Auntie Mabel was buttering her toast at the table, rustling skeptically through the pages of the paper. She hated Auntie Mabel, even though she knew you were supposed to like your aunts, because she was mean and dull and whenever she came to visit, Sarah had to tiptoe through the house and whisper and not invite her friends over. Auntie Mabel always visited in the summer, when Sarah most wanted to climb in the treehouse and splash in the pool, and instead she had to sit silently in her room and hope that someone would call and invite her somewhere, anywhere other than there, but no one ever did.
At the stove, her father’s bathrobe fluttered with the gust of warm air from the gas jet as he fried eggs, making Sarah’s nose wrinkle with the smell, and her mother hovered at the edge of the counter like she was waiting for disaster. Auntie Mabel pointedly sniffed whenever Sarah’s mother opened a drawer for a utensil or got a plate down from the cupboard above. Sarah knew her aunt’s sniffs well and could detect the scorn in this one.
‘Did you wash your hands, Sarah?’ Her mother’s warm brown eyes crinkled at her, and Sarah nodded and put them out for her mother to see. Her mother’s skin was always so soft and velvety, especially on her palms. Auntie Mabel looked down her glasses at Sarah like she wanted to complain, but Sarah hadn’t actually said anything, or made any noise at all, so she couldn’t. She flicked the paper back up again and her sniffs rattled against the pages when Sarah gently pulled her chair out and sat at her placemat, waiting.
‘Did you sleep well, Sarah?’ Her father always put eggs on her plate even though she never wanted them. She nodded at him and he cut his eyes in the direction of Auntie Mabel and grinned conspiratorially. The last time he’d done that, he’d put a hot pepper in Auntie Mabel’s eggs and oh, how they had laughed after Auntie Mabel left. Her father didn’t like Auntie Mabel either.
Her aunt reluctantly folded the paper when her father put her plate down, and stabbed irritably at the eggs like she dared anyone at the table to make any sort of comment at all, but no one did. Sarah’s mother sat quietly at her plate, pushing her cottage cheese and melon around, while her father merrily poured hot sauce on his breakfast and shoveled it in, eyes already traveling outside.
‘There’s a monster in the sock drawer,’ Sarah squeezed out, as she pushed her eggs to the side of the plate.
‘Oh?’ Her father’s voice was friendly, but also slightly indulgent. She knew he didn’t believe her, by his voice.
‘What kind of monster?’ Her mother had the same tone.
‘I’m not sure,’ she said. ‘He won’t come out all the way.’
‘Well, how imaginative,’ her mother said. Auntie Mabel sniffed again, so deeply that her nostrils flared, and Sarah saw a tiny piece of egg flick up from where it had been stuck on the edge of her lip and drift into her nose. Sarah had a momentary fantasy that it would travel deep into Auntie Mabel’s brain and lodge there.
Sarah decided not to say anything else, and later, when her mother asked her why all her socks were unfolded, she shrugged and gave her mother a meaningful stare. If she told her parents there was a monster in the sock drawer and they didn’t want to believe it, that was their problem. She heard him sometimes, late at night, rustling around in the socks, and the day after she talked about him at breakfast, one of them disappeared, just one. From the pair of tiny yellow socks with the ugly orange ribbon that Sarah hated. Sarah’s mother tore the house apart looking for it, but it didn’t turn up, and Auntie Mabel sniffed and rustled her paper in the living room. She muttered, too, something about reckless children and personal property, but Sarah ignored her. She knew where the sock had gone.
That night, her father tucked her into bed and read, and Sarah watched one long, thin tentacle creep out of the sock drawer, ever so slightly ajar. It waved around while her father read and tapped impatiently on the edge of the drawer when he paused for dramatic effect, but when he turned around to see what Sarah was staring at, the tentacle disappeared, only to ease back out again as soon as he resettled himself. He got to the end of the chapter and turned out the light and the nightlight clicked on, and ‘good night,’ he said, and ‘good night,’ Sarah said, and he let himself out of her door and tiptoed down the stairs. When Auntie Mabel wasn’t there he’d romp, and Sarah would giggle, but she was in the guest room at the end of the hall and she was a light sleeper, you know.
Another tentacle emerged and played shadowboxing games in the nightlight, and Sarah wanted to laugh but she didn’t dare because Auntie Mabel might wake up, so instead she sat up in bed and fluttered her hands around to make a tiny bird, and the shadow tentacles chased the shadow bird along her wall until the light in the hall went out and the adults went to bed, and the tentacles slipped back inside the drawer again.