The monster crawls out of my cupboard. It has enormous white teeth, like a crocodile. Its eyes are red diamonds. It is going to eat me. I want Mummy, but she doesn’t come. The monster climbs up my bed. It chews my covers. It wants me more.
She hears me this time. She climbs into bed and gives me a cuddle
“The monsters have gone,” she says. “Look, Alice is asleep. You’re safe. It’s four o’clock in the morning. Time to sleep now.”
I doze in her arms.
“What? What?” A body falls across my bed, waking me up from a dream I cannot recall. For a moment, I’m five again, and the monster is climbing the bed. Then I realise this body is human. It is heavy. It smells of alcohol and cigarettes. It is Alice. She giggles.
“Tripped on your bag. Shouldn’t leave bags on the floor. Interfere with stiletto heels.” She tries to rise and then falls back on me. I sit up and push her off me. I look at the clock.
“It’s 4 o’clock in the morning.”
“Sshsshshssh. Don’t tell Mum. Don’t tell Dad. SShhhsssh. Good girl. Back at midnight.Shhhshshhsh.”
“Go to bed will you? I’ve got a test in the morning.”
She staggers across the room, sinks under her covers fully clothed. I could help. I should help. But I cannot move now. My bed is cosy and warm. She’ll be all right. I turn over and go back to sleep.
I can’t get comfortable. This bed is too small for two. His legs are too long, his torso too broad. Every time I move I cannon into another heavy limb. He’s sleeping soundly, emitting the occasional snore. He is oblivious to the movements of my body. I glance over at his digital clock. It blinks red letters at me 4:00. I realise I am wide awake.
We haven’t drawn the curtains and a shaft of moonlight is shining on the bedside lamp. His face is in in the shadows, but as I lie here, I can study the contours. His large Laurel ears are suggestive of imminent wiggling, even in sleep. His nose is perfectly straight until just above the nostrils. That slight wonkiness was what first drew me to his face. His lips are just the right side of fleshy. His chin, strong, but not too rigid.
In the blurred hours between sleep and waking, the sight of him is all the rest I need. I look at him for hours.
A wail wakes me. Again. It seems like only a moment since I put her in her cradle. My eyes will not open. My body is stiff. My night-shirt is wet with milk. Iain turns over and shoves me.
“Baby’s crying,” he mutters. As if I didn’t know. I am screaming with tiredness. I push my body up the bed, forcing my eyelids apart. Molly is building up a storm now. I sit up, and turn to the edge of the bed.
“Mummy’s coming. I’m coming.” Useless words. All she wants is the milk, but I can’t move fast enough.
I switch on the lamp and look down at my watch. Two hours since the last feed at 2am. This child is voracious. I pick her up, and move back to the bed, plumping the pillows up with one hand. Two days ago, I’d sit and marvel at this tiny creation, her black spiky hair and little round mouth. Now, I’m just anxious to get the job done and back to sleep. I sit back down and pull her to my breast, trying to remember the midwife’s words. Make sure she has the area around the nipple in her mouth. It’s not as easy as it looks. Her mouth is wide open with her piercing shriek, but it slips off my breast. Once. Twice. Three times.
“For God’s sake,” says Iain.
“I’m trying my best.” This time she clamps hard on my nipple and draws blood. I yelp, but at least she’s on. She begins to gargle the milk down as if it is days since her last feed. Iain turns over in relief, and is soon asleep and snoring.
I, on the other hand, will be here for some time.
“MUMMY!” Oh God. It’s the third time this week.
“Your turn,” grunts Iain, I hope not triumphantly.
I stagger out of bed, wishing we hadn’t opened that third bottle. My mouth is dry. I’m going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning. Molly is sitting up in her bed, staring in terror at the wall.
“The monster. The monster. It’s climbing out at me.”
“Shh,shh.” I rock her to and fro. I’m exhausted, yet now I’m here, I love to enclose her body in mine, feel her limbs gradually relax as the dream recedes. Her hair smells lemony, her pyjamas are soft.
“You’re safe,” I say. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Time to sleep now.”
She dozes in my arms.