February, 1984.


Daddy's sleeping. He sleeps a lot and smells funny and cries when he thinks no one's around but I hear him and it makes me wanna cry too. I miss Mommy. She went away with the Fire Man and Daddy says she's gone now and won't ever come back, and I wonder what I did to make her not want to come back. I miss her so much it makes me ache, and I try not to cry but sometimes I do. At night I do, when I'm curled up with Sammy and Mommy doesn't come to put me back in my bed. I cry when Sammy cries and Mommy doesn't come to pick him up and shush him with "You Are My Sunshine." She always sings that to me when I'm crying and it always makes it better.

It's scary here in this place that's not our home. I miss my room and my toys and our backyard. I miss the swingset and the sandbox at the park across the street. But most of all I miss Mommy. And I miss Daddy too – 'cos he's different since Mommy went away and sometimes it feels like he went away too and a new Daddy took his place.

We're supposed to go see a lady tomorrow, Daddy said, to help us 'take care of things.' I'm supposed to talk with her about the fire but I'm really scared and I don't want to. I still got a voice, but I sure am scared to use it. I'm ascared of a lot of things that I never was ascared of before. Like fire.

Fire is bad. Badbadbadbadbad. It's hot and loud and makes you cough and choke and makes you have to leave your house and never come back. And sometimes fire comes out of mommies just like it comes out of matches – but I bet nobody would believe me if I said so. I saw...

I don't like to think about fire. Or our house. Or the Fire Man. He smiles like a friendly monster and says, 'Hey there, Deano,' like he's a friend but he's not. He's like the monster in the closet and under the bed: all dark and scary and waiting in my doorway. 'Where are your angels?' he says and I 'member Mommy just said angels are watching over me so I looked all around but didn't see them either. Then he wasn't there anymore, and I thought maybe I was dreaming but I was awful scared. I pulled my blankets over my head and curled up real small into a ball and hoped he wouldn't find me if he came back. But then I just got too scared, and right then I wanted my Mommy.

But when I checked for her she wasn't there. Both Mommy and Daddy weren't in their bed. The scared feeling like I had to pee didn't go away, and I 'membered the dark man in my room and I thought maybe it wasn't a dream and maybe he came to take my Mommy and Daddy away. That's when I heard Mommy scream.

Daddy says I got to be real brave for Sammy 'cos Sammy misses Mommy too. I'm ascared of that Fire Man coming back to get Sammy so I keep watch at night. Also, I don't wanna sleep alone in case he comes back for me, either. I don't wanna burn up on the ceiling.

I should probably tell Daddy that the Fire Man knew my name and said 'hello' but I don't wanna in case he gets mad at me. He gets real mad sometimes when he's drinking his whiskey and then sometimes he breaks stuff and cries and says he's sorry Mary and 'get to bed, Dean!' and I bet he'd be sure mad if I told him this. 'You gotta look after Sammy' he tells me, every day, and I think it's probably my fault now that Mommy burned up because I wasn't looking after Sammy when the Fire Man came. I was trying to hide under my covers when I was s'posed to get a grown-up.

And now Mommy's gone. Daddy says she's... she's dead. And dead is when you go real still and stop moving like when our goldfish at preschool died and floated in its bowl and went belly-up and didn't never move again. And Mrs. Jenkins said that the fish was in heaven with the angels and I guess that's where Mommy must be too except instead of floating in a bowl with her belly up I bet she's glowin' like campfire ashes and I wish I was in heaven too.

But instead I'm here, so terrible afraid and I know I gots to just be real quiet. When the monster's under your bed you're s'posed to be quiet so it won't hear you and can't find you. I hope that he never finds us again and that Daddy can keep us safe.

Daddy's awake now and he's stumblin' around a bit and I can hear the empty bottles clanking as he cleans up some stuff in the kitchen. It's a real small kitchen, not nice and clean like the one at home, and Daddy looks so sad when he turns around and sees me here. He smiles but it's not a happy smile, and he waves me over to come see him and I'm so glad 'cos my tummy hurts from thinking about Mommy and the Fire Man and I am trying so hard not to cry.

So I run over to him and it feels so good when he wraps those big strong arms around me, even though his skin smells sour and his chin is scruffy and hurts my face a bit.

"God, Dean," he whispers in my hair. "I miss you, kiddo. I know you're in there somewhere."

And I nod and squeeze tighter and think how silly Daddy is. I'm right here – I didn't go anywhere.