Too deep. Too long.
Sylvie in her quilted bed.
Try to sleep. Go to sleep. Quickly now! Go to sleep.
Outside is all brown branches, cold blue sky. Wind and yellow marsh and rattling cattails.
[Upstairs. In the attic. Old books and pens and clouds of sweet black tobacco. Grandpa walking back and forth and back and forth. Shiny shoes squeak, tattered cuffs drag—creak-swish, swish-creak. Clears his throat, coughs.
Never talks aloud. Never says a word.]
Clatter and splash in the kitchen and the flick of a rag. Herbal tea steams, the yellow cover of Mommy’s library book crackles open. New baby whimpers in her bassinet. Cars zoom by.
Sylvie sneaks her thumb into her mouth. Peeks at the room. Purple rug, scattered wooden beads, little plastic people. Glossy-eyed rocking horse. Sun makes a yellow line on the wall, the bed. Tucks her face against her stuffed dog.
Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
Daddy’s at work. Teaching and teaching. In the evening he comes up the front stairs two at a time, thump thump, Brut on his shirt collar, bus exhaust in his cold coat. Dinner is ready. Wonderful sounds. Wonderful smells. Sound and smells and afternoon over.
Nothing to be afraid of.
Nothing is waiting for her.
Nothing has dirty yellow sleeves and stained yellow fingers. Nothing has breath like mushrooms.
Oh go to sleep! Don’t think about it.
Remember last summer? Daddy took her to the stream. Tall grass. Hot sand. And bugs. Look, he said. Look: thin legs, skating on the stream—skating not drowning. Rocks sink down but water bugs glide across.
Sylvie can glide too. Clear across the afternoon, safe and sound. She won’t sigh yawn cry look around, just glide.
Because if she doesn’t?
Splash fall drown. Straight to the bottom.
[creak-swish, swish-creak Stop.
Where? Back steps.
Curl tight around her knitted knees, thick tights. Won’t take them off. Nice and warm. Close her eyes hard. Breathe slow. Curl up like a bug.
Do you want to be gone forever! Go to sleep! Quilt up to her ears.
Nothing in the hall.
The door doesn’t open. Nothing wheezes.
Nothing sees her.
Because, Ha! She isn’t there!
Because she flies away floats above her little bed her small room her tiny house flies like a pink balloon in the blue sky higher and higher into nothing. Because she crosses deep deep clear waters in a frail and graceful slide beneath hot green leaves and between warm gray rocks light as air and doesn’t sink into nothing because she is Not There.
Because she is asleep and
nothing makes the bed [creak-sink] and takes her leg and pulls her straight down into the water
nothing fills her ears her nose nothing stings and makes her choke and gag nothing makes her cry bubbles that burst silently
nothing is there while Mommy reads and Daddy is away at work and baby yawns she is alone with nothing and
nothing says one word.
Because nothing can touch her while she sleeps the yellow afternoon away.
The bright sun is down, the bright moon is up. The room is dark and afternoon is over.
And nothing happened.
Did she wet the bed? Mommy will be mad.
Bitter and fishy smell, sticky as the mud at the bottom of the water. Shiver. Better fix it. Slip from the bed and pull the quilt up. Tights go into the hamper. Use the wipes and stuff them under the baby’s diapers.
New tights, clean and warm and dry. Are they on backwards? Oh well. Turn the feet around.
[Upstairs. Swish-creak, swish-creak. Back and forth. Cough.
Never says a word.]
Out of the dark room and into the hall. Blinking. Tangled hair. Golden lamplight flooding from the kitchen. Baking bread, fried peppers and tomatoes.
Oh, you slept a long time, honey. Give your sister her rattle. Want to set the table? Get the stool!
Smooth bowls in her hands. Fork goes on the left.
The clock chimes five o’clock. Afternoon is gone! Evening is here. Wind howls at the corners of the house. Quick and happy steps coming up the stairs. Two at a time. Daddy’s home!
She is glad and jumps to him. Hi Daddy! Everything is ok now.
Nothing goes [creak-swish] upstairs.
Because afternoon is gone, and afternoon is gone, and afternoon is gone!
Gone and nothing happened.
Shelley K. Davenport lives and writes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her stories have been published by Everyday Fiction, The Eastern Iowa Review, Fiction on the Web, Misery Tourism, and the COLD HARD TYPE anthologies. She can be found at www.shelleykdavenport.com