The man, the boy, and the flat little girl.

"Daddy I want this one."

His son stands looking up at him with the picture book held above his head like an offering. Earnest little face. Such trusting eyes.

The man knows all about this book. He's read about it, its alleged effect on children. In it are nonsense rhymes and painted images, fantastical creatures worked into everyday scenarios. A surreal cast to it all. Things of shadow behind doors. A lion curled around a little boy's leg under the breakfast table as he eats his eggs. The boy's eyes are glassy, doll-like. A little girl pulled through the slit at the bottom of the door so that she comes out the other side a flat little girl. It's creepy as hell.

He looks down at his son. The boy is mesmerized. What has hooked him? What does he see in this, what is it that calls to him? The man can only think of the dark thoughts to which these images lead (to which he is lead), and how all this fantasy can only muddle a developing mind, confuse what is real and what is not (so he reasons).

He shakes his head no.

"Not that one. Put it back."

The boy clutches the book to his chest, pouts. The man thinks: see, already it is having an effect on him, this twisted book. Already it is too late, he's seen the pictures. Whatever agents of the unconscious have been loosed in there are in there now for good

"Choose another one."

"But I want this one."

"It's a bad book. The author is a bad man."

"I want it."

The boy's voice is level. He does not resort to the familiar whine, the theatrical tears. This time he looks his father straight in the eyes, stands his ground, and holds onto the book.

It is a test.

It is one of those nasty moments in the life of a parent (how many have already occurred) in which the child wants something with all his heart but I, his father, know it will be bad for him, in the long run. Invoking the future is no use, the boy does not yet place any value in the future, on what will come to pass when one road is walked and another is not.

Even if the boy did grasp the significance of his argument, nothing would come of it. The boy's decision does not flow from his reason, but from his heart. He wants the book. He desires it.

What's more, his authority has been challenged. He has said put the book down and the boy has refused, quite calmly, and now his response will come to shape the boy's relationship to all future instances of
authority. To his own commands.

What to do? He appeals to whatever forces thrust this challenge upon him. What is the right way to respond, what is best for the boy, for his future?

There is no answer of course. He's the adult here and he has to make up his own damn mind. The only voice he hears is his own inner critic, and it says the same thing it always says: you chose to have this child, and now this moment and every other one like it are the consequences.

The man's soul shrivels just a little. 
What must be done is clear. He is going to hurt his son. This has been decided. His choice, his road, will inflict a trauma on the boy. The little agency available to him lies in the nature of this hurt. Will he refuse his son's desire and instill an anger at him the father, fanning the heaped coals of previous denials....or will he acquiesce, and teach how disobeying orders gets you get what you want. Will he, can he, allow the mind of a stranger to stick invisible things in the mind of his son, invite who knows what mental scarring to take place, and teach the boy to be careful what you wish for when you wish with your heart for something that your elders have warned you against. But he's already decided.


The boy beams up at him. Little white fingers curled around the spine.

A sudden vision of the boy crying from the nightmares, the flat girl staring up at him from where the book fell to the floor, and him being sent after every supper for exactly a year to check that the boy's bedroom door is open before he'll go into it. Because the slit at the bottom of the door will suck him in and make him flat. Only that door.

An invaluable lesson on the power of the imagination. This is what he tells himself. This is preferable to the boy's pouting, to the little cloud that will hang over him for a couple of hours until he forgets all about the book. A lesson. This is how he justifies his mature choice as a man, the choice to not say no to a child.

He has a vision of Ruth's face when she sees the book. "Explain yourself," she'll say, and shoot down every reason he can think of.



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