by Elisabeth Alain
My eyes flick open to the blue-dark, to my fast breath and heartbeat, to my ready legs. I listen for the source of the disturbance but hear nothing. I narrow my eyes to search for half-light behind the curtains, but outside the night is black.
It was always this way. I would stir in the middle of the night to feel a palm or a foot pressing through the roundness of my body into the mattress, urging me to haul us over to the cold side. Months later, you would wake me with your loud, insistent cries for milk or comfort, with your quiet snuffles, changes in the rhythm of your breath, a roll from right to left and back again. The brush of your tiny fingers against cot railings.
Older, and past total dependency, you roused me with each stretch and wriggle, your sleep disturbed by a stripe of sunlight finding its way through blinds, or by a cold morning demanding warm covers. A bad dream jolting you awake with a clammy brow and panicked tears. By the time you called out for me I would be halfway across the landing, rushing on hushed tiptoes to calm you with soft hands, to whisper reassurance in your ear. To quieten you, before you could wake him, to defend our safe hours.
I sense you before I hear you. I sleep through thunderstorms, sirens, a heavy knock on the front door, but wake with a silent scrunch of your nose.
I walk to your empty bedroom, sit in my nightdress on your made bed. Placing a hand on your folded pyjamas, I think of you giggling at the trousers, riding up your shins, the top rising over your tummy as you raise your arms up and out. Way too small, but then you never could let your favourite things go.
They said I couldn’t keep you safe. I pleaded, showing them the smashed hall mirror, the broken Special Mummy mug I couldn’t bear to throw away, bald patches from hair ripped out in chunks, the scar of a split lip. Evidence of what I had let him damage instead of you.
A restraining order keeps me safe now and you’re in another house, with another Special Mummy. People with thick folders visit me, offer advice and sympathetic nods, but their eyes shoot blame my way for protecting him, you, myself, and everyone I never told. They say I have to prove I understand. That there’s a course I can do where I’ll learn how. I say I’ll try anything. Maybe then you can come home. I can get you some bigger pyjamas and you can put your toys back on the shelf, sit your teddies back on the bed.
I tell them I don’t know how I could have done any different. They say I need to wake up.
Elisabeth Alain lives in Worcestershire, raising two daughters and writing short stories and poetry. Her work has appeared in various places in print and online, including The Cabinet of Heed, Dear Damsels, Black Country Arts Foundry, poetry anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying and Hypertrophic Literary. Find her at elisabethalain.wordpress.com or on Twitter @ElisaWrites.