There are some nights that are merely draped in darkness. Then there are nights that are smothered, stapled and bolted in a mighty covering of darkness under which the world reluctantly slithers about its business. Which, on such nights, mostly involves sleeping, of course. That is indeed what our hero was doing, until a point that on an objective calculation of time could be called eleven past three in the morning, but on an emotional level was merely an empty period in which the darkness had fixed its iron grasp as tightly as possible. The first thing our hero had noticed was that the wind that had assaulted the trees beneath the bedroom window the previous evening had gone. Sucked out perhaps, to better allow the darkness to attach its many tentacles which, as the grim January morning that followed showed, it was in no mood to loosen.
Our hero heard a soft patter of footsteps on the landing and yawned. Having first thought ‘Oh God, not now please’, he resigned himself to the fact his waking up couldn’t be reversed. He made a mental effort to embrace the small, if untimely ray of light that was now tugging on the handle of the bedroom door.
“Mummy! Daddy! Mr Goo Goo, wooh, wooh, wooh!” said Bella. She waved her hands about and performed a very respectable pirouette in her pyjamas for a two-and-a-half year-old, which unfortunately was not seen in the pitch darkness.
Our hero glanced across to see his wife asleep.
“Come on sweetie, back to bed – there’s still a lot of sleepy time before morning,” our hero said.
He climbed out of bed, placed his hand on his daughter’s back and led her back to her bedroom. He silently cursed the moment three weeks before he had removed the side of her cot to convert it into a cot bed.
“No! Mr Goo Goo, wooh, woooooh!” said Bella, waving her hands again and stamping her feet on the landing.
“Mr Goo Goo’s sleeping downstairs,” whispered our hero, with a hint of anger. “And your big brother and mummy are trying to sleep too, so we must be quiet.”
He helped his daughter back into her bed and wedged her duvet into the sides.
“What was she trying to say about Mr Goo Goo?” asked his wife who was sitting upright in bed as our hero returned. “Didn’t it sound like she was saying she’d heard him run around downstairs?”
“That’s impossible!” said our hero. While he deliberated confessing to his wife that he had taken the batteries out of his daughter’s favourite Christmas toy, a frantic sound, altogether out of keeping with the crushing darkness, was heard on the landing. Bella was running back to their room.
“Mr Goo Goo! Mr Goo Goo!”
Our hero had winced when Bella had unwrapped the unusually sober dark brown wrapping paper to reveal a toy monkey wearing a fez and holding a pair of cymbals.
He wasn’t quite sure why it had provoked this reaction. Was it its annoying cheesy grin? Had he seen some horror film many years ago where one of these toys grew into a giant gorilla and ran around a quiet village bashing people’s heads in with his cymbals?
Bella’s eyes had lit up noticeably more though on seeing the monkey than when she had unwrapped the doll’s set and Cathy Cat books that our hero and his wife had bought. Her pleasure increased as her older brother, James, figured out that a red button on the monkey’s left paw made it run around frantically for a few seconds – as if under the influence of narcotics – and smash its cymbals together.
Bella clapped her hands on seeing this routine for the first time. “Mr Goo Goo,” she said, laughing, and the name was born.
How the battery-powered monkey managed to always play its cymbals out of any rhythm at all was one of its mysteries. Another of its mysteries was who had bought the damn thing. Our hero had been passed all the parcels with Manchester postmarks by his wife to allow him to unpack gifts from his relatives. His effort to make a mental note of who had bought what when placing the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve completely failed though. A series of carefully-worded thank you calls to numerous aunts and cousins after Christmas was able to match most presents with their buyers – but nobody confessed to sending a delirious musical monkey. The unique, bland wrapping paper added to that conundrum.
Despite an initial attempt by our hero to put Mr Goo Goo on a cabinet shelf for safe keeping, Bella had soon demanded it back. She spent most of Christmas Day afternoon pressing the button on its paw and watching transfixed as it hurtled this way and that around the living room. One more attempt was made to give the monkey a rest when a small but vital component of the drawbridge for James’s lego castle was discovered, after an extensive search, to have become hidden up Mr Goo Goo’s sleeve. Bella was having none of it though. She did consent, at leat, to the argument before bath time that Mr Goo Goo would have to stay downstairs to look after the other toys at night. The metal cymbals would be too dangerous to have in her cot, our hero and his wife had reasoned to one another in a hushed conversation in the kitchen while preparing the turkey. Besides, they didn’t want Mr Goo Goo running around all night.
“Are we sure the present was meant for Bella, there was no tag on it?” our hero had asked his wife late one night between Christmas and New Year. “One of my aunts could have meant to send it to one of Bella’s older cousins.”
“Well she really enjoys it, doesn’t she? Isn’t that the main thing?”
“I guess so. It’d be nice if she played with her dolly too, or showed an interest in the Cathy Cat books” he said, remembering his drive to every bookshop within an hour’s radius to find one that hadn’t sold out of them. “Maybe we just need to be patient.”
Patience can be devilishly tricky to grasp at three o’clock on dark January mornings, however. The next day, Bella had rushed into her parents’ room at the same time. If our hero had wanted to check the mobile phone on his bedside table, he would have seen it was exactly the same time, 3:11. Then the following day, the same thing happened again.
“I hear Mr Goo Goo! Wooh, wooh!” she said this time.
“Look Bella,” our hero said sternly, “let’s go downstairs and see that Mr Goo Goo is sleeping on the shelf exactly where we left him.”
He turned on the landing light, pushed the stairgate open and took his daughter’s hand. The attachment between her and the toy was leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. She had screamed louder than ever before the morning she discovered Mr Goo Goo wasn’t running around because her daddy had taken its batteries out. Our hero had hurriedly put them back in, reassuring her it was an accident. As he descended down the stairs to the dark hallway, taking a step at a time and waiting for Bella to execute her careful steps, he plotted another idea. You could find articles and opinions on anything on the internet – especially when it came to reasons for cautious parenting. He could try googling ‘Is it appropriate for a two-year-old to play with a cymbal-banging monkey’ on his phone in the morning. There was sure to be somebody arguing small kids shouldn’t play with scary toys in their formative years. He could show the article to his wife, and they could plan appropriate action. Bella would hate it at first, but it would be easier to take Mr Goo Goo away now than when she is five. After a few days she would have forgotten he ever existed. And none of them would have to look at that deranged ape grin ever again.
Our hero reached for the light switch at the bottom of the stairs. The light flickered a few times and went out. Strange. He was sure he only changed that bulb a couple of months ago.
A “bang-bang-bang” from behind the living room door punctuated the silence.
Our hero’s heart skipped a beat. So his daughter was right. He heard the sound of the little cymbals again and his feet suddenly felt heavy. How could the thing be coming on at night and not falling off the shelf?
“Stay here!” he whispered to Bella, inching towards the living room door. He reached his phone out to use as a weak torch and prodded opened the door. There were no signs of movement on the living room floor.
He closed his eyes and flicked the lights on. Hearing nothing, he opened his eyes again, and looked straight to the first shelf of the cabinet where Mr Goo Goo stood, statue like. He stared into his vacant eyes and tried to deliver a look that said ‘I know what you’re up to, and I’ll show you who’s the boss around here.’
“Look Bella, Mr Goo Goo’s sleeping…” he said.
He scanned around the room, but there was no sign of anything untoward. He felt a draught underneath his robe from the cat flap the previous owners had installed in the door opening out to the garden.
He turned the light off and headed back upstairs with his daughter, knowing there was no chance he would get any more sleep that night.
It was 3:33 the following morning when our hero felt a tug on his pyjama sleeves.
“Did you hear Bella?” his wife whispered.
Our hero sighed the kind of elongated, slightly musical sigh that you can well afford to sigh when you didn’t plan on doing anything for another three and a half hours.
“I’ll go,” he said, after a few second’s wait had made it clear he should volunteer.
He went to the bedroom door thinking through the routine. Reassurance that Mr Goo Goo is sleeping and will be happy to see her in the morning after breakfast. After his Google search of its dangers had failed to yield any convincing results, he was now contemplating sabotage. A screwdriver in the battery compartment should quickly silence Mr Goo Goo from here to eternity.
“Oh Christ!” he said on seeing Bella’s bedroom door open and the stairgate swung open on its hinges.
“Honestly!” he said, running his finger over the mechanism that was supposed to lock the stairgate in place but allowed it to open with a good shove.
“What’s happened?” asked his wife, who had emerged behind him. “Good God, don’t fiddle with the damn stairgate now, go and find our daughter!”
“Sorry!” he said, racing down the stairs.
The night filled with a kind of boisterous laughter emanating from the living room that cut straight through the gloom. Then the sound of the cymbals bashing two, three then four times.
“Bella!” our hero shouted.
He swung the living room door open and stopped in his tracks. An unusually fluffy grey cat was by the cabinet – presumably by way of the cat flap – and ran its paw repeatedly over Mr Goo Goo’s cymbals, making them bang into one another.
Bella laughed another radiant laugh, pointed at the cat and said “Cathy!”
How long Cathy had been making its nocturnal visits was a mystery. As was how the stray developed the manners to wipe her paws on the doormat on the way in to leave no trace. One thing that was immediately clear was that Cathy would be one of Bella’s best friends. So much so that Bella agreed instantly to allow Cathy to take Mr Goo Goo to live in the cat basket our hero and his wife bought the next morning.