The Gremlin

The gremlins always come in the morning. They like the early hours, when the sun is so timid a suggestion in the sky that everything is barely touched with light. They can creep about then, and sneak under hedges and through windows. That’s when Jenna found one, at five in the morning in her kitchen. It was eating her cereal straight out of the box.

She assumed she was dreaming, all alone in her quiet kitchen as a little furry creature with stubby horns froze and stared at her, paw half out of the box with a handful of Raisin Bran. They looked at each other and then the gremlin raised the waiting hand to its mouth. When it bared a bristling row of teeth, Jenna’s throat caught around a sound — not a word, not a cry, just half a startled “oh!’ The gremlin hurled the cereal, scattering flakes and raisins across the counter, and bounded out the window. Jenna went back to bed and dreamed strange dreams.

A week later, it occurred to her that all her Raisin Bran was gone, though the box still sat empty on the shelf. It must have started on the corn flakes too, because the top of the box was a ragged mess of cardboard. She poured some carefully into a bowl and left it out on the counter. She left a spoon next to it, just in case. Gremlins probably didn’t use spoons, but if they did then this one would have one. She left the window open, afraid that the gremlin’s long-fingered paws might break it. The gremlin was so quiet coming in that it didn’t wake her at all, but in the morning the bowl was clean and empty.

Over the next couple of weeks, Jenna learned some lessons. She discovered that if she woke up and went for a snack, she could sit quietly with the gremlin and eat cereal side by side. As long as she didn’t make any noise, it didn’t flee her. Sometimes it sidled up to her, scooping cereal into its mouth and nibbling on the ends of her hair.

She discovered that the gremlin absolutely refused milk in its cereal, dumping the bowl upside down on the floor in disgust. She discovered, too, that if she gave it Cocoa Pops it tore around the kitchen and knocked over everything that wasn’t fastened down. The sugary cereal went right in the trash after that night.

Jenna is cautiously friends with the gremlin now. She’d never been able to sleep once the sun pushed through the windows, so she gets up at five. It comes in a bit after that and crouches expectantly on the counter while she pours it Raisin Bran (still its favorite.) She makes herself a bowl of Cheerios. Sometimes they split a piece of toast.

A Woman Named June

June never liked to be in anyone’s face. She was the type who would be in the room so quiet you didn’t even notice her. Her therapist liked to talk about this tendency for “passivity. A kind of introversion that lets you fade into the background. Your relationship with Matthew shows me this desire to, you know, not be any bother. You don’t want to be trouble to anyone so you take it all on yourself.” It’s very comforting to hear her life explained to her like this. June sits in her therapist’s office and nods. She doesn’t want to disagree, and she wouldn’t know what to say if she did.

When she walked up High Street last week she ran into Matthew. She can’t stop thinking about it. He was surprised to see her, hey June I haven’t seen you in ages how are you doing I hope everything’s going well. Matthew always did manage to talk a lot without communicating much of anything. She said she was doing fine, thanks, and asked how he was. He rattled on for a while, and she nodded. He said it was great to see her, and she nodded. He hugged her goodbye and she froze, stiff and unresponsive and too startled to bring her arms up around him until he was already pulling away. That’s how it had always been with them anyway.

When she told her therapist about this encounter, her therapist’s mouth twisted and her eyes gleamed with speculation. June could just feel the analysis waiting to rush out. She didn’t hear any of it, though. She heard her therapist’s voice tumbling over her and caught the odd word–aggression–anonymous–relationship–depression. June’s mind was roaming, though, and she nodded and nodded without taking in any of the explanation of her life.

When she left her therapist’s office, she sat in her car in the parking lot. She put the key in the ignition but she didn’t start the car. The expectant light on her dashboard faded, disappointed. June folded her hands in her lap and stared ahead. She didn’t know how long it had been (five minutes? thirty?) when she was jerked from the reverie by a tapping. Matthew was outside her window, smiling his well-isn’t-this-funny smile. She rolled down the window and he burst into speech. Hey June so funny to see you again twice in a week after a whole year seems strange doesn’t it what are you doing here? She looked up at his eager face, the sweat shining on his forehead and his abashed smile. June said, “I feel like a robot.”

“Yeah,” said Matthew. “I know what you mean.”

June nodded, then she got in her car and drove away.