They were under my bed
the creatures with conical hats,
orange and green.
They bobbed around the room
just at the corner of my eye
and disappeared when I looked
directly at them.
They didn’t come every night
but often enough for a year or two
that I would call for my parents
afraid to go to their room.
Mother never heard me
but my father, clad in striped pajamas
of some color I couldn’t make out,
would appear like a friendly apparition at my door,
“What is it?”
“They’re back,” I would say
in a voice pinched with fear.
“Would you like a glass of water?”
With a single swallow
the creatures melted
like the Witch of the West
in the Wizard of Oz.
And Wizard he was
born in the time of Queen Victoria
and not an affectionate man
but patient with children
he could hold
two diametrically opposed ideas
in his mind at once and still seem plausible.
He believed women should be demure
and soft of voice.
He would quote Shakespeare
to make his point on the rare occasions
we discussed anything
but science and business.
On my sixteenth birthday
he gave me a book about love
a sentimental text
reflective, I thought, more of his first marriage
ended at two weeks with the death of the bride
rather than an indictment
of the bitter stalemate with my mother.
It was the only time the subject was approached
and when I see the book on my shelf
I think of it as a manual with a single instruction
“Here. It’s your heart. You figure it out.”
The summer I was eighteen
we stood on the street corner
in the windy space between two bank buildings
and he handed me a check
for my entire college expenses.
As we discussed how to invest the money
for the next four years
it was as though he had handed me
a the complete confidence
of pair of ruby slippers
and said, “It’s all yours.
You have the wit to get over night terrors.
Get on with it.”
© 2006, Janet M. Taliaferro