If a person is still a person no matter how small,
Is a virus still a virus no matter how tall?
Is a pillow still a pillow no matter how lumpy?
Is a person still a person no matter how grumpy?
Is left still left even when it turns right?
Is the dark still the dark once you’ve turned on the light?
“Those were the words he whispered to me the first night I saw him my little Lilliputian.” The child in my lap was rapt, gazing up at me in an open mouthed stare, cocoa brown eyes wide as saucers, the rather pungent tang of milk breath particular to little children drifting up to me.
Closing her mouth she sniffed wetly and asked “Really Great Nanny.”
“Umm hum.” I assured her pulling a handkerchief out of my sleeve to wipe the partially crusted green snot rimming her nose. “ Just those words.” I confirmed “and nothing else. “He whispered them ever so softly right into my ear, with one cold powdery smelling thumb pressed against my lips.” I showed her what I meant with one hand smoothing her russet colored flyaways with the other noticing as I did that she was still in pajamas. “Are you home sick today little dove?” I asked
Instead of answering she drew my face down to hers with a pudgy little hand on my cheek and rubbed her slightly moist nose back and forth across mine giggling “uga muga muga.”
I didn’t like the thought of the little one being ill, it distressed me. “Where is your mother?” I asked her in an effort to make sure the child was being taken care of. “Is she here?”
“What did you do then Great Nanny?” She lisped
“What did I do when child?”
“After the man said the poem to you, don’t you remember Great Nanny?”
“I remember it like it was yesterday.” I confirmed giving her a little squeeze “I was too terrified to do anything right away. I waited till he’d been gone from my room for a little while, I remember it seemed like hours then but I don’t think it could have been more than a few moments really.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I screamed bloody blue murder.”
“Then what happened?”
“My mother came running in, my little brother in her arms. At first she couldn’t be heard over the both of us crying.” The little one in my lap smiled at that, nodding and bouncing her encouragement for me to continue. “Then Mrs. Tashos from down the hall bustled in, she was staying with us while my mother recuperated from having the baby. She was a strange woman always so flousy and flustered and she never stopped talking about her teeth. Who does that I ask you. Anyway she bustled in and my mother handed my brother off to her and I told her what happened. At first my story seemed to scare her, but after she’d checked and found no one in the house and nothing amiss she lectured me about waking people up in the middle of the night especially when there was a new baby in the house and most especially knowing how early my father had to get up for work.
And then we all went back to bed. The next morning it was my mother’s screams that woke us. My little brother had passed away in the night. That was the first time I saw the ageless man.” The little dove in my lap sniffed again looking quite serious and subdued. “And the next time I saw him at my aunt Geani’s house was just before my cousin Sarabeth got lost for three days taking a short cut in the woods. She was never the same. After that I knew, I just knew, whenever that man turned up there was trouble coming, I used to try to warn people but nobody ever listened to me, I suppose because nobody else ever saw him.”
“When does he come Great Nanny? Does he come once a year like Santa?”
“No, there is no telling when he’ll turn up. Could be half a decade could be less than a week. He can turn up anywhere too, in your house, at a friend’s, in the store, on vacation. One minute everything is normal the next there he is, propped in a corner, watching you, his green eyes following every move you make. Like a predator.” Suddenly I found I simply couldn’t say anymore.
“He is not here Great Nanny I promise.” she told me with a child’s firmness, coughing thickly she smashed the back of her hand into her nose, smearing the moisture there.
Folding my hankie I cleaned her face asking again. “Where is your mother?”
Not hearing me at all the little girl jumped off my knee declaring, “And if he ever shows his face here I’ll kick and I’ll punch him and I’ll chop him.” she demonstrated as she spoke.
“No no, no you will do no such thing.” I told her rising as fast as my rusty knees allowed and then dropping back to the floor on them in front of her I took her shoulders in my hands. “If you ever see him you are to run, run right in the opposite direction do you understand? As fast as you can.”
Just then a man barged into the room wearing a sour expression. “There you are. You know you’re not supposed to be in here. Come on Lilly, let’s go.” He demanded beckoning the little girl with one hand. She backed closer to me unwilling to go with him and I didn’t blame her I’d never seen a less endearing fellow in all my hundred and one years.
“Over my dead body are you taking her anywhere.” I informed him clutching the child to me.
“Ruth,” he called over his shoulder making and even more nasty face, “come talk to your grandmother. She is refusing to let me parent our child again. RUTH.”
“I’m coming I’m coming,” called a young woman wiping her hands on a dish towel as she entered the room.
“Margret” I called out lifting the child and myself from the carpet. “Margret sweetheart what are you doing here why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” I asked pulling her into a one armed hug while the other held the child.
“Not Margret Nanny, Ruth, Margret is gone, I’m her daughter.”
“Ruth, oh yes of course. I am sorry; you look so like your mother did at your age.”
“It’s ok Nanny but it’s time for you and Lilly to get to bed.” She said taking the little girl from me.
“Bed? But I haven’t even gotten dressed yet I exclaimed looking down at my night dress.”
“You did get dressed this morning Nanny right after breakfast; we just put a fresh night dress on after you had your bath do you remember.”
I didn’t but the little girl was nodding and I had no reason to distrust her. “But we haven’t had dinner.”
“Yes we did. We had chicken soup and salad.”
“Oh yes, the soup was very salty dear.”
She walked over to the twin bed on the other side of the room and began turning the covers down one handed; the little girl hitched to her other hip. “That man,” I whispered “the one out in the hallway, the man who came looking for the little girl.”
“His name is John Nanny, he’s my husband, Lily’s father, it’s ok for him to be looking for her.”
“He doesn’t like me very much”
“He doesn’t know you the way I do.”
“Tell you the truth I don’t care for him very much either.”
“Well you don’t know him the way I do. “
“Humph” was all I had to say to that.
“All right Nanny that’s enough of that tonight.” she said walking back over to me. “say good night to Great Nanny.” she told her daughter holding her forward so she could wrap her hands around my neck, kissing my check she transferred some of the slime from her nose.
“She’s sick.” I told her mother cupping the little girl’s cheek. “She’s getting a temperature.”
“It’s just the sniffles Nanny; it’s nothing to worry about.” She said turning to go
I grabbed her sleeve. “The little girl.”
“Lilly, is she baptized?”
“Because my little brother James he wasn’t baptized and,” I lowered my voice so as not to scare Lilly “I think that’s how he got him.”
“Nanny,” she began tiredly, but I put my foot down.
“Don’t sass me about this Ruth you haven’t seen the things I’ve seen I know what I’m talking about.”
“Nanny, James was your son, George was your brother and you had James baptized in the hospital, he still passed, because he was sick and they didn’t have the medicine back then that could have saved him, not because of some evil spirit that haunts the family that only you can see. Now it’s late I need to put Lilly to bed. Ok? She needs a good night sleep so she can get better right?”
“Of course dear,” I agreed.
“Ok.” Ruth confirmed kissing my forehead. “Are you alright to get yourself into bed Nanny?”
“I can get myself to bed. Yes.” I snapped.”
Smiling sideways at me she sighed and nodded, “Love you Nanny. Good night.” She said and leaving the room she closed the door behind her. I stood there for a moment, wondering what to do for the best, before shuffling weakly over to the bed. Slipping my house shoes off and slowly lowing myself onto the bed I listened to the conversation passing on the other side of my door.
“I’m not going to store her in a nursing home, John waiting for her expiration date come up.” He must have tried to interrupt her, for she went on more forcefully. “If you knew the kind of life that woman has had to live the sacrifices she’s made.”
It sounded as though they paused for a moment right outside. “I know I know Ruth trust me I know I’ve heard it all about a thousand times. The story gets more biblical each time I hear it. All I’m trying to get you to see is that that person is already gone. All that’s left in that room Ruth is a centuries worth of half remembered anecdotes and closed minded opinions.”
“You just don’t like that she’s so open about her opinion of you.”
“I wish that was all it was. This is not healthy for you Ruth It’s too much for you to handle.” I heard a scoff but he went on. “And these stories she is telling Lilly there not healthy they’re not good I don’t want her growing up with these things in her head.”
“John your exaggerating there impact”
“Ruth the other day I found her baptizing herself and her baby dolls in the toilet bowl, just to be on the safe side she told me.”
With that they moved out of earshot.
Leaning my back against the head board I pulled the covers over my lap and prepared for my nightly battle. I couldn’t tell of course how many nights we had spent staring each other down but it was enough that the sudden sight of him lounging in my rocker, though still unnerving was not surprising. Tonight I decided to open with a threat. “You go anywhere near that little girl and so help me God I will find a way to kill you.” Just like any other time I could recall addressing him my words drew no verbal responds at all he merely shrugged his shoulders adjusted his slouch and settled in.
By ten I had decided that it was the sameness of him that disturbed me most. Not the way his glittering green eyes never blinked, not the way he could keep completely still, or his ninety six year silence after our cryptic introduction, but the way absolutely nothing had changed about him since then. Aside from the fact that his face remained unwrinkled his body firm and lithe, his hair never seemed to be in need of a cut or his nails trimmed or new clothes. It was preternaturally uncanny.
Around midnight I started throwing small items from my night stand at him, but stopped when I heard the little girl in the next room tossing restlessly. Somewhere around two I started to doze only catching myself when some movement from him startled me awake. At dawn I unintentionally gave up the fight.
Only to be woken a few hours later by a cacophony of light and sound.” Moring Nanny” A girl who looked like my Margret but wasn’t called cheerily, pulling the drapes back to the window frame. “Time to get up sleepy head.” she added holding out a hand to help me. But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak it was all just too much. “Nanny” she said again a little tensely, then again with a bone jarring teeth rattling shake of my arm. I cried out at the pain of it. “Oh my god John, John call the Dr. John.” She shouted running from the room.
And then for the first time since I was five he spoke to me. Rising from his seat he strolled across the room, perched on the side of my bed and took my hand tisking as he did. “I know, I know, it hurts to move, the lights too bright, the noises are too loud, and you can still taste the salt from last night’s soup can’t you.” I couldn’t answer I could only stare at him terrified. He didn’t seem to need acknowledgment, turning my hand over he ran his fingers over the creases in my wrist. “It’s going to be ok, trust me Lillian Ruth Launtner this is what we’ve been waiting for, it means it’s almost over. With that he raised my wrist to his mouth and bit hard and fast. “Mmmmm” he sighed, slurping a little he wiped his chin with his hand. “Sweeter than honey.”