The following is a piece of fiction I wrote after helping my kids to sleep. It was a weekend night and they thought it would be fun to sleep in the same room. I call it fiction because I wrote it in the third person, and also I took some creative liberties with the actual situation. Remember, if you like what you read here, think about supporting this blog through Patreon.
Three in the bed.
The boy was not yet 11. The girl had just turned 5. The man was older. At least he seemed like a man at nights, when it was time for the boy and girl to sleep. Most other times during the day, he was more like another boy in the house as he bounded through the world. Sure, he could drive and he could pay for things. Sure, his face was always bristly, and it smelled of apple brut and sweat. But in reality, he was not much different than the other two, with their daily intensity, and the propensity for play.
But not at bedtime.
When it was time for the boy and girl to go to bed, the man’s voice seemed to deepen and his eyes went from a cheerful blue to the profound, tormented uncolor of a stormy night sea. By this time, the man’s scruffy face was thick with prickles that extended from his graying sideburns down his neck until they seemed to fade into his skin.
The girl was the more restful of the two children. For her, it wasn’t so much that sleep was enjoyable really; rather, it was like sleep was comforting and necessary. Or maybe it was comforting in its necessity. For the girl, sleep was something she was supposed to do to grow up. And all she wanted to do at 5 years old was grow up. The man wished she never would; he knew the rolling rocky hills of life were not as pleasant as she envisioned. She believed fairies and princesses and Mickey Mouse adventures were abundant in adulthood. The man encouraged these beliefs, but knew that at some point, life would squash fairytales like the reality of a boot on a butterfly.
The boy was the more impulsive one. He despised sleep. Sleep, to him, was a waste of time. Why sleep when you could be concentrating? Why sleep when you could be riding roller coasters in your mind, or imagining – building, even – the water slides of the future? So the boy tumbled and talked.
“Daddy!?” the boy whipped, almost frantically.
The man let out a long, rustling sigh. “What?”
“I love you,” the boy said in a soft voice.
The man felt guilty for the sigh. “I love you too,” he replied. The boy’s sincere affection reminded the man that the boy thought the world was mostly good. He was 10 now, and growing quickly, but the boy could still see a dry, crusty field as a glorious playground. The man wanted the boy to hold on to that optimism, no matter what. Even when everything around the boy would turn dreary and unforgiving – and it would at some point or another, because that’s what life has in store for everyone – the man had hopes that the boy would keep seeing everything as a joyous place to play.
“I love you, daddy,” the girl said. She was always copying the boy.
“Love you too,” the man replied as he wrapped his arm around the girl. “Alright now.”
“I love you,” the boy said to the girl.
“I love you too,” she whispered back in a mumble. By now, her right thumb had made its way to her mouth, where it would stay until her dreams pushed it out.
“I love you,” she mumbled to the boy.
“Love you too,” he giggled out.
“Everybody loves everybody,” the man said. “Alright, alright.”
She put her hand on the boy’s ear and gently stroked the lobe. The boy pushed her hand away.
“Uhhhhhhmmmmm,” the girl said.
“Daddy?” the boy whipped again.
“What?” the man said.
The girl sniffled. “He won’t let me rub his ear.”
“It’s his ear,” the man told her. “He doesn’t have to let you rub it if he doesn’t want to.”
“Ok,” the girl mumbled as she removed her hand from the boy’s ear. In an attempt to get comfortable, she spun in a 360 degree twirl that slinked away all the covers. Without a word, the boy pulled the sheet over the girl’s chest. The man followed with the blanket.
Now the girl was snuggled into the man’s chest. He could hear the rhythmic squeak her mouth made as it sucked her thumb. She used her other hand to gently rub the man’s forearm. He could tell she was falling asleep because the back-and-forth, back-and-forth got slower and slower. This also had an almost hypnotic effect on the man. His original intention was not to sleep yet; rather it was to help the children sleep so that he may have a sliver of time to himself before his lids shut out the world. But the girl’s mild stroke against his arid skin – the stroke that ever-so-gradually slowed as she drifted – this was his sandman, his soft music, his meditative whisper in the still night. And he slept.
The boy had held his eyes closed long enough to build islands of playgrounds and theme parks in his mind. Somehow, the roaring coasters and slippery tunnels were his sleeping potion, and he lightly waded in the shallows of his consciousness, entering and exiting sleep like Caribbean waters on a lagoon shore.
The girl was almost asleep, her hand barely moving against the man’s skin. It would only be one last subtle prod into comfort before she would be the final slumberer of the three. A soft twitch. A slight judder into the perfect position, which was her back against the man’s chest and her thumb in her mouth. She was almost there as she quietly crept her other hand outward and landed it softly on the boy’s ear.
As she coasted to sleep, the restless boy felt her hand.