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The heat clicked on and she jolted awake. So close to slipping away from herself, but now she was done for. It was late, much later than when her Daddy had tucked her in, but not late enough for him to be getting ready for work. Sometimes waking up in the dark was thrilling, especially when the secret bits of grownup mornings came with it: coffee from the kitchen and Irish Spring from the bathroom; Mom’s keys sliding off the dining room table and into her purse; low talking near the back door and the reluctant engine while the car was warming. This was the world of Good Dark she knew and loved, as she spied on her parents without ever leaving her room. How clever she would be when Mom came in to wake her up!  She would keep her eyes closed, but not too tightly, or Mom would know she was really awake and just faking. Stifling the giggles bubbling up from her belly, that was the hardest part of the game. The trick was not to think about not laughing. She’d learned that long ago, at least two years, maybe even before she went to Kindergarten.

She turned her mind from laughing to sleep-breathing. Low, slow, and even, sleep-breathing was very different from awake-breathing. She knew this from listening to her big brother when he napped on the couch after school. He slept as heavily as she imagined an ogre might, with one arm pinned under himself and the other spilling over the front of the couch, his face mashed into the cushion and sweating heavily. When he finally roused himself, usually to pee, she would use the precious minutes to slip onto the couch herself. She liked to snuggle in the warmth in the cushions and, though Mom complained that he “practically bathed in the shit,” the cologne smell he left behind made her nose feel tingly. If things went really well and she tried hard, she might even tickle out a sneeze.

Was it afternoon now? Her eyelids were so heavy, she was forgetting about being careful. No. Night light. Bed. Muted dark all over. Creeping around for her Bun-Bun, her small hands found the stuffed rabbit balled up underneath her. Holding her breath, she slid him out slowly, slowly. Nothing under the bed or in the mirror would know Breathe In--even if it was watching which probably it wasn’t it was probably only listening but it wouldn’t hear because she was sleep-breathing and being careful Breathe Out-- always careful in the Bad Dark.  

Slow, low, even. She had practiced this many times before, the breathing and sliding, and she knew she could. Certainly she was learning to hold her breath longer and when the pressure built up and it was too much and her lungs might just burst like a paper lunch sack she let it OUT through her nose and never her mouth.

This much, at least, she had learned. Parting her lips and pushing air out through her teeth made noise and could be seen. But only she could hear the sleep-breathing coming out of her nose. And now she had Bun-Bun tucked right where she liked him, just under her chin and safely hidden by the blanket wrapped around her head. Friends at sleepovers teased her for sleeping this way. They called her the Virgin Mary, but she didn’t care. This way she was safe, and Bun-Bun was warm like the afternoon couch because she kept him next to her all night.

Virgin Mary. She had heard of people who said they’d been visited by Jesus, Mary, and other holy names she knew she had heard before but could not now remember. When she asked Sister about it, she learned that such a visit would be a great gift from God and a very rare one, too, and that most of those people were probably just making it all up. Nightly she prayed to these characters in the stories she’d known since being a little baby, but the thought of one visiting—all that terrible light and the shame she would feel for being afraid—it was too much to bear. The blanket jumped in time with her pulse and now she prayed, not the prayers she said at night with Daddy but the unpracticed thought kind she had to make up then and there, or who would save her? She considered a sign of the cross (How did God know the difference between where just thinking ended and praying began without the sign of the cross?) but decided against it, for surely the sign of the cross could be seen, and there was still the being careful.

Please don’t let them see the blanket move God oh God not me not for me I’m not ready don’t send anyone in here God I can’t oh please oh please oh please. I’m sorry I love you God oh thank you God I’m sorry but please God thank you.

Her eyes fell on the mirror which she knew, just knew was the door. That was how they would come, because when you look in a mirror you’re supposed to see yourself and God made us in his image so that was how they’d get in. It must be so. She’d never liked that mirror in her room, not ever, but Mom insisted that one day she’d thank her for hanging it on the back of the closet door. Now she was hot and scared and had to pee and sleep breathing was out and so was being careful. By now they were watching her anyway and could come through the mirror door any time they liked. Stinging light would flood her eyes, even in the corners, and it would be too late to run next door to Mom and Dad.

Blanket and Bun-Bun behind her, she jumped to the floor. It was cold and hard but smooth too, and turning on the balls of her bare feet, she elicited a sharp squeal from the wood that left her reeling as she ran out the door to the bathroom. She knew from experience that the dash underfoot went wood, wood, wood, wood, carpet, carpet, carpet, tile, safe. Eight steps and then a hand groping above her on the wall, the same one that always found Bun-Bun, this hand would find the light switch and then she was home free. After the toilet she would curl up against the heat register, hugging her knees to her chest, and rock until her arms ached and then finally be ready to go back to bed.

In the next room, her mother turned over. Again with this running to the bathroom?  That last glass of water every night. That had to stop. Kids love to buy time before lights out, but one of these nights she was going to wet the bed.


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Short Story
writing Stephaniefiger
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A short untitled story about a little girl who can't fall asleep
A Word from the Writer
This is the first piece I have written in a LONG time! I'm not really going anywhere with this, so comment and criticize at will.
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