Copyright ©️ Tabatha Wood 2021
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First published “Sleep Worth Writing About” charity zine.
“Where do you go when you close your eyes, Mama?”
I pause and spit toothpaste into the sink. White flecks catch in the corners of my mouth.
A reflection flickers in the mirror, fleeting and unclear. Panic bounces back to me tenfold. I see wide, hollow eyes in the silver square, a shadow of something pained.
“Mama?” Insistent now, can’t be ignored. “Where do you go?”
I slot the toothbrush in its holder and step back, reaching. Grab the towel and scrub myself clean. A breath. A heartbeat. At last, I respond.
“I go where you go,” I say quietly. “Where you always go.”
“Why don’t I see you there?” Inquisitive, yet accusing.
Tread carefully now. Take care.
“Because,” I begin, the word drawn out, much slower than my racing thoughts. “I am always behind you. Watching you. Making sure you’re safe.” The word feels like glass in my throat.
I swallow hard and say, “Always.”
“So if I turn around, will I see you?”
“NO! Don’t turn around!” I don’t mean to shout, but fear gets the better of me.
The door swings open and he bursts in, rattled, still draped in the mantle of sleep.
“Hey, you okay? I heard…”
I shake my head and wave my hands, frantic.
“Everything’s fine, don’t worry,” I tell him, fighting to keep the edge out of my voice. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
I see his eyes flicker to the corner of the room and his face goes tight and pale.
“Again?” he whispers, “but she’s…” and I speak over him before he can go on.
“Oh boy, I could really use a coffee right now. Could you be a darling and maybe get that started? I’ll clean up and be right out.”
“Coffee?” he says, deep furrows in his brow. “It’s nearly 3 a.m. Oh…”
I see the realisation smack into him like a concrete block hurled into the base of his skull. He leaves the room without saying another word.
I sigh and fold the towel back on the rail. “Yes?”
“You look tired, Mama. You should get some rest.”
I chew my lip and force myself to smile.
“You shouldn’t worry yourself about things like that,” I say. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Go back to bed, sweetie. I’ll come and check in on you in a bit.” I deliver the lie with ease.
“Okay, Mama. But don’t be too long.”
I see movement, feel a draught, catch an echo in the mirror. I grip the edge of the basin and vomit. Grey chunks swirl across the porcelain and gather in the holes of the drain. I turn on the tap and try to swill them down, but the water isn’t strong enough to force them. I push them with my finger, easing them through the gaps.
Even though I know it’s food, part digested and expelled, all I can think of is how it looks like brain matter, spilled on the road, and I…
“I’ll be waiting for you, Mama. When you close your eyes. I’ll turn around and we can see each other. Okay?”
I smell the coffee brewing in the other room. “Okay, sweetie,” I say, as I blink back tears, my body thrumming with terrified exhaustion “I promise. I’ll see you soon.”