Matty lays out the pills on the kitchen table like kindergarten kids learn to count numbers with pennies. He recounts them to make sure there’s enough. If he miscalculated he’d fail and he’d wake up tomorrow. He pours himself another drink of Kentucky bourbon and takes the first pill. It swallows as easy as water.
He’s bringing the second pill up to his lips when the telephone rings, interrupting his process. It’s late so he checks the Caller ID and sees that it’s Marie. He watches it ring and makes her wait. He’d do anything to make her life a little more difficult now since she got everything in the divorce.
“It’s Erik. He’s asking for you. Says he won’t go to bed unless it’s you. Says he’s having really bad nightmares and can’t sleep.”
Matty wonders how long Marie hesitated to call. She must’ve hated it...Erik asking for his Dad. She must be desperate. He weighs the decision and allows for a long, drawn-out pause to steal the dead air space before answering.
“Tell him I’m coming.”
Matty hangs up and picks himself up as best he can. He climbs into his old rusted Honda, pops two pieces of mint gum into his mouth and rolls down the windows. The fresh air should sober him up.
The drive is short and when Matty gets there he sits outside in his car and waits. He doesn’t want to seem too eager. Marie would use it to her advantage. The person who always cares less wins.
He sits there and he thinks about the day his life changed forever like he has every day since.
He had come home early with Erik and caught Marie in bed with someone else. He doesn’t remember anything else after that. Only that the man ended up in the hospital. Erik saw the whole thing. Now Matty’s lucky that he even gets visitation.
Matty walks up to the door and knocks gently. Marie opens the door without hesitation wearing nothing but a nightie. Her makeup’s still on. A cigarette pinched between her lips. Matty would’ve been interested once. Not now.
“Thanks for coming.”
“I didn’t come for you.”
He tries to walk past her but she grabs his arm. Not hard enough to bruise it because she can’t afford to leave any bruises. Not this time. She can’t chance not being the victim.
“Are you drunk?”
Matty rips his arm away from Marie. She stares disapprovingly.
“He’s in his room.”
Matty slowly opens the door to Erik’s room and tip toes to his bed. Glad that Marie hasn’t followed him in and has left them alone.
“Hey little man.”
“Daddy. You came.”
Erik climbs onto his dad and Matty wraps his arms around Erik like the bands around elm trees.
“I hear you’re having bad dreams.”
Erik’s face grows sullen. The kind of look only an adult should ever wear.
“They’re big scaries, Daddy. I don’t like big scaries.”
“I know you don’t.”
Matty refrains from telling him that sometimes bad dreams come true and that those nightmares can become real. Erik’s still too young to understand. He’s still innocent and unpolluted.
Instead he looks at the floor and sees his son’s dinosaurs scattered on the floor like the bird seed an old man tosses to the pigeons from a park bench. He picks one up. It’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex and he knows it is Erik’s favourite.
“Do you know what this is?”
“It’s my T.Rex.”
“Yes, but it’s so much more than that.”
Flickers of excitement and slight confusion stir in Erik’s eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“This dinosaur is very special. He will protect you from bad dreams. All you have to do is keep him with you as you sleep.”
Erik takes the dinosaur from Matty and analyzes his toy as though it holds some new magical power.
Erik gives a satisfied smile and nods.
“Good, now, time for bed.”
Erik hops out of bed and starts to scan his bedroom floor. After careful consideration he finally reaches down and picks up one of his dinosaurs and hands it to Matty.
“Here. For you.”
Matty takes the dinosaur in his hand. It’s a Brachiosaurus. It was Matty's favourite when he was little.
“To protect you, too, Daddy.”
It takes everything Matty has to not fall apart right there.
“Time for bed.”
Erik crawls into bed and in-between a mountain of stuffed animals. Matty tucks him in and kisses his forehead.
“Goodnight little man.”
Erik starts to yawn and settle in. Matty knows he’ll sleep through the night now. He turns to walk away.
“I love you solar systems big.”
The words hit Matty harder than they ever have before.
“I love you, too, Erik.”
Matty quietly closes the door, allowing just a crack of light to enter the room and fall on Erik’s face. He stands there, frozen, tears starting to form and run down the length of his cheeks. He stares at this magnificent being he helped create. Imagining how he could have ever been so selfish. How he could have ever thought of abandoning it.
Matty stares at the dinosaur still in his hand, holds it tightly like a rosary, begs for strength.
About the Author: Adam Petrash is a writer and journalist who was born on the frozen tundra we call the Canadian Prairies. He lives in Winnipeg with his partner and two sons. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamPetrash.
Story Song: "Let Down" by Radiohead