She was so tired. So tired of the same old routine, especially the bedtime routine, so that occasionally she’d rebel against it. Not that she didn’t love her son, and that time shared reading and cuddling together, because of course, she did. But it was more the expectation of it that would start to weigh her down, so that sometimes, she just couldn’t do it. Sometimes, she’d just sit on the couch with a novel in her hands, and it was as if a boulder in her lap pinned her down so she physically could not get up and start the bedtime, as if the words on the page were anchors tied to her eyes and she could not pull away.
Her son would run around wild, jump off the couch, or watch too many videos and eat too much junk, which is what he was doing now, devouring the last of his Halloween candy. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it was late, and she’d think that eventually, soon, he’d wind down and collapse, and it must be way past bedtime, though she was too afraid to check the time. She’d just sit and read and wait for him to stop. She had a small marble of guilt in the back of her throat as she sat with her book, her little selfish pleasure, devouring the words, already 86 pages into it after one day. The marble gets a little bigger when her son turns off the TV, turns to his mother and says, “Mom, I’m tired.”
“So go to sleep,” she mutters.
“What about a story?” he pouted as he climbed into her lap. In his fleece, footie pajamas, the kind that zipped from toe to neck, he was more her baby than the 6 ½ year-old-boy he was by day. “Can you read me a booky?” he asked. Always that “y” ending he would do that melted her heart. “Mommy I need a drinky...where’s my blanky....I need my backpacky...” or any thingy, and she’d oblige. After all, how long does this cuteness really last?
“Okay, just one page, honey. It’s really late and mommy’s reading her own book right now.”
“Can we sleep down here?” he asks, excited, snuggled on her lap on the couch downstairs in the living room, pulling up the purple, crocheted blanket her mother had made years ago.
“Sure, honey. You lay down on my lap and go to sleep,” she says, helping her son adjust a pillow under his head.
He hands her his new book, the one she bought him at the Book Fair at his school earlier that evening, the one she knew he’d picked out only because it came with a shiny, gold keychain thing. He was like a bird, she thought, attracted to little shiny objects he’d collect, as if to use them to build a home.
“The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure,” she started. She looked at him, his eyes heavy, his soft, still-tan skin and flaxen hair so smooth and soft and pure, she is overwhelmed to touch it all, and so she does. She strokes his cheek with first the back of her hand and then the front. He’s holding an enormous brown teddy bear, aptly named “Beary.” She drinks him in, both the sight of him and the feel of him, all fleece and soft and cuddly. “Mom, are you readin’?”
“Chapter one.” And so she reads the first few pages while casually stealing glances at him, his eyes getting heavier, his little face relaxing more and more, and she knows he is so close to falling asleep, his head on the pillow next to her lap, his body draped across hers. She stops reading and says “That’s it for now,” marks the page and closes the book.
He is so tired he doesn’t even object, just turns his head to the side and closes his strikingly green/grey eyes. She’d always wondered where he got those eyes, her own eyes a dark brown. She picks up her own book and resumes reading about a wife who lost her husband, she resumes stroking her son’s forehead and hair and cheekbone, and she sees that tiny, almost opaque freckle at the top of his hairline, the one that seems as if it must be a fleck of dirt, as the rest of his skin is so smooth and freckle-free. So she rubs the spot over and over, gently, though she knows it will not rub away, still, she strokes it in that way a mother tries to smooth away the impurities of life for her son, and it’s now that his breathing slows, shifts to something deeper and more sonorous, and just like that, he’s asleep.
He’s perfect, she thinks, with that freckle still there, his pink lips so shapely, like hers but smaller, a golden sheen over his olive complexion and golden hair. Too bad his father chooses to miss out on this, she thinks. And it is this moment she notices a shift in her own mood, an even heavier weight fills her chest than the one she was refusing to acknowledge when she ignored the bedtime routine that night in favor of reading her novel; an even heavier boulder now rests in her lap and ties her down. This, she thinks, is a different kind of lonely.