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Haunted by Her Error

(Listen to this piece on S2E17 of the podcast)

“There’s an elf in the hallway,” Maddy says waking back to the kitchen. The toe of her tap shoes drum my cedar floors impatiently.

“I know sweetheart. I need it for a play that goes up in two weeks,” I say.

My seven-year-old is typically unphased by my chaos. An elf in the hallway. A gnome in the pantry. A gargoyle in the bathroom. Wherever I can fit them is where I put them in this cramped two-bedroom apartment. This is a family full of artists. I am a set designer. Maddy has her tap. Her father was a unicyclist (until his fatal cliff accident). My uncle is a lion tamer. My parents are retired trapeze artists. My brother saws people in half… because he’s a magician of course. Stranger things have been sighted in my house, so why Maddy seems upset by this elf, I have no clue. Instead, I change the subject.

“Ready for dance class?” I ask.

Maddy fingers the silver ribbon tied in her hair, peeks around the wall and down the hall, then sighs.

“I would be if the elf weren’t in the way,” she says, expression moody.

I knit my eyebrows in confusion. “In the hallway?” I ask.

“Blocking the doorway,” she says.

I thought I’d stashed it in the coat closet, but nonetheless we’d move it out the way as we did with all my props that were stuffed in every available crevice across our shared space.

“Let’s go little girl,” I say to Maddy, offput by her silly beef with my ceramic elf until I make it to the hallway. That’s when I open my mouth to scream, except two things happen that stop me. The elf standing in the hallway lifts its index finger in the air as if to silence me, and Maddy says, “See, I told you it was in the way.”

I am suddenly in my bed surrounded by darkness, torso erect in the bed, chest panting. It was only a dream. More like my recurring nightmare. Just one set design malfunction in my fifteen-year career organizing our town’s Christmas Spectacular, but the catastrophe terrorizes me still. Not like Maddy’s dad’s accident—God rest his soul—or my uncle’s “lions gone wild” incident back in ’93. Not even like my brother making a skunk appear instead of a dove—that, too, was a nightmare. Still, I am a perfectionist and last year’s set design fiasco still wrestles with me. Even in my dreams.


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