Stories Told At Night
It’s winter and her parents are drinking. Not much. Just brandy. Nice brandy. In small green tinted glasses bought in Florence. Maybe Rome. The family can’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not much. It’s been a long day, and dad needs a drink. And mom needs a drink. And the children are in bed. Both of them. One boy and one girl in bed. I know because father says, in brown winter pants in his big green chair made of plush covered fabric and veneer wooden rests, “Are the children in bed?”
“Yes,” mother replies. And smiles. Weighed back into her green plush chair with brown wooden arms. “Yes” she says again and drinks her drink. In small winter sips. And smiles at father, who smiles at her.
As I leave the room.
The children are upstairs. Both of them. One and two. Boy and girl. I look in at the boy first. With long blackened lashes. Who doesn’t dream. And breathes cold breaths with a husk in his air, caught in his throat. But I don’t like the sound, so I close the door.
And wait for a second. And open the door. And look at the girl. Who isn’t asleep. With blonde red hair, turning dark at the roots. She is lying on her stomach with a flashlight on, tucked under her sheets. I can’t see what she has, so edge in the door to take a closer look.
The girl is fifteen. Maybe more.
She has a small wristwatch. Painted gold. With time in Roman numerals and a battery that’s dead. And three dollar bills. And a small wooden duck. I wait to see what she will do, but she doesn’t do much. Just turns them over and over in her hands and hums herself a song.
A sad song. Maybe. Or just a song, and I’m sad hearing it, because things hummed at night seem eerie and further away from where I stand. So I walk closer where her light is and sit down beside her.
The girl smiles at me and pulls her sheets closer around her. A small tight pod, like a pocket of air caught under plastic. And hums, while I tell her a story about people who mourn things that haven’t yet happened. Like the death of someone still alive, and the people who will leave you who are still right here.
A train whistle calls in the middle of the night.
Long and sad and eerie away from where we sit. And the girl stops listening and listens to the train. And the girl stops humming and sits up straight, her arms on the window, her knees on her bed.
I’m done with my story and watch to see what she’ll do. The train calls again and the girl shivers in her gown and tucks her toes under her feet. She looks at me and smiles; a goodbye before she’s gone. As I know she will go. And I know where she’s going. Where she goes late at night, when train whistles blow and parents fall asleep in big winter chairs to the sound of the night wrapped around empty green glasses brought back from Florence or Rome long ago. She’ll go to the roof and sit on the edge, with her back to the house, wrapped up in blankets three layers thick. And listen to the sound of trains in the night. Creeping further. Getting older. Edging out. Shingle by shingle, night by night, getting closer to the sounds that pull her from her bed moving fast and dark and free.
As I watch from inside.
And tuck everything in as a story to tell, of train whistles calling in the middle of the night. And I stand up tall against the floor and crawl into bed where the sheets are still warm, and pull the covers up over my head.
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Portland Fiction Project
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