The Nighttime Routine
So dark! The moon hidden and the clouds laid thickly on top of the stars, the whole sky filled with the pulled gauze of clouds. Because it’s Texas, it’s still hot, the heat of the day still heavy on her skin, sweat skimming across her upper lip. She sits, chasing mosquitoes off of her legs, away from her face, her hands swirling around and around. A small cloud of them settles over the fur of the dog whose small body is laid out next to her chair. Inside the house, her two boys are sleeping, or they are supposed to be sleeping. When they were little she had carefully placed baby monitors with cameras in their room so that she would always know what they were doing, sending pictures of the screen to her husband at work with captions like—“He’s standing!” or “Still not sleeping!” Now, that they were older and could get out of their beds, the things were useless, either disconnected or the lens pointing towards the ceiling.
Tonight, after coming downstairs, she had heard the little one’s door opening and closing, opening and closing. Heard his footsteps across the floor of the game room, heard him jumping across the worn-out springs of the loveseat that was shoved into the corner. Finally, she had seen him sitting at the top of the stairs in a miniature chair that he had dragged from his room. He had sat there, smiling, and when she had told him in her most firm voice to, “go back to bed,” he had laughed and laughed. She had drawn her eyes into a squint and pursed her lips and instead of going to bed he had started down the stairs, shouting about a missing stuffed toy, a missing car. She had let him search, helped him even. They had looked through the toy bins, under each couch, in the drawers of the coffee table where he liked to stuff his things every time they were open. But, had found nothing, so she had taken him back up to his room, set him in his crib with a kiss, and promised him she would look for his things. “And please, in the meantime, close your eyes and go to sleep,” she had said.
A few minutes later, he was there again, perched in his chair at the top of the stairs. “I want Daddy!” he had told her, but Daddy had sent a text message hours ago, “Be home late!” So, once again, she had gone up the stairs, gathered his body to her and put him back in his crib.
“Daddy will be home soon!” she told him. “Daddy will give you a kiss when he gets here! Please go to sleep. Okay?” she had asked. He had nodded, but as soon as she made it back downstairs, she had heard the small thud of his body hitting the ground again, heard the creak of his opening door. So, she had slipped outside, closing the door behind her as quietly as she could, the doorknob turned and held in her hand until the thing was firmly closed.
Now, she sits on their dark patio with the dog and the mosquitoes. She texts her husband. “The youngest one will not go to sleep. He wants you.” She can hear the thumping bass of a car on the street, hear the erratic barking of the dog a few houses down. Her phone stays dark. She checks the glass door for a little face pressed against it, for little hands pounding and shouting for “Mommy!” There’s nothing. Just the empty interior of their living room, a handful of Matchbox cars scattered across the tile. When she goes back inside, she finds the littlest one passed out on the top of the stairs, arms dangling down the steps. Once again, she gathers his body to hers (so much heavier asleep!) and places him back in his crib, surrounded by his toys and stuffed animals and books.