“No one listens to me,” I said. “Do you hear me?”
Barbra twirled her hair and stared off into the distance. She wasn’t listening at all. Barbra and I go way back. My brother, Philip, he fell in love with her some months ago and upon finding that she was obsessed with interstellar space and that her son (the light of her life) was very keen on slingshots—poor Brother Philip, the clergyman, shot himself up to Mars with a large slingshot in the name of “love”—setting a world record by never coming back down again.
Since then, Barbra had married a really rummy man by the name of Archibald Cluck who spent most of his time at the grocery store where he worked as a clerk. I was sitting in Barbra’s home sipping some tea and expressing my distaste in everyone’s proclivity to not listen to me—Chip Baker, Radio Personality, ex.
“The only people who seem to listen to me are children,” I said.
“What was that?”
“Your son, for example. He seems to get along well with me.”
“Oh,” she said, finally giving me some attention. “I’m sorry I’ve been so distracted. I was reading the news. Did you hear about the zoo?”
“The zoo. It’s all over the broadcast. Apparently,” Barbra said, showing me the article on her phone. “Some crazy terrorist organization by the name of the Mashed Pudding Syndicate has released a bunch of animals.”
“What sort of animals?”
“Wild ones, apparently,” she said. “The keepers spent all day rounding most of them up. There’s just one that’s not accounted for.”
“Which one’s that?”
“So there’s a lion roaming the streets looking for dinner.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Barbra said. “It’s too early for dinner. He’s probably looking for a mid-afternoon snack. Now, what were you talking about?” she asked.
“I said ‘no one listens to me,’” I said.
“Yes, that’s right,” she agreed.
“The only person who ever seemed to listen to me was your son.”
“Yeah?” she said doubtfully.
“Well, other kids seemed to listen to me, too. Now that I think about it—children, they always listen to adults, don’t they? Wait a minute. I’m in need of a job and I’m sure I can get one at the school! Kids always listen to teachers.”
“You sure about that?” she asked.
“We’re in the middle of the school year, though.”
“You're right. Maybe I’ll just have to settle for being a babysitter, then. Kids always listen to babysitters.”
That was when Barbra’s eyes got that gleam in them that said she had come up with a scheme. She was always coming up with schemes. It was her pass-time.
“You can watch Gabe!” she said.
That was when the whole idea of being a babysitter finally sank in. No. It was not for me. I’m not one of those people who get all excited about children. Even if some of the little-ones did listen to me, they weren’t the sort of audience I wanted to cater to. Nope. Audiences that picked their noses, ate crayons and drank sugar by the gallons—that was not my sort of audience—that’s one of the reasons the Zoicterranean Politicos and I never got along and why I was never invited to their bake sales.
“Wait,” I began. “No! Can’t do it. It’ll end poorly for me and your son. I’m not skilled in the area of babysitting. For one, kids—they never sit down when I say: ‘listen here, sit down.’ Nope. It won’t work! They'll never listen.”
“You just said they do listen to you. Don't lie."
"Great,” Barbra said without listening to my argument. She dashed to the door. “I’m going to surprise Archie.” And she was gone.
Can’t say I didn’t warn her.
And so it was settled (despite my objections). That night I would watch Gabe while his mother went off to the grocery store to woo her husband. Gabe arrived home after daycare with a whole new slingshot and a whole new kind of ammo to sling at anything that he saw that needed to be hit with an expert sling. This happened to be my head.
“Stop it!” I said.
He shot me in the head again.
The whole night was a mess. I always thought that the kid had some sort of respect for me, but this little-one kept creating all sorts of trouble. For dinner, he proclaimed that his mother always gave him all of the ice cream.
“What? All of it?” I asked. I didn’t doubt the boy, but he was darn selfish. I was left with mashed pudding, which I was no fan of.
After he had his dinner, he was bouncing off the walls and at one point he had climbed up onto the roof and was perched on a shingle refusing to come down, claiming that he was some sort of deity… After he tumbled off the roof and nearly broke his arm, I told him he better listen to me.
“No,” he said flatly and preceded to dance around the place, knocking over furniture and pictures. Finally, the sugar had done its job and he fell onto the couch. He was out for the count, as it were. And I dragged the little kid to his room and told him it was bedtime.
The bedroom was dim and the boy’s face was contorted into complete terror.
“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m terrified of the bed.”
“Of a bed? What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of what could be under it.”
“Nothing’s under it,” I said.
“Well, then what about the closet?”
“The closet’s under the bed?”
“No! What about what’s in the closet?”
“You mean the clothing?”
“No, the monster.”
I shook my head. “My boy, there are no such things as monsters.” And I opened the closet door to reveal that there was nothing in there. There was nothing in there.
The boy got very relieved and climbed atop his covers.
I shut the light and was about to have a second go at the pudding, when I heard the kid screaming. I ran to his room, threw open the door and found him curled up in his blanket, just a head popping out of the covers.
“I—I heard something under the bed!” he sputtered.
“Nonsense,” I said. “Probably just the house settling.”
“It’s debts, most likely.” I gave a laugh, but the boy did not find it at all funny. “Right,” I continued. “The only way to get over your fear, sonny, is to face it. Brace yourself, dear boy. I want you to go under that bed and face your fears.”
The kid was brave. He braced himself. Unwound himself from the covers and dropped to the floor. He threw up the bed skirt and gave a peak under.
“It’s too dark to see anything,” he said.
“Crawl under there, my boy!” I said. “Face those fears.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?”
“Listen to me,” I said. “I’m full of good ideas.”
Without another word, Gabe listened to me and crawled under the bed.
At first, all was quiet. I waited for the boy to crawl out the other side of the bed with victory written on his little face. But after a minute nothing happened. There was no Gabe and there were no victory-writ-faces.
“Um?” I coughed.
And then I heard it.
It was a terrifying scream.
The bed began to shake and jostle and rattle and bounce. There was a great struggle going on under there. My face was writ with fear—not victory! The bed flipped over to the corner and I saw what was going on!
I suppose it was from when Gabe had taken it upon himself to scale the side of the house—when the house door was left wide open—that must have been when this-thing entered.
It was a lion.
Gabe was having a good go at defending himself against the lion. I’ve never seen anyone fight like that! I suppose it comes with being a kid. He had his slingshot and his ammo and was having a field day with the big cat. He was screaming and flinging stones and the lion was meowing and slashing its claws with no avail.
It was around this time Gabe’s mother came home and, hearing all the ruckus, she bolted into the room.
“What’s happening?” she asked and saw her son fighting off a lion. She screamed. “And you were supposed to be a good babysitter! What do you have to say for yourself?” she asked as she hit the lion in the snout with an umbrella.
“Thanks for listening.”