After eight

At night the house is quiet. Our house is never quiet, except at night. Our beleaguered downstairs neighbour takes a deep breath, probably, and goes to light a cigarette, definitely: the smoke drifts up through our open window.

I tend to sag once the boys are down. The relentless pressure of being everything to these two squashy bodies all day leaves a dent that takes hours to fade. I go through our rooms without my little satellites just to feel the silence pressing on my ears. Their stuff is everywhere, everywhere we’ve been. A visitor wouldn’t have any trouble working out who lives here, and how I feel generally about housework. There’s a pair of tiny moccasins underfoot when I sit down on the loo, and an abandoned, mournful-looking stuffed dog on my bedroom floor. Sir Prance-a-lot is parked up by my bedtime reading. It feels like they’ve left bits of themselves behind, and for a second it always makes me feel bereft. Which is ludicrous, frankly.

We check in on them before bed. I can forgive those vulnerable faces anything while they’re sleeping, and since most days I have to, this is usually when I do it. We untangle limbs and push hair off foreheads while they breathe and dream of brightly-coloured somethings. Then we go upstairs, leaving their things where they sit, where they wait all the quiet night to be claimed and discovered and loved again in the morning.

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