is one of mine.
I wanted to do a scene in first person, with dialog. And I wanted it to be a little creepy and foreshadowy. This is the result. If you like it, please share!
EDIT: It turns out that this was the beginning of a story written in multiple parts. To keep reading, click here.