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Moira Gillen

A little bit of darkness to brighten your day

Smile Man

This one came to me at 2 a.m. and the imagery creeped me out so badly that I couldn't get back to sleep.

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With a wail, I slam the purple crayon down. Hard. It snaps in two.

“Michael! We use our inside voices!” Mama gets off the couch and comes over to see what is wrong, then sighs in frustration. “And we don’t break crayons!"

“What are you so upset about? Your picture is lovely! Look at all the colors!”

But it’s not lovely. And the colors are wrong. The purple isn’t right at all. That’s why I got so angry.

I sneak a glance at the Smile Man, motionless in the corner. I don’t like to look at him for very long, but I need to get the color of his mouth just right. It’s important for Mama to see. His mouth is purple… but not the purple of the crayon now laying broken on the table. It’s more like his lips should be red but maybe the red got all mixed up with the grey of his skin…

I scrabble around on my coloring table, looking for a red crayon, but it’s too late. Mama has picked up my drawing and is getting ready to take a photo of it.

“Purple and yellow and grey and black! What different color choices! Maybe you’ll be an artist like your daddy!”

I tug on her leg, reaching to get my picture back. I need to fix his lips. Plus I wasn’t done coloring his teeth yet. I glance over my shoulder again and compare the shade of yellow to one of the crayons on the table before me. Yes, that color is right. The same as I made his toenails.

“Mammmmaaaaa,” I whine, tugging again, but Mama ignores me and snaps a photo of my drawing with her phone. “Not done, Mama.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Michael, I thought you were. Look, sweetie, it’s good. It’s beautiful! I love all the colorful lines!”

She touches her phone screen a few times. “There, I sent it to Daddy, and now we can put it on the fridge for him to see when he gets home.”

“No, Mama. Smile Man!”

I follow her a few steps as she takes my picture into the kitchen, gesturing behind me at the stooped figure in the corner, but then give up. She’s not really listening.

“Yes, honey, I’m sure it’ll make Daddy smile,” she calls from the other room.

When she comes back, phone in hand, she returns to her place on the couch, settling with her legs curled beneath her. I want to go climb on her, bury my face in her lap, so I don't have to see Smile Man anymore, but that won't make him go away. And I need to make her see, so maybe she can make him go away. Or can get us away from him and his smile.

I crawl under my table and peer over at Smile Man. He’s bent down, hunched over his legs, body folded in half, but his grey face still looks right at me, his chin resting on his knees. Grinning, his purple-grey lips are stretched thin, pulled back to show long yellow teeth. There are too many teeth, I think. Too many. His eyes, at least, I got right—two completely black circles, almost like holes in his head, but not holes because you know he’s looking at you. I hadn’t been able to draw his arms right at all, though. They dangled down past his legs as he crouched, his twig fingers dragging on the floor. They looked longer than I thought arms were supposed to be. But I wasn’t sure. I didn’t like to look at him for very long.

It didn’t matter anyway, my drawing. Mama couldn’t see. I wanted to make her see but the crayons were clumsy in my hands.

I whimper and wrinkle my nose as I smell his stink. Mama doesn’t look up at my noise, but a minute or so later she sniffs too, like she can finally smell him this time. She raises an eyebrow at me.

“Michael? Michael, honey, did you… Michael, if you have to do a poo, you’re supposed to tell Mommy so we can use the potty, remember?”

With a sigh, she unfolds herself from the couch again and walks over to where I huddle beneath the table.

“Michael, can you come out here please so I can change you?”

Unmoving, I pretend I don't hear. I don't want to come out. But Mama just reaches under the table, grabs my ankle and pulls me out by one leg. I consider grabbing onto the table leg and kicking her off, but I just go limp and let her drag me out.

Mama bends over. “Honey, come on, let’s —” She checks my diaper. “Oh. You didn’t poo. You must have just made a stinky.”

The second she releases me, I grab my sippy cup -- my favorite, the red one with the dog on it -- and crawl back under the table.

“Sorry, sweetie. Good job for not going in your pants. Let Mama know if you do need to use the potty, ‘kay?”

She sits back down and reminds me, “Naptime is in about a half hour, bud. Do you want your snack now or do you want to keep playing for a bit?”

I don’t answer but she doesn’t notice anyway, already laughing at something on her phone.

From the safety of my hiding place, cup in hand, I feel brave enough to check the corner again.

Except, he’s not squatting in the corner anymore.

He’s taken a scuttling step towards Mama.

Just one, but one is enough to make me feel sick.

I scream, “Mama! MAMA!”

I point at the stooping, grey figure as his head slowly turns to face me. He stares, smiling wide, while I try to think of how to get Mama to see.

Crouched down like that, he reminds me of the gorillas I saw on that nature show last week. And he’s about the same size as Sammy.

“MAMA! THE STINKY! IT’S SMILE MAN! LIKE SAMMY AND GORILLAS!”

Mama doesn’t even look up.

“Michael, inside voices, we just talked about this. And honey, I’m not sure what you mean, but Sammy’s outside, remember? He wouldn’t stop barking and growling earlier like a nutter, so we put him out to play in the yard?”

While Mama is talking, Smile Man takes another sideways crab-step toward where she sits on the couch.

His eyes don’t leave my face this time.

He never stops grinning. He smiles and smiles, and stares at me, and smiles, and moves closer to Mama.

I don’t know what to do. I have to stop him from getting her.

Quickly, I dart out from under the table. I stand up straight. With all my might, I hurl my sippy cup as hard as I can, right at Smile Man’s grey, grinning face.

It bounces off the wall above his head.

Now Mama looks up. Mama looks angry.

“Michael! That’s enough, mister! Yelling, throwing things? I guess it’s naptime right now.”

Before I can run away, she scoops me up and starts carrying me out of the room toward the stairs. I yell and kick, but Mama is strong. But maybe not as strong as Smile Man. I stop squirming and look back at him.

He’s closer. It’s like he’s following us, but I don’t see him moving any more. Every time I look, he’s behind us, trailing through the house, but always sitting still. Crouching. Long grey fingers dragging on the ground. Smiling. Chin resting on his knees, staring.

Grinning back at me.

I bury my face in Mama’s shoulder and sob for her to look, to see him, but she just keeps carrying me to my room. And whenever I raise my face to look, there Smile Man is again. Closer.

Now he’s at the foot of the stairs, when we’re at the top.

Now, when Mama is opening my bedroom door, he’s crouched on the landing.

And now, as Mama tucks me into bed, there he is, hunched right outside my open door.

Mama lies me down. I whimper.

She brushes the hair off my forehead, and I point out into the hallway.

“Smile Man,” I plead.

“Hush, sweetie. You’ll feel better after your nap. Here’s Blue Horse.”

I take Blue Horse, and bury my face in him. I can’t bear to watch.

But I look up anyway, as Mama quietly backs out of the room, telling me to sleep.

The last thing I see as she closes my bedroom door is Smile Man. He's not just smiling anymore, though. Now I see his black tongue, flicking out between his grinning teeth, to lick those purple lips.

Image: 2017-03/teddy.jpg

Written by Moira Gillen

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