Mrs. Ashburogh seemed harmless enough. Sure, she was the neighborhood busy body but she seemed to mean well. The gesture to facilitate this visit was a batch of cookies she had just made, but Sarah suspected that it was just as much of an excuse for her to come snooping around.
Her visits were innocent enough, but Grace Ashburogh was the type to wear her religion on her sleeve. She was the sort that would often end her sentences with ‘in Jesus’s name’ or ‘praise the lord.’ Although she was not religious herself, Sarah considered herself tolerant of others and would just smile in response.
Today Mrs. Ashburogh had brought her daughter Elizabeth over to play with Sarah’s daughter Maggie. Being a single mom was tough enough on Sarah Miller, so she wasn’t unappreciative of having concerned neighbors who were willing to help, even if that help came with the occasional preaching and snooping.
Her suspicions of the snooping part were quickly reassured too, as Grace quickly turned the conversation from common pleasantries to begin regaling her of the latest gossip from the neighborhood. Sarah wasn’t interested in gossip either, but she was interested in keeping the peace so that too she tolerated with smiles and nods.
Somewhere amid the third entry to the ‘you should have heard what this person said‘ and an upcoming ‘and you wouldn’t believe what so-and-so was doing‘, young Elizabeth came over to tug on her mother’s skirt.
“Mommy,” she said pointing back toward her playmate. “Mags says there are monsters living under her bed! I told her there was no such thing as monsters. Tell her there’s no such thing!”
“No, Maggie dear. There is not such thing as monsters,” said Mrs. Ashburogh more focused on the interruption of her story than what her daughter had actually been talking about. But before she could recall where she had left off so she could continue her scuttlebutt, Maggie had something to say about it.
“There are so monsters! And they eat bad little girls! Don’t they mommy?” Maggie looked at her mother rather insistently.
“No Maggie, I told you there were no monsters. Stop scaring poor Elizabeth,” said Sarah somewhat embarrassed by her daughter’s recitation. Grace Ashburogh just stood quietly soaking it all in, glancing first at the young girl and then again at her mother.
After a short pause, she asked “Sarah, you didn’t actually tell your daughter that there were monsters under her bed did you?”
“No no no!” said the young mother emphatically. “She came to me one morning rather convinced that there was though. I thought she had dropped the matter, but she kept bringing it up all day.”
“Well then where would such a young thing get such an idea?” the elder marm asked somewhat accusingly.
“Oh, she kept insisting that there were monsters and wouldn’t let it go. I finally said to her in jest that ‘if there was a monster under her bed, it would probably eat little girls that asked too many questions and didn’t listen to their mothers!‘ She must have put more stock in it than I thought.”
“Oh MY!” said Grace Ashburogh in shock. “You can’t say such things to your child! That is outright cruel!” Her composure changed considerably and after a few more topical remarks on the subject, she seized the opportunity as cause to make her exit from the house, calling her daughter Elizabeth and to say it was time to go.
Despite some reassurances that she hadn’t said it to be cruel and that Grace nor Elizabeth had to leave, the neighbor woman seemed quite content at departing, even offering the excuse that she needed to go anyway. She somewhat disingenuously offered re-assurances that, although it had initially disturbed her, the ‘monster’ issue was not the cause of her desire to leave.
Sarah wasn’t reassured. Nor was she disappointed in her assumptions on the matter. No sooner did the elder woman arrive at her own home and she was off to yet another neighbor’s home. No doubt for more snooping and to spread the word of what a horrible mother Sarah was, scaring her own child with stories of monsters that ate bad little girls!
Still, Sarah made a point to sit her daughter down again to re-emphasize that her comments about the ‘monster’ were in jest and that there was no monster under her bed, no such thing as monsters and on how it was not nice to scare other children with stories of monsters.
It was the following morning when the knock came at the door. Sarah answered it to find a woman in business clothes holding a clip board with a police officer standing behind her. Sarah also couldn’t help but notice that Grace and some of the other neighbor women were out in front of their homes talking just down the street.
“Ms. Miller? My name is Mrs. Jones from Child Protective Services and this is Officer Jamison. May we come in?”
Sarah didn’t know what to say, but was already getting suspicious as to the cause of their visit. The subject of the ‘monster’ came up quickly and the manner in which it was told to her daughter.
“So you think this is funny to joke with your child about monsters that will eat her if she doesn’t obey you?” was an example of the types of questions she was receiving. And despite her attempts to clarify the situation, it did not seem Sarah could make any headway with the woman. “We take reports of abuse very seriously Ms. Miller. Including psychological abuse,” was the typical comment she got in response to her attempts to diffuse the situation.
“I WANT MY MOMMY! I WANT MY MOMMY!” could be heard all the way up and down the street — even if the women hadn’t gathered specifically to witness the events as they were unfolding.
“Poor child – it’s such a downright shame,” said Mrs. Rathberg from down on the corner. “and you say she actually told her daughter that the monster would eat her if she didn’t behave?”
“Indeed, can you imagine that?” responded Grace.
“Downright barbaric,” added Mrs. Wilford from across the street. “I hope God has a special place in Hell for people like ‘that’,” she added turning up her nose in disgust.
Young Elizabeth had been playing nearby and overheard this last remark. “Is that true mommy? Will God send Mrs. Miller to Hell for scaring Maggie?”
“Yes, Elizabeth,” said Mrs. Ashburogh. “God sends bad people to Hell!”
After pondering the thought a moment, Elizabeth inquired further, “Will I go to Hell mommy?”
“Well of course not dear,” said her mother. “Not if you’re good and do as the Bible says!”