A Monster Story
He said he wanted to learn to read, but I couldn’t find shoes big enough for him to go to school. His feet were made of forearms and his toes were thumbs that gripped anything that came close enough to hold: TV remotes, end tables, shopping bags, cats. He sat in the corner of the living room and wrapped himself in my knitting yarn, poking the knitting needles into his temples and hanging crochet hooks on his ears. To keep him busy, I taught him to make friendship bracelets.
By morning he had knotted a friendship nest for himself, so I invited the neighbors’ kids to come visit. He made them rings and bracelets that they traded with one another. They said he was big and weird and sort of sweet in a sad way, so I let them come every afternoon until the bracelets grew so thick on the children’s arms that they couldn’t bend their elbows and walked with their arms out in front of them like zombies. But still they came, stacking ropes of knotted yarn on their legs until they had turned to woolen dolls.
When their legs could take no more, he made headbands and hats, stacking them one on top of the other until their bodies were so round and woolly the neighborhood cats used them as scratching posts, kneading their claws in and out and purring until everyone fell over giggling, except for the monster, who watched the parents drink margaritas on their porches. Why don’t they play? he wanted to know. When the parents finished their drinks and saw what he had done, they threatened him with their dog leashes and said they would tell the Board of Education that he was dangerous. I told him he had best not play with the children anymore.
The monster could not grow more hair than he had been given and never needed a haircut, unlike my boyfriend who let his beard grow until we had a fight. Scrambled eggs or over easy? Nike or Adidas? Dog or cat? After one of these scuffles my boyfriend shaved his beard, revealing his naked frown to the world. In the early days when we yielded to each other, his beard grew long and thick as a hedge and I would bury my hands in it like a muff. I liked to braid it like a monk’s, and at Christmas we hung lights and shiny little decorations in it.
But since the monster had come, he walked around with cheeks like ice floes, cold and smooth, ready to break into pieces and drown me. When we argued I left the house, slamming the screen door, and took the monster to the farmers market, where he sat under a folding table eating apples, pulling loose threads from his sleeve and pasting them onto the bare spots around his temples with apple spit. When the sun went down, I sang Beatles songs as he walked me home.
When my boyfriend moved out, the monster moved into the bathtub. He said he could keep me company forever, although he could not grow a beard, which made him feel sad because he had no way to express anger at the injustice of hard fixtures and small bathrooms. What he really wanted was a good old-fashioned woodshed, so I brought home a carload of firewood and piled it on top of him. Sometimes when he tucked into his bathtub woodpile, I sat and brushed the bit of hair on his head until it was smooth and black. When he said I could cut it off, I held the scissors and made slicing noises over his head, anointing him with pretending, but one flat, grey palm came out from beneath the pile. Stop, he said, I am a wave crashing into a forest. I put the scissors down and exhaled the air from my lungs. We sat in the dark until I got hungry. Then I went by myself to the sushi place on the corner.
Loneliness is a disease, he said, curling up in the trunk of my car, calling it his womb. I worried that he would get too hot, but he twirled his forearm like a fan. I got on the highway and drove him to New York City, where there was bound to be someone else like him. Someone to love. As I drove, I could hear his heartbeat through the motor keeping pace with the rhythmic thump of the Jersey Turnpike, where all the billboards were saving themselves for the big reveal at the end. We slipped through the tunnel and hiccupped through the city streets, making our way to Times Square where I parked by a dumpster full of mannequins and machines. It’s a sign, I said, and told him we’d find someone, even if it took forever.
We searched and searched, riding up in elevators and down on escalators, threading through bodies. Even in this biggest of places, all anybody wanted was to pay him to take a selfie with them. It makes me lonely, he said, to be loved in this way, and I could tell that he wished he could weave them all friendship bracelets and tell them about the woodpiles of his imagination, but they preferred to laugh at his forearms for feet and his toes for thumbs. They called him an art piece and stood him against walls and measured his appendages and felt in his pockets until he roared that I must cry for him, and I tucked him back in the trunk of my car, watching the mannequin arms point at the sky.
It got dark, it got light, it got dark again. You are a sunset, I am a brick, he sighed, and I could tell he was going to leave, but I could not let him go. I cried apple tears and told him forever hadn’t come yet, but he walked out to the river and north up the island and I tried to keep up but lost him above Harlem. I drove home alone and had terrible dreams that he had turned into a bridge with cars running over him day and night. I stood at his toll booth, tossing coins into his machine, but he refused to come home, saying that all he ever wanted was to have people need him and this, my love, this was always going to be as good as it got. If that is the truth, I will never know, but when I woke and looked out the window at the darkness and the distance, I knew my monster was lost for now and for all time.