When I was a little kid there was an orange crochet owl that hung on my grandma’s bathroom wall. It perched right in front of the toilet, so when you sat down and looked ahead, you saw menacing yarn with round, dilated eyes that watched you as you pissed. My boy cousins told me that they had to stand with their heads cocked around like the devil himself when they did their business. But I thought it was much more frightening to sit down with my elbows on my knees, looking up through my bangs like brush, expecting it to leap down and get me.
My mom would drop me off at grandma’s on the weekends. She lived in a white little trailer out in the country, where my two uncles lived on either side. She was a frail old woman, but her wrinkles had set in laughter lines around her face, and she sat like the Madonna in her bathrobe and chair.
Mom would drop me off and leave me and grandma waving good-bye, me teary eyed, and she’d pick me up, bring me inside, cooing sweet words into my ear. She’d set me up at her table and I’d draw pictures and sign them in sloppy pen to her, (her chester drawer is filled with such things from all of us) and she’d pick up a stark white sheet of paper and cut shapes into them, and when she was done she held out a line of paper dolls holding hands with little smiling faces cut so beautifully. And by 8pm we’d have a table full of people, and my eyes would sag, and she’d tell me it’s time for bed.
But when I was a little kid I didn’t like the bed.
Around this time I’d pitch a fit, throw a little tantrum, tear and snot up my grandma’s carpet until she let me watch television with her.
We’d watch the news, and after a while of this she’d turned it to jeopardy. A few weekends in we skipped the tantrums and went straight to TV. I would watch the news with a glazy-eyed boredom, and after a while of shaking her head at one story, smiling at another, she’d switch it to jeopardy. We’d switch attention then, like ghosts switching bodies. She’d slink off, watching but not viewing, her mind somewhere else, and I would wake up, watch intently, and play along. And then it was 10 and now it was really time for bed.
By this time she was tired, and I was too polite a kid to trouble her more than I had to. So I would get ready for bed. I’d stand on a stool and brush my teeth, eyeing the corners of the room suspiciously until I was too frightened to look at anything other than my own adolescent reflection. I would get sucked into my reflection. I’d stand in front of a mirror and stare into my eyes until I thought I was lost. I’d blink a few times, shake my head, spit into the sink, and look back thoughtfully. I saw different faces when I looked as a kid, and after a splash in the face, I’d take off my panties, sit down, and I’d square off with the crochet owl, who had surely been watching me.
I’d pee a little, and then I would sit there to make sure that every little drop had trickled its way out. And then I would look up at the owl and feel violated that it was there, its big round eyes looking down on me. And I’d wonder what it saw, and if it could speak, what it would say, and if could think, what it’d think about me. I saw nothing but judgment in its all-seeing, stale eyes.
I’d push a little more urine out, peer around the shower curtain, look up at this small little window at the night sky. I’d wipe, ignoring the owl, flush the toilet, slip into a pair of huggies, and I’d scamper out of the bathroom.
Grandma would be sitting on the bed in the spare room. I’d come running in and she’d pull me into her arms and we’d sit like Madonna and child. I remember feeling such comfort in my grandma’s arms. I’d touch her skin, which felt to me like an inflated balloon that had drifted back from heaven onto tree branches. She’d put me into bed and play this little piggy went to the market, this little piggy went to the store on my toes, and then a little piggy would go wee wee wee all the home, and her hands would tickle all the way up to my head, where she’d lovingly place a kiss between my eyes. I’d burrow into the covers while she read me scripture, and then we’d pray together, and she’d turn the lights off and crack the door.
Most nights I’d call out to her after a few minutes, (I could still hear her slippers shuffling in the room) and she’d come back, turn the lamp on, and sit on my bed.
She’d ask what’s the matter, and I would tell I was scared, and that I had to go to the bathroom again. So she’d wait on my bed while I scampered to the bathroom. I’d sit and, with my face turned to my knees, squeeze all the pee that I was sure was in me out, but only a trickle would come forth. And with a quick glance up, I’d flush the toilet and run out the bathroom once again.
She would be waiting on my bed, sitting like a still-life, and I would run, jump, and land on the bed with a little bounce and she would get cross with me and say, “Now, Lacey, enough with all this. Settle down and go to sleep.”
And I would nod my head, and she’d say another prayer and leave.
By this time I knew she had retired, it would be half an hour past, and I was too polite to call out when I couldn’t keep my eyes shut.
I’d cover my head with the blankets and push my eyes into the pillow, which only sparks a firework display in my head, with shapes and colors floating among void that trickles into my line of vision when I open my eyes—and even as a little kid I saw things in the darkness. I’d see monsters hiding in the shadows, stretching their talons out across the wall when a car drove past. I’d look around the corners of the room until I was too frightened and then I’d shove my face in the pillow again, and I’d see flames.
When I was kid I was dreadfully frightened of demons, and I was convinced that it was their prerogative to drag me to the pits of hell by my ankles like a thief in the night.
I had been a young kid in Sunday School when I first heard about hell. I knew that it had existed, but not what it contained. There I was sitting around a small wooden table with a dozen other kids on colorful little chairs, gathered around this big, blonde lady perched on a slightly bigger blue seat. She was leaned over us like bird of prey and told us of this place called hell, where God sends nonbelievers. It’s a place of fire and torture, with mounds of putrid, burning bodies and black, jagged rocks. There was burning, agonizing burning, and little red demons with pitchforks who stabbed you like wheat. And there was satan, she told us, who sat on his evil throne, and day and night, night and day, he’d watch you with his all-seeing, stale eyes. And every day the demons and Satan would remind you of what your fate could have been, and then tell you of every fault that you had until you were the putrid, rotting corpse that you saw spread all around you.
She had us hooked, Mrs. DeeDee did. We were all watching her with big, round eyes and shocked faces and little Chase’s hand shot into the air and she said, “Yes?”
“Mrs. DeeDee,” he said and stuck his thumb in his mouth. “I don’t want to go there.”
And all of us looked at Chase and gathered around him, nodding our heads because none of us wanted to go there. We looked up at the teacher and she smiled big and said, “None of you are going there. All you have to do is believe in Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, you won’t go there.” She looked around at our faces, and I think she looked at all of us individually until she was looking at Chase, who had plugged his thumb so far in his mouth he’d probably choke, and asked, “Is Jesus your personal Savior, Chase?”
He nodded his head, and another little kid raised her hand and said that she believed in Jesus, too.
And although Mrs. DeeDee assured us that if we had Jesus in our hearts no demon in hell could harm us, I slipped my hand up during playtime to be excused to the bathroom and crawled on top of the toilet and cried until I shook.
Eventually, after hours of watchfulness and restlessness, I’d tire myself to sleep.
I’d wake up to my grandma sitting on my bed. She’d put her leathery hands on me and shake me gently until I woke. She’d tell me she has breakfast fixed—bacon, eggs, grits, and toast, with a tall glass of orange juice. She’d wake up real early in the morning, read her Bible, then make breakfast while listening to hymns on the radio.
She’d ask me if I had an accident, and I’d suddenly become aware of the dampness in my underwear, and shamefully tell her my deed. She’d fold me into her arms, tell me it’s okay, then instruct me to wash up for breakfast. The hymns would be playing as I’d walk to the bathroom, throw my diaper in the trashcan, and sit on the toilet wishing that the owl wouldn’t look at me that way.
It took outgrowing peeing the bed to conquer the owl. After of week of walking proudly in without my soiled garments I was able to look that owl in its big round eyes and grin. Soon enough I could brush my teeth and do my business without fearing it.
I have a drawing of an owl that hangs on my bathroom wall. It’s right in front of the toilet, so you see it when you look ahead. It reminds me of that crotchet owl, and that I have outgrown my childhood fears.
Note from the author: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who read this. This is the first short story that I’ve published online. I plan on continuing to do so. I recently decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing, so hopefully some of them will be good enough to use in my portfolio. If they are considered, they will, of course, experience heavy editing. I appreciate any constructive feedback.