by Alisha Tyson
Once upon a time, when you were a little girl, your favorite monster was an ankle-grabber who lived beneath your bed. You met one night when your mother was too tired to escort you to your room. With a child's stumble you stepped toward the threshold before the darkness beneath your mattress. It is there that covers breathe. And you said to a sticky black hand by your toes, "Ha! I can see you, silly."
The Ankle-Grabbing Monster revealed himself, so angry with you for messing up his act that he lectured you on unladylike behavior. He was a small monster with dark skin and an unkind spine that kept him perpetually bent and Sad.
You were confused by his back until he explained that his spine was wrapped around the Happy in his heart. The bone gradually choked his Happy so that Sad had to keep him going instead (which is hard on Sad because it is not as good at keeping things alive as Happy is). He told you this about the Sad so you didn't look for a better ankle-grabbing monster without so much of it.
He never let you go beneath the bed. He said you were too small to handle the space. Your pajamas were always the wrong shade of pink. Your body not broken enough. This made you want it more--to crawl beneath the mattress and be with your favorite monster.
As the years passed, he built a wall with gadgets and doodads, furnishings he claimed had fled beneath your bed of their own accord. He made a barricade of unwashed socks stuffed into used tissue boxes. Old coloring books backed a Lego brick wall--everything was reinforced with re-chewed gum. He even made a door out of the covers of your Hairy Maclary books. The door only had one knob, and it was on his side. The wall was far enough back from the edge of the bed that your mother wouldn't see and dismantle it. He called the space from the wall to your ankles his patio.
Your monster never let you know his name.
"Ankle-Grabbers must be mysterious at all costs."
"Why do you want to be mysterious so bad?"
"We don't necessarily want to be mysterious. It's more complicated than that," he said as he massaged your feet.
"Explain some tonight, please? It makes me mad that you have all these things you won't let me do for no good reason."