“The Az Monster is very scary,” she said, pointing to the illustration. “He comes at night for my daddy.” She turned the page, which showed a stick figure sitting in a bed, the black and gray swirl monster looming nearby. “He goes inside my daddy and makes his breathing bad.” She continued to narrate in a matter-of-fact voice, but Sam reflexively squeezed her a little tighter.
Emily turned the page again. This spread again showed a stick man in bed with something on his face, and stars and sparkles hovering around him. “Daddy has magic medicine he takes every day in the morning and at night, and it helps keep the Az Monster away.”
His daughter glanced up at him, beaming, proud of her project, and Sam forced his eyes to smile at her. Emily’s grin broadened and she flipped the page. When she spoke now, her voice was angry.
“Sometimes the magic doesn’t work and the Az Monster doesn’t get scared and he makes my daddy sick.”
Sam could see the illustration of the stick man, lines for eyes as if he were sleeping, being carried by two other stick men toward a box with black loops for wheels, and a large red cross on the side. Streaks of crayon on top signified flashing lights. The man was being carried to an ambulance. Sam felt a physical pain in his chest. He hated that Emily knew how to draw that scene, that she’d seen him carted off by EMTs after a severe attack.
“Then they have to take him to make him better. But the Az Monster never goes away forever,” she said, almost contemplatively. “I don’t like it when the Az Monster comes to hurt my daddy.”
The mist ended, and Sam leaned over to shut off the machine. Emily watched as he slipped off the mask and switched to the second medication. Once he was settled again, breathing in the steroid, she flipped the page.
This picture showed a girl with a cape fighting the gray-scribble monster.
“When I grow up, I want to learn magic so I can make the Az Monster go away forever.”
She turned the page, which showed the girl with the cape, arms in the air in triumph, smiling. the gray-scribble monster lay on the floor, dead, its eyes red X’s.
“So I want to be a doctor when I grow up so I can know the magic to make sure my daddy can breathe and then he can run and play with me like other daddies do and not be waked at night because the Az Monster comes.” She said it all in one long breath, and Sam squeezed her, focusing on his breathing. Emily had grown up with his asthma, so it was normal enough. But she was around other kids and knew that his disease limited what he could do and forced him to a strict schedule. And although she was smart and pretty grown up for her age, he knew it scared her when he couldn’t breathe, when his breaths came out as high-pitched wheezes.
Flipping the page, she revealed an adult version of herself, with a white coat (and cape), kicking a black-and-white ball to the stick man. She held it up to make sure he saw the picture. “Then we’ll play soccer all the time.”
Soccer had become Emily’s latest obsession, ever since Sam had relented and signed her up for the peewee league. Her first game was Saturday, and she’d already gotten kitted up and spent hours each afternoon practicing kicking the ball against the garage. Sam had even broken down and taken her to the park, where he’d managed to kick the ball around with her for a few minutes before the effort and the dust got to him. He’d needed four puffs of his albuterol inhaler before he could breathe enough again to go home. Emily had been crushed, but understanding, as always, and it had broken his heart to see the look of longing and disappointment in her eyes as they’d driven back home. Sam had immediately called his insurance company to find out if they’d pay for a portable nebulizer he could carry in his pocket, since the aerosoled mist always was easier for him to take during an attack than a few puffs from an inhaler.
Emily turned to the final page, a man and girl holding hands and smiling. “With the Az Monster gone, Daddy and I can be happy and not scared. The end.” She closed the book reverently and looked up at him, waiting for his verdict.
Sam gave her a thumbs up as he breathed in the last of the mist. Then he shifted the mask off his face and shut off the compressor. “That was a really good story,” he said to her. “Thank you for reading it to me.”Share: