I had only gone into the kitchen for two minutes, to get us both something to drink. Milk for him, orange juice for me. He was watching one of the age-appropriate shows which my wife and I could just tolerate, all earnest dialogue and songs with scansion that set adult teeth on edge. When I came back, the TV was making its noise into an empty room.
I did not panic, because there was nothing to panic about. He did not wander out the front door. That would be worth panicking about, because when my wife had left after supper, stepping out into the blowing ugliness of a January night, I had stood at the door and felt the cold lashing through my socks and through my shirt. But I had also thrown the deadbolt as I watched her walking to her car. Our son was a precocious two-year-old, but he had neither the reach nor the hand strength to undo the lock.
I checked anyway, after setting down our drinks. Part of not panicking is being methodical. It was still firmly closed, the deadbolt as it should be.
I did not worry about him pitching down the basement stairs, because I had been in front of them while getting the drinks. This limited his options to the bedrooms at the back of the house, and the bathroom.
He was not in the bathroom, I could tell at a glance as I passed along the hall. It was brilliantly lit, because I left the light on in the evening, and with the shower curtain pulled back there was nowhere to hide. I felt a small tremor which I would not let develop into panic, because the two bedrooms, his and ours, were open but unlit. He couldn’t really reach light switches, either.
I could, and I threw the one in his room as I stuck my head in. I had glanced into our room, saw the foot of the bed looming in the back-scatter from the bathroom and nothing else, but now that the light in his room revealed he was not there, I turned. The tremor was becoming insistent, to the point that I missed the switch in my own room.
It was unnecessary. With his room lit up, right across the hall, the dimness of the adults’ bedroom was somewhat relieved. Now that I was in it, I could make out the bed, the book-shelves to either side of it, and the smiling face of my son. He stood on my side of the bed, as far from the door as possible, grinning.
“Hey, Sam,” I said, the depressurization of relief sweeping away that tremor which had not quite been panic.
“Hi, Daddy.” As he spoke, I realized he was not looking at me, but at the closet door next to me. He was a smiley kid, a charmer commented on constantly by strangers, and he was at it now, looking as happy as clam as he stood in the darkness of the bedroom. I turned my head to look at the closet. The door was open all the way, its usual state. Beside it, I could see some indistinct items of clothing, my wife’s or mine, poking out, but not really into the closet.
“What’cha doin’?” I asked. He kept looking at the closet for a few seconds, then began giggling. Then, with the sort of lack of warning we had come to expect from him, he ran, still laughing in his delightful liquid way. He ran to the end of the bed, past the closet, past me, and into the living room.
I stayed where I was, wishing my heart wasn’t feeling so tight. I kept my eye on the closet as I reached, with deliberate care, for the light switch.
All was as it ought to be. The lad had slightly disarrayed the bed clothes in his passage, the closet was its usual jumble, and there was less order in the books on my side of the bed than on my wife’s. Perfectly normal. I went back to the living room myself.
I forgot to turn off the light. My wife commented on it when she got home.
That was six years ago now. I only remember it occasionally, as now, when I wake up in the small hours of a winter night, and the lights of the city bounce from snow-fat clouds to provide just enough light to let me see the familiar terrain of the room.
But only dimly. Six years, and I’ve yet to understand what was so funny.
“Inktober 2019 – Dark” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.