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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