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TAMING MONSTERS/ Trida Tunstall THERE IS A SIGN, hand-lettered on red construction paper, on her son's bedroom door. It says: NO MONSTERS CAN COME HERE. THAT'S THE LAW. Her son dictated the words to her at bedtime one night. He watched, his wet lips parted, as she wrote the sign and taped it up. Later, getting into bed, he clung to her. "Mommy," he whispered, "can monsters read?" She reads, these days, books on child development, combing the indexes for FEARS, NIGHTTIME or MONSTERS, FEAR OF. She knows from these books that four-year-olds are commonly afraid of imaginary beings. She understands that the fears are normal and will pass. "Yes," she tells her son, "monsters can read." Her husband does not approve of this. He says that by going along with the fantasies she is reinforcing them. "Robbie," he says to his son, "there are no monsters. Right?" "Right," says Robbie. "Say it, Robbie. Say 'There are no monsters, not in New York, not anywhere.'" "There's no monsters in New York," says Robbie, bored. "Or anywhere." "Anywhere." They have this conversation at dinner one night. After dinner, Robbie will not put on his pajamas until she moves the sign lower on the door. "They can't see it so high up," he tells her. The monsters, it seems, are just about as tall as Robbie. She reads the books on child development on the subway, on her way to work. She teaches English to private students, mostly Japanese businessmen who want to improve their knowledge of the vernacular. She visits their offices for one-hour sessions; they close their doors, offer her tea, ask her questions. "What does it mean, 'wiped out'?" they say. "What does it mean, 'get down'?" She feels tremendous next to them, these smaU spruce flat-haired gentlemen who smell of scents with woodland names. She feels puff-haired, fat-kneed; her hands look too large for her pen. But she likes the work. It gives her a sense of being useful, necessary to the world's comings and goings. The gentlemen pay her weU, do their homework, correct their own grammar with beseeching 240 ยท The Missouri Review looks. They buy paperback novels in drugstores. "What does it mean, 'sugar daddy'?" One of her students has a friend who wants lessons. "He wants a lot lessons," says the student. "He wants lessons a lot," she corrects him. He shakes his head. "He wants a lot lessons. He has a lot money." It is a small but potent thrill, being recommended, being sought. With the student acting as intermediary, she makes an appointment with the friend. On the morning of the appointment her son bursts uncharacteristically into tears when she leaves him at nursery school. "Mommy, I have to pee," he wails, "stay till I pee!" The panic in his voice frightens her. She stands next to him at the little toilet, waiting. Now he is relaxed, conversational. "You have to shake it, see?" he teUs her. The address she has been given is north of the financial district, in Soho. As she goes up the subway steps the sun is white, polished, almost wet-looking. She wishes she knew some Japanese. She has asked several of the businessmen to teach her a few words, but they always smile and tell her, "It's very difficult, Japanese." They are the bilingual ones, not she; they want to keep it that way. She arrives at a low cast-iron building, its facade blackened by decades of fumes, its windows covered with bars. A man lies on the stoop sleeping, clutching a single running shoe like a teddy bear. She steps around him and rings the bell. There is silence for a long time. The man sleeping behind her stirs slightly, sings in his sleep. The night before her son had wakened over and over, sobbing. "I can't tell you," he had gasped when she asked what he had been dreaming. "I need some water. I'm cold. Just stay with me one minute and that's it," he promised, lying with desperate sincerity. She had finally fetched her pillow from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 140-148
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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