QUIET • by Carl Steiger

Mark looked up from his coloring project on the floor as Mother walked into the kitchen. “I need to start cooking supper now,” she told him. “So go lie down for your nap. And be very quiet when you go to your room. Your sister is sleeping, and I don’t want you to wake her up.”

Mark hated naps, but he gathered his broken crayons and returned them to their box. He closed his coloring book, picked it up along with the crayons and walked from the room on stockinged feet.

“Bye, Mommy,” he said. “I’ll be quiet.”

“Bye, honey. See you later!”

Mark passed over a corner of the living room and came to the hall that led to his room. Long and dark, the hall had bare wood floors, and Mark ever so gently set down his feet as he walked.

He warily eyed the squeaky board in the floor outside his parents’ bedroom, where baby Marcie slept in her crib. Avoiding the board would be easy if he was careful, but now he saw a new peril.

The kitten Thomasina sat just inside the bedroom door. She had not yet forgiven Mark for his experiment the day before to see whether cats really always land on their feet. Mark cringed at the sight of the dried blood that remained on the kitten’s nose. He also cringed at the memory of Mother bringing him to stand before Father, who sat in judgment at the kitchen table. Thomasina hissed and retreated under the bed.

Mark progressed past his parents’ room. He stifled a yelp as a huge, hairy spider scuttled across his path. His heel hit the floor hard as he stepped back. The spider disappeared into a crack under the baseboard. Mark listened intently for signs that the baby might have awakened.

Quiet. Mark faintly heard sounds of cooking from the kitchen, but the baby still slept.

One obstacle remained between Mark and his room — the air grate in the floor outside his door. A many-limbed monster lived in the duct beneath the grate, and Mark always passed by as quickly as he could. The monster emerged at night when Mark was in bed, to crouch atop the phonograph when Father played the Symphonie Fantastique. Mark had never seen the monster; he always burrowed deep under the covers to hide when the music was playing.

On tiptoes, Mark hurried silently past the grate. He entered his room. He had triumphed. He drew a great breath and faced the hall.

“MOMMY!” he shouted in exultation, “I WAS QUIET!!”

Carl Steiger is a career bureaucrat who is sometimes fortunate enough to find fulfillment on his own time.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Gosh. Thank God he made it. That “bye Mommy, I’ll be quiet” kind of had me stop breathing til I finished the story.

    To me this feels extraordinary in its simplicity–and in its warmth and understanding of a child’s mind. And in creating an air of almost unbearable menace that resolves into wryly tender humor. Or, you know, what I mean is–five stars.

  • Michael Stang


  • Tina Wayland

    I can’t imagine a child young enough to still need naps caring quite so much about keeping quiet. Sure, they’d try–but they don’t have the capacity to rationalize every step of the way. I also found a lot of the writing said what it could have shown, or gave details that didn’t add to the story (like cleaning up the crayons).

    That said, the end is brilliant–and came as a wonderful surprise. It also turns my first comments on its head, as that’s just what a toddler would do! 🙂

  • For me the plethera of adverbs detracted from the story somewhat.

    Then again, what an ending!

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    See the irresistible need for communication? This story captures it in an innocent child.

  • I think this story is wonderful. He had me every step of the way and the ending is perfect in its simplicity. I could easily picture my friend’s son doing this when he was a child.

  • Beautifully done. Involved me from the start and the ending was a complete surprise.

  • Simone

    This is a perfect example of what a child would do. Loved it!