All the lights were off in the house except for the one above the dining room table, where I’d been lost for hours in a world of my own making, recording the experience to the best of my ability. I was the only one left awake, including the cat, who was snoring slightly as he cuddled up to the back of my overheated laptop.
My MIL’s grandfather clock finally brought me out of it, as I realized it had just struck far fewer times than I’d expected. I saved everything in three places, sent a chapter to First Reader, powered down, and headed for bed.
And there it was, lurking to one side. A huge, brown . . . thing.
A closer inspection—but not too close—did nothing for me. It sort of looked like a dinosaur toy, but the kids didn’t have one that big, and it didn’t have a head or an obvious absence of a head. But it had to be a toy—we don’t get coconut crabs here, or cockroaches bigger than my fist, or those face-sucker things from Aliens.
Or did we?
My only comfort was that it appeared to be lying on its back like a big dead . . . thing, and I was pretty sure now that it was plastic, but I didn’t trust it and I wasn’t going to poke at it to find out one way or another. It was
late early, I was tired, and it could wait.
I turned off the light and bumped my way down the hall to the bedroom.
“Honey,” I said, on my way to our bathroom. “You asleep?”
“You don’t have to go now, but in the morning, could you look at the thing between the chair and the sideboard and tell me what the hell it is? It looks like a huge dead bug and it’s freaking me out.”
My husband mumbled something and when I stuck my head around the door frame, he was gone. I shrugged and brushed my teeth. By the time I was done, he was under the covers again.
“What’s the verdict?” I said.
“It’s Sunny’s inflatable flea.”
Well, of course it was.
“Where did she get an inflatable flea?”
“Spirit Day at her school.” His voice faded. “Firefighters came, remember?”
“The firefighters celebrated Spirit Day by giving her an inflatable flea?”
“No. The vet did.”
I went to bed, set my alarm, and slept the deep sleep of someone whose family was in no danger of having alien larvae implanted in our intestinal tracts.
The next morning, I sought clarity from my four-year old.
“Sunny, your flea scared me last night. I didn’t know what it was.”
“My inflatable flea? I love him. He’s huggy.”
“That’s . . . weird, honey.”
“No it’s not. He’s just my inflatable flea. The aminal doctor gave him to me.” She hopped down and went to get it. “See, Mommy? He’s my new pet.”
“Ooookay. Does he have a name?”
Itch the inflatable flea.* Guess it beats Fluffy.** “Did everyone get a flea? Or was it just you?”
“Everyone. Some got ticks, too, but they ran out.” She pouted.
I didn’t—I’m not sure what I would have done if, sleep deprived and barefoot, I’d encountered a giant inflatable tick in the middle of the night.
*It’s difficult not to put the inflatable in front of flea. It’s almost a pleasure to say: Inflatable flea, inflatable flea, inflatable flea. . . Seriously—try it.
**Actually, I think it’s sheer brilliance, coming from a four-year old. But I might be a tad biased.