<By Robin Kilmer>
Maya, a three year old, was staring at me. Her gaze was unshifting, willing me to wake up. I was on the top bunk and wondered how her eyes had become level to mine. I strained to see in the darkness and realized that she was sitting on top of a shelf, looking at me in that deconstructing way that only children are capable of. In her eyes I saw a challenge.
I got myself into this predicament because of my job. I am currently the nanny to the Nichols children, Kate, 6 and Maya, 3 and was invited to accompany the family on their trip to California, which included a stop in Los Angeles before bunkering down in Tahoe for what was going to be a week of skiing and other winter fun. I shared a bedroom with Kate and Maya in the condo we were staying at. The room had a bunk bed consisting of two full size beds and a twin sized hide away.
When it came to bedtime I could always depend on Kate to fall asleep without qualms, and stay asleep until at least seven in the morning. Maya, on the other hand, must have learned her sleeping habits from the likes of banshees, vampires, and boogey monsters. Every night she would wake up countless times with different demands. Getting water was simple enough, but going to the bathroom required that I accompany her and wipe her ass when she was done relieving herself. The real drama would arise when Maya realized that it was me attending to her and not her mother. To her I was an imposter, and she would go to hunt down her mother, who tried in vain to thwart her three year old by rotating rooms every night. My efforts to coax her back into bed were fruitless. Maya was not a stealthy hunter; disregarding the dark she would bump into walls and doors and me as she scoured the hallway for her prey. Mrs. Nichol’s plan backfired and the longer it took for Maya to find her mother, the louder her wails got until everyone in the house over the age of six was awake and gripped with terror at having to deal with this midnight marauder. Kate mercifully remained asleep while the adults awkwardly cooed and lumbered about in the dark trying to diffuse her little sister.
The condo was situated a half a mile from the lake. Winter activities on the itinerary included dog sledding and going on old fashioned horse-drawn sleigh rides. The lake itself was invisible behind force-fields of snow. In the white-out storms one could only see the stoic, towering evergreens that were cloaked in snow, white as brides. The dogs, horses, sleds and sleighs became out of commission due to the unusually high build up of snow. When there was a break in the blizzards, Kate and Mr. and Mrs. Nichols would go skiing and Maya was my charge. We stayed in the condo.
I spent most of the time looking anxiously out the window and drawing vampires at Maya’s request. Vampire houses, vampire cookies, vampire renditions of her family members. Any inanimate object could be converted into a vampire with the quick addition of a mouth and two teeth at either end that had a tendency to resemble tusks. These were sanguine, smiling vampires, not intent on hurting anyone. The vampires were not my idea. I’m not sure if it was Kate or Maya who was the first to request a vampire, but it was Maya who has become a vampire junky, and her mood is controlled by the constant production of vampires. Mrs. Nichols jokes that Maya is in fact a vampire and her theory is supported by Maya’s nocturnal rituals.
Eventually the kitchen table became a gallery of vampires, collaborations between Maya and myself. I would draw a vampire toilet at Maya’s request and she would color it in, either assiduously between the lines, or furiously ignoring all borders, creating what most people inaccurately interpreted as sribble scrabble. Maya, however, would explain that she was drawing the wind.
Falling asleep has never been a problem for me, though waking up is not my forte. When I was a teacher and had to be at work at eight in the morning, I used to set three alarms and sometimes have my friends give me wake up calls. But in Tahoe, in the vicinity of children, my sleeping habits changed. When it came time for bed, I’d lie awake in the top bunk, with snow and vampires clouding my mind and the snoring of two children laying siege on my ears. My dog, when he sleeps, chases squirrels. His paws paddle the air and he snarls and yips at his prey. I cannot tell you what Kate or Maya dream about, though it must be something aerial or acrobatic. A snort from Kate would anticipate her performing a bicycle kick in bed, and she would roll into her sister, who would do horizontal cartwheel, landing on top of Kate. When they went to bed, each would start out in a designated side of the bed, each head on a respective pillow. Yet these girls managed to migrate to the far reaches of the bed every night, bodies perpendicular, limbs dangling dangerously on the edge of the bed, like fish flopping out of a net. Every time I heard a shift from the bottom bunk I was jolted awake for fear that one of them was about to fall out of bed. These plate tectonics from below caused minor earthquakes on the top bunk that caused me to trip out of my dreams, sending me headlong into wakefulness.
And now Maya, sitting atop a shelf, with her eyes fixed on mine. If her mother’s hypothesis was correct and Maya was in fact a vampire, her perch on the shelf was advantageous as she had an unimpeded path to my jugular. As she stared at me, she scooted closer to the edge of the shelf until I realized that with her eyes she was daring me to stop her from jumping to the floor. I lurched out of my covers. “MAYA, NOOOOOOOOO!”
I’m not sure which made me come to, either the jolt out of bed, or my screaming, but as I sat up stiff in bed I realized that Maya’s eyes were not staring into mine anymore. At first I thought this was because she took the plunge. Then I noticed that there wasn’t actually a shelf against the wall. I looked down at the floor and did not see a broken three-year-old, but a tiny figure curled up innocently sleep in bed.
I fell asleep grateful that I had only had a strange dream and woke up with enough energy the next day to make a vampire snowman with Maya and Kate. This time the vampire was my idea.
Robin Kilmer studied Latin American and Iberian history at Bard College. She taught at a public school in the Bronx for three years before deciding to pursue her lifelong passion in writing. Read her blog, The Newbie Yorker.
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