As his mother turned out the light and said goodnight, the boy burrowed under his shark motif covers and twisted the tattered soft strip of cloth around the base of his pudgy finger before inserting the crook of his right pointer finger into his mouth.
A thin strip of liquid flannel was all that was left of “Mankie,” but it still helped loosen the tightness in his chest that settled there every night after his mom turned off the light. Mankie’s frayed edges and threadbare material pulled and strained to stay together, to keep a promise, as the boy would wrap him tightly around his free pointer. The boy liked to wrap Mankie so tight that the top of his finger would go tingly and numb. Then he would tap the top of the purpling finger with his other hand to feel the sensation in the tip that would drain away as Mankie was slowly un-twirled. Night after night, Mankie faithfully partook in this bedtime ritual, tethering the boy to the warmth and familiarity that came with day.
Mankie was a gift to his mother at his baby shower and came wrapped in boldly striped tissue-paper, set delicately in a glossy bright-red box from some obscure store in Soho. His mom got lots of blankets at that baby shower. He was the fourth child and the first boy in his family, and everyone wanted to swathe him in traditional manly coverlets that would safeguard his testosterone. The blankets were expensive—fluffy, silky, or hand-knit by some relative or woman in a foreign country. They all came in some shade of blue with white trim, white with blue trim, white and blue stripes, all inevitably blue and white in some combination or another so as best celebrate the fact that this child had a penis. Or, at the very least, herald to the world that this bald, androgynous baby was of the male persuasion—a big tough man … or so to-be.
Mankie, however, was not blue and white, or fluffy, or silky, or even hand-knit. Mankie was tan flannel with bright red trim stitched around the edges. Best of all, Mankie was big. Bigger than the other blankets, and liquidy soft. The flannel was thin and malleable, and the boy’s mom liked it most of all for swaddling because of it’s generous size and seeming ability to mold completely to her boy’s beefy proportions without asphyxiating him. The soft thin flannel had a bit of natural friction that held the boy in without the tucking and pinning necessary for other blankets. The end result was perfect. To the boy’s mother, stylish masculinity. To the boy, a soft, snug cocoon of security and peace. His pliable armor against the strange and stimulating world around him.
As the boy got older, and no longer liked the confinement of swaddling, Mankie became more of a companion. A reminder to the boy of the security he had felt as a baby, and a reminder to his mother of the security she could once so simply provide.
Mankie was the boy’s favorite blanket and took him everywhere. Well, everywhere in the house. Not to the store. Not anymore. Mankie had accompanied the boy on a recent trip to the market where another older boy saw the boy twirling and chewing on Mankie. The older boy laughed and grabbed Mankie, stuffing it on a shelf between the Cheerios and Corn Chex. Mankie was retrieved and the older boy was scolded, but his mother thought it was best to leave Mankie home from now on. The boy tentatively agreed as the fresh hot tears dried on his cheeks.
But she wouldn’t take it away at home. Not just yet. The boy was older now—bigger. He had big boy ways and she couldn’t contain that—certainly not with a thin piece of flannel. So, at bedtime, instead of swaddling, she tucked her big boy into his big boy bed and placed Mankie into his outstretched eager hands so he could curl it around his fingers, feel the liquid softness moving along the webbing of his man-cub hands, and twist his blanket, and himself, into a curled up ball of contentment.One boy. One blanket. One.