“I created a monster the other day, but I’m trying not to think about it. These things usually take care of themselves, don’t they?”
The scientist’s words echoed against the grey walls of her tiny kitchen laboratory, while the orangutan she was training to speak just stared at her with a bored expression, like he’d heard all this before.
Even the fluorescent frogs, hopping around in their tank above the microwave, looked bored whenever the scientist talked about her problems. She’d created them to cheer herself up, but there was only so much that bright colors could do.
The orangutan’s speech training was a failure so far, which was actually a relief to the scientist. If the orangutan ever did start to talk, he would no doubt feel entitled to offer his own opinions and tell the scientist exactly what her issues were and that he was done listening to her babble instead of resolving them. Conversing with a silent orangutan was just easier.
“I put the monster in the cupboard,” said the scientist. “I didn’t know what else to do. I know, I’m so scattered. I try not to be, but I’m getting worse, aren’t I?”
The orangutan hooted and puffed out his lips, and then started taking apart the coffee maker. The scientist hoped he meant, “Why worry? You’re just fine the way you are, this monster thing will work itself out.”
The monster waited patiently in the kitchen cupboard, rearranging all of the scientist’s jars and cereal boxes and building little towers out of the soup cans—a tower out of tomato, another out of minestrone, another out of corn chowder. The monster was hungry, but he didn’t dare eat any of the scientist’s soup. He didn’t want to upset her. The monster only ate food from the back of the cupboard, things she wouldn’t miss—dusty cereals left behind by ancient boyfriends, or fancy dried pastas brought by guests who never came back.
The monster felt like he knew everything about the scientist, just from watching through the crack in the cupboard door and listening to her talk to the other experiments, the ones she could stand to look at. But surely the fluorescent frogs and the orangutan didn’t know that her favorite soup was minestrone, or that she always left her keys in the same place and then forgot where they were, sparking a frantic search whenever she left the house (which she hardly ever did).
The monster liked this about her. She was always nearby, even though she never went near the cupboard door. The monster caught a blurry peek of his reflection in the dusty metal lid of a soup can and shuddered. No wonder she wanted to forget him.
The scientist busied the rest of the day away with observing the fluorescent frogs and finger-painting with the orangutan, but soon it was late and she got hungry. It was Monday, she realized with relief, the day she ate Nepalese take-out, so she had a practical excuse not to go into the kitchen cupboard.
The monster would be fine for another day, or even longer, she told herself as she searched for her keys. In fact, the longer she put off dealing with him, the easier it would be—he was probably just sleeping anyway and wouldn’t want to be disturbed.
All reasonable creatures, she’d often concluded, preferred to be alone—it was as natural to her as the thing in the cupboard was not.
The scientist finally found her keys on top of the organ cooler. “One of these days, I’ll remember where I left them. Tomorrow, I swear it. It’ll be a new day.”
The orangutan rolled his eyes.
The monster held his breath all the while she was gone, wishing that he’d gotten up the nerve to tell her where her keys were before she’d worked herself into a panic.
One of these days, he would be brave enough to say something, and she’d be so grateful she might even look at him.
When the scientist returned home, the monster pressed against the crack in the cupboard door, watching with wide and hopeful eyes. She looked crestfallen, an expression he’d seen on her only once before—when she’d created him.
“I can’t believe the Nepalese place was closed,” she said to the fluorescent frogs. “I was really hungry for yak curry too.”
The fluorescent frogs blinked their pink and yellow eyes, and the scientist hoped they meant, “You could eat soup two days ahead of schedule, but you’d have to deal with you-know-what . . . better to go hungry. You could stand to lose a pound or two anyway.”
The scientist started to agree over the sound of her growling stomach, just as the cupboard door began to creak open. Her heart raced as a cloudy grey eye blinked and then recoiled. Delicate fingers reached out and handed her a metal can, then closed the cupboard door with barely a sound.
The scientist turned the can over in her hands, unsure of what to think—how had the monster known that minestrone was her favorite? Probably just a coincidence, she thought. She walked out of the kitchen, turning the lights off as she left.
© 2017 by Elizabeth Barron
Author’s Note: A struggle to connect with others and break from the normal writing/class/take-out routine inspired this story. It’s lonely being trapped in the cupboard, but it’s just as hard to have no other company but your half-formed creations. I’m much better at letting them out of the cupboard and into the light nowadays.
Elizabeth Barron lives in the dark, football fan-infested forests of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College and an MFA from Hamline University. She and her partner have a dog and three cats that really should know better than to sneak into the cupboards. She has also been published at Empyreome, Fiction on the Web and The Fable Online.