I finish cutting the crusts off of Toby's peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drop a handful of baby carrots onto the plate. Perfect. I look at the finished meal, and concentrate on it - forming a vivid image in my head.
I hear Toby's footsteps on the stairs.
He comes around the corner at top speed, radiating gratitude at me. He's such a good boy. Still, a little privacy is good for both of us so I put on my helmet - I only wear it when we're in the same room, but poor Toby has to wear his all the time. He looks up from his already half-eaten meal and smiles, peanut butter smeared at the corners of his mouth. I would have thought that his helmet couldn't have fit any more stickers, but it looks like he found a spot for a new one - a dinosaur on a skateboard.
"Okay kiddo, after this is naptime, and then the rest of the afternoon is yours. What do you want to do?"
The response is muted, muffled first by his helmet and then by mine, so I get something that's almost a regular sentence rather than a full sensory experience. He wants to go to the zoo. Oh boy.
"Buddy, you remember what happened last time?"
He nods, and I can feel his sadness. It wasn't his fault, and nobody was hurt, but having all the primates freeze in place and stare in Toby's direction - regardless of the concrete walls in the way - freaked out the zookeepers pretty bad. They had asked, politely, if I could keep him away after that.
"How about a hike? Get out in nature? That's kind of like a zoo."
He agrees to a nice quiet nature walk once I promise some ice cream will be waiting at the end. With minimal whining he heads upstairs to take his nap, and I settle into my recliner. He can't sleep with the helmet on, so I focus on soothing images that won't keep him awake. The beach, mostly. Waves, gently sweeping across the sand. A sunset glowing red on the water. Sleep. Sleep. I can feel it as he passes out, like a slight pressure has lifted off of me. The weight of his thoughts that can be felt throughout the house. I take my helmet off and recline the chair, waiting. It should be any minute now that the show starts. While I wait, I think about the facility we used to live at. Those horrible days of tests and needles and... but that's over now. Toby made sure of that. He was so young, but even then he was gentle with them. He could have killed them once I broke out of my cell and pulled Toby's helmet off. Could have utterly destroyed them. Instead, my sweet baby just made them all forget. They all smiled and helped us pack, helped us delete files, helped us burn the facility to the ground. And then, minds blank as children, they wandered away.
It's starting. He's all the way asleep now.
The walls seem to melt, sunlight streaming in. Fields of grass and flowers sway in an unfelt breeze, and what appear to be tigers fly smoothly through the clouds. I relax, and recline further - it doesn't look like there will be any nightmares today. Swaddled in my son's dreams, I begin to drift off myself.