My eyes snapped open, but I couldn't see anything. As the room came slowly into focus, I could see my wife and our newborn daughter, Carlyn, nested between us. I could hear their quiet breathing. There was a new smell of scented diapers. I began to guess I'd dreamed of someone forcing the front door. Then I heard the lock rattle again.
I bolted upright in bed, the little hairs in my ears pricking up to catch any vibration. My heart raced, but I can't really remember thinking anything, except for some vague, intense anger about intruders, about danger. As I think back on this, I remember stories of petite women who lift burning cars off babies and later cannot tell how they did it. I remember stories about men in battle who fight with grenade, then rifle, then bayonet, then with hands, who later claim that they didn't think, only acted. It must have been like this for me as I rose from the bed.
I was careful not to wake the baby, gentle as I replaced the covers, but the closer I came to our bedroom door, the more I felt my skinny frame bulk up to something superhuman and fierce. I could feel the hair on my body stand up as I passed the air conditioning vent.
Before I reached the end of the hallway leading to the living room, I heard the door open and the Intruder silently slip in, carrying _ what? pistol? hunting knife? I had no weapon, save my now-hard hands.
I would meet him as he came toward me, his club held high. I would squeeze his muscles until blood came through the skin. I would fight him as the Viking hero Beowulf fought the man-eating monster Grendel, without weapons, wrecking the room in our row, tearing his arm from its socket to save my kin. In the hall mirror, my skinny arms and chest rippled with anger. My hair was wild, my beard grown longer, my eyes dark as a gorilla's.
As I neared the living room, I could smell the Intruder, who reeked oddly of sausage and perfume, of bread and carrot. Even his sounds were odd, like a man with four legs and whispering low in some ancient demon language. I didn't hesitate as I strode into the living room to confront him, to rend him with my hands, to lift and throw him out the door, to kill him or die with my hands at his throat.
My heart thumping, my strong jaw set hard, in only my underwear, I confronted the Intruder: my mother-in-law holding a casserole with needlepoint chicken pot holders, my father-in-law beaming in his green Sunday shorts and madras shirt, holding a pink blanket for my daughter.
He looked at me and blinked, his mouth half open, ready to ask something. My mother-in-law didn't say anything at first, and though I knew who she was, it was hard to know what to do. She smiled at me and shrugged.
Still, I stared her down, she, whom I had given a key to our house while we were in the hospital. She, who had helped bring my daughter into the world. She, who would have died herself to save her daughter and mine.
My father-in-law nervously folded the pink blanket so the fuzzy bunny was showing. My mother-in-law shifted the hot casserole dish in her hands, both of them waiting for me to say something.
I pushed hard to make words come from whatever modern brain made them:
"Next time, knock."
Gregory Byrd teaches writing and literature at St. Petersburg College-Clearwater.