“Jack! It’s time for bed.”
I call this out as I make my way up the stairs one forced step at a time. It’s been a long day and I’m tired, so I hope he is already tucked up under the sheets with the night light on, engrossed in whatever book he’s currently reading. He does this of his own accord sometimes, so I’m hopeful. Settling down to sleep takes much longer if he’s hyped up on computer games. I feel guilty about how much time he spends on the computer, but it’s such a battle to say no.
“Jack? Are you in your PJ’s? Have you brushed your—”
I open the door to his bedroom and the question dies on my lips. He is standing with his back to the wardrobe, staring straight ahead. He is very still and pale. There are beads of sweat on his top lip. His eyes are dark and wide, slightly bulging. He turns his head to look at me.
“Jack! What’s wrong?”
I make as if to rush into the room, but he raises one hand, signaling me to stop, and I do. Because of the look in his eyes. My God, he’s terrified, I realise. Very slowly he brings his hand to his mouth, until one finger presses against his lips.
Be quiet? I hesitate in the doorway, confused. My eyes dart around his bedroom, searching for the reason for his fright. There is nothing on the walls, on his desk (something on the computer, I suddenly think, heart pounding, but no, it is switched off), nothing outside the window but a troubled night of wind and rain.
“Jack,” I say, reassuringly I hope, because something about this odd tableau is making my skin prickle and my senses signal a high alert.
“Jack, what’s the matter? Why don’t you hop into bed and I’ll read to you until you fall asleep?”
His thin frame trembles within his Spiderman pajamas. He is such a good boy; I see the smear of toothpaste on his sleeve, indicating he’s brushed his teeth without being asked. He is small for a six-year-old, but Geoff’s mother says he was the same at this age and look at him now, six-foot-two and strong as an ox. I suddenly wish Geoff was home tonight, but the conference doesn’t finish for another two days.
“It’s in the wardrobe.”
His words are a dry rattle like the scritching of a branch at a window pane.
My throat is suddenly dry. I swallow painfully in order to ask the inevitable question.
“What’s in the wardrobe, Jack?”
But he has no more words. He can only look at me with that bright, calm fear and certainty.
I smile nervously, making an effort to unlock my body from its frozen pose in the doorway, and try to restore a sense of normality to the situation.
“Come on, Jack,” I say lightly, “There’s nothing to be afraid of in your wardrobe. There are only your clothes and shoes. Your kite maybe, a few action men, and usually a big mess that I have to tidy up every day.”
Only now I’m not so sure. There’s a menace emanating from behind the wardrobe doors, thick, low to the ground, suffocating. It’s creeping like a fog towards me.
This is ridiculous, I suddenly think. My own kid has freaked me out. I’m the adult here, it’s up to me to put things right.
“Okay, Jack, ” I say, stepping into the room and reaching for his arm. “It’s time for bed. If the bogeyman is in the wardrobe, he can jolly well stay there till morning.”
He shrinks away from my hand.
“It’s not a man,” he whispers.
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