You find a monster hiding under your bed.
The monster is sick. It tells you so. The monster says it has a broken pulse.
You feel bad for the sick monster, so you give it antihistamines, expensive tissues coated with aloe. You check the monster’s forehead. The monster is running a fever. You run it a cool bath. In the bath, the monster whittles a bar of soap into a half moon. After the half moon, the monster keeps whittling and whittling until the soap is a crescent moon, until it is zero moons.
You realize no one has ever told the monster when to quit.
You are happy the monster is here. You have been lonely for so long: Years before the boy who never owned a pair of pajamas left; years before you found the bar with the menu of mistakes; years before your father forgot to exist. Years before she decided to almost come but then at the last minute, gave up and quit. Years before you were given pills to cure parts of you you never knew existed.
Too long, your therapist always tells you. You always wait too long.
What your therapist doesn’t realize, you want to tell him, is that any length of loneliness is too long. The monster is sick sick sick, but, well, shit, anywhere that is anywhere is sick sick sick. Secretly, you hope the monster stays sick. You enjoy taking care of something that isn’t yourself. You tried the gardening thing, but your thumb is more highlighter than green, so even the weeds gave up and died. The chrysanthemums never had a chance. And yet, you were surprised when James packed up his Subaru and backed out of the driveway, drove down the block and through the middle of town and into the next county, then past the state line and the state line past that state line.
The monster asks for cucumber water, but you don’t have any cucumbers.
You tell the monster you could run out for some cucumbers. Really, it’s no big deal—nothing more than a key in the ignition, a quick drive to Kroger. You are so eager to please, to have a reason to buy cucumbers, to take yoga lessons and eat kale, to lay in bed at night staring at your phone, swiping right right right. But the monster doesn’t say anything. It just stares at its monster hands, so you go into the kitchen and make a pot of chamomile tea.
While waiting for the tea to boil, you wonder what type of person has cucumbers lying around their house, and if you would ever be that type of person. Maybe you will fall in love with that type of person, this cucumber man. You imagine the cucumber man’s hands the size of redwoods. You imagine him the longest living organism on Earth.
The monster is no longer staring at its hands. The monster is over the disappointment of not having cucumber water.
You find yourself jealous of how quickly the monster gets over disappointment. When you get down you stay there, so close to the dirt it seeps inside your lungs.
The monster asks for a beer.
Beer you have. You even have pint glasses in the freezer, frosted, ready for the cucumber man or a sick monster hiding under your bed. You pour the monster a glass of beer. It fizzes inside the frosted mug. The monster takes a sip of the beer. The monster says the beer tastes like sand. The monster says the beer tastes like a cloud following a landslide.
Who is to say no? How could you ever know the taste buds of a monster’s tongue?
The monster tells you how it once read an article about the germs that accumulate on cellphones, how the phones can be dirtier than a public toilet, so the monster makes sure to clean its iPhone every night with a Clorox wipe. The monster is so careful it can’t understand how it could be so sick. The monster says it remembers when simple addition meant something. The monster says it remembers when a headache only came the morning after a night of too much gin swirling in tonic. You didn’t know monsters got hangovers, but you also didn’t know that monsters existed or that beer and sand taste the same to a monster.
The monster wonders how the bad follows it. You wonder the same thing about yourself. The monster says this could never be a question, that stating a fact would be a dumb question. You agree, you tell the monster.
The monster wants to know is everywhere sin or is this just breath? And did God make the iceberg or did the iceberg make God?
You tell the monster the truth, which is you don’t know. You tell the monster what you do know, that terrible isn’t just hiding behind every corner. Terrible is every corner.
Day falls into night. The monster climbs back under your bed. The monster’s eyes are soggy. You ask the monster if it wants you to read it a book. You still have the children’s books on the shelf—The Magic School Bus, Curious George, The Giving Tree, Love You Forever—their spines still solid, unopened since you picked them up at the Books-A-Million off Kingston, before it went out of business and was turned into a Gold’s Gym.
You wonder if you will ever read anyone to sleep.
The monster doesn’t answer. The monster is already asleep, lost in fevered dreams. You imagine what those dreams could possibly be. Maybe the monster walking into a wall. Maybe the monster walking through a wall. Maybe the monster walking toward the sun until the monster is burning, until the monster is ash.
You think about your own dreams. Your therapist said to keep a dream journal on your nightstand. What’s the harm? he said. You imagine the monster dreaming faces on the backs of milk cartons, watching Elvis twist on a balcony in Venice, a door welded home.