“Look, I can’t explain it. No one can explain it. We’ve tried everything. Psychics, child psychologists, experts in Norse Folklore, NO one has any idea HOW this is happening, but the kids come back. Your kid will probably come back.”
“Probably isn’t good enough, officer,” said Joan, guilt prodding her, pushing her to make a bigger deal of it than she actually felt. What IF Miranda were gone? It was horrible, yes, horrible and sad and Joan was terrified, but the little voice inside her said, “She’ll come back or she won’t, right? That’s what the officer said. They come back.”
“Yes,” thought Joan, “but how can that be OK with me? Shouldn’t I be frantic? I’m just sad and guilty.”
“I’m going after her.” Tom picked up the pot-holder and reached for the door knob. He lifted the door and looked again at the tiny, forbidding steps. He couldn’t go after her. The opening was way too small for a grown man.
“I could’ve told you that,” said the police officer. “Listen, folks, the best thing you can do is go have breakfast and go on with your day. If it’s Trolls it’s Trolls. Nothing you can do. Nothing I can do.”
“You HAVE to do something!” shrieked Joan. “She’s a missing person!”
“All right, all right lady. Let me take down her description. How old is she?”
“About 40 inches.”
“Features? Hair? Eye color?”
“Brown hair. Hazel eyes. Long brown hair, in two braids.”
“Pink footed jammies you said?”
“That’s about it, folks. I wish I could tell you more, but you just have to wait. I’ll call you as soon as — and if — I learn anything different.”
The day wore on. Joan wrangled with the voice inside, disturbed by the revelations in her heart. She tried to hate herself for her “unmotherly” feelings toward her daughter, but she couldn’t. The voice insisted it was as natural not to like one’s child as it was to love it. Did she have any problems with Jordan? No. But Miranda? “Just the kind of kid to go off with a troll,” Joan thought to herself as she helped Jordan finish a puzzle with no interference from Miranda who would’ve been at school anyway. “I guess I can just do a good job as a mom and forget about it,” sighed Joan. “It’s not like it’s forever.”
Late that afternoon, Joan heard the back door open. She ran to the kitchen to see her daughter coming in, dressed for school, her book bag on her back.
“Where were you, missy?” said Joan through clenched teeth. “We were frantic — we called the police. We looked for you everywhere, everywhere, we even found…”
“The door under my bed?”
“I told you but you wouldn’t listen. It’s OK. They’re just Trolls, and now I know there’s nothing scary about Trolls. They’re just like us with families and everything. They even have lemonade. But they have magic powers.”
Joan was torn. Should she spank her daughter for being, being, being WHAT? For lying? Should she hug the little girl and tell her, tell her WHAT?
“I don’t know what to say, Miranda. We’ll just have to wait until your father comes home. Go change your clothes.”
Joan followed Miranda to her room to see what she would do. Standing in the door way she watched her little girl hang up her school clothes and put on her play clothes.
“What about this, young lady?” Joan pointed at the floor.
“What about what, mom? The door is gone, see? They won’t be back. When you understand Trolls, you don’t have to be afraid any more. Can we put my bed back? Didn’t you ever go with the Trolls, Mommy?”
Joan shook her head. “No such thing as Trolls,” sounded hollow and mistaken. She took her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans and pushed her husband’s work number. “She’s home. She went to school. She just now walked in the back door cool as you please as if nothing happened. She said she went with the Trolls, and now there’s nothing to be afraid of. Honey, what? It IS? I’m sorry but it doesn’t make any sense to me. What do you mean ‘If I believe in something strong enough it’s REAL?’ No it isn’t. All right, look, I’m putting her on time-out until you get home. YOU deal with her.”
“I’m coming right home, honey. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
When Tom walked in the door, Miranda and Jordan were working on a puzzle and Joan looked on, glowering and weeping.
“Tell you what, Joan. She’s home and safe. The cop was right. I don’t know how any of this happened. It makes no sense to me. But I think…”
“You think WHAT?”
“Calm down, Joan.”
“Calm down. My little girl vanishes and she comes home from school like nothing happened, and tells me she went with Trolls. And the cops believe it. You believe it. I think…”
“She played a trick on us.”
“Pretty amazing trick, Joan. How did she get a trap door, a blazing hot lava doorknob and tiny stairs? How did she get dressed and go to school without our knowing about it or seeing her? Too much here that I can’t explain. I say we just go to bed like normal and start again tomorrow. What do you say, honey?” He took his wife’s hand and held it to his lips. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in all your philosophies.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Joan sighed. This had been one of the worst days of her life. She had to face the fact that she was a terrible mother who didn’t even like her own kid. “You might like her when she’s six,” said the little voice in her head. “Give yourself a break.”
That night there were no bedtime stories. Tom tucked his little girl into bed and asked if she would like a night light or for him to check under the bed, in the closet, behind the dresser and under the rug.
“No, daddy. I’m fine. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
But Tom knew that there was plenty to be afraid or, and he decided not to tell his little girl. She had her whole life ahead of her to learn that. He hoped she’d always be brave enough to descend that little staircase and lucky enough to come out the other side not needing a nightlight.