I Never Liked the Night

by Lisa Marciano
1,156 words

I never liked the night. It was too quiet. And dark. When the sun moved below our back fence, I knew bedtime wouldn’t be far away, and the dread in my stomach would begin. “Pajama time,” my mom would say so nonchalantly. I felt as though I’d just been sentenced to a fate worse than…well, I can’t even say it. Every night I’d beg my mom, “Five more minutes, just five,” and my breath would go shallow in desperation. “Please don’t make me go to bed!” My dad, always on my side, would smile at me and tell my mom, “It wouldn’t kill her, Shirley.” But I wasn’t worried about that.

Pajamas were my nemesis, forcing bedtime on me. The flannel onesie with the feetsies made me feel like I was being swaddled, and they scratched like Velcro. I’d start to panic. “Let me out.” “Stop being so dramatic,” mom would say. “They’re too tight,” I’d yell and try to squiggle out of them, but my teeny, uncoordinated fingers couldn’t get the zipper down.

“Stop it, right now!” I knew mom meant business whenever she said, “Right now.” She put her face so close to mine that I could smell the liver and onions she’d eaten for dinner. “Gross,” I thought. “Now, stop with this nighttime performance and get to bed.” I gave her my best puppy-dog eyes, like Golden Retrievers, and tears dripped down my cheeks. “You tried that on me last night and every night. It’s not going to work tonight, tomorrow night, or ever.”

I slowly climbed up the ladder to the top bunk. The wooden rods squeaked like a chihuahua getting stepped on. “Shh! You’ll wake your brother,” mom snapped.

My brother, Ben, mom’s favorite, was already asleep in the bunk below mine. He was four years younger than me, and when he slept, he looked so harmless. In the daytime, he acted like the child of a Tasmanian devil who mated with a semi-truck.

“Now, put your Keppie down and go to sleep.” I reluctantly placed my head on my pillow. It was just like the night—cold. My dad would poke his head in the door frame. “Oh, Marv, you have the worst timing. She just put her head down.” Mom would kiss me, tell me she loved me, and leave, admonishing my dad, “Don’t take too long or you’ll get her all riled up,” and she left. “It’s the perfect time to give you your goodnight kiss.” And he did. He seemed like a giant to me. “Go to sleep. Everyone is fine. I love you, Buddy. See you tomorrow.” Dad said that every night, but he was going to be wrong. So unbelievably wrong.

I always struggled to fall asleep. I’d worry about everything. And it got worse. At eight, I began my nighttime roaming, fearing the worst—that Ben, my two sisters, and my parents would stop breathing in the deep, awful night, and in the morning, they’d be dead and I’d be alone. In the middle of the night, with no one awake to stop me, I would quietly and slowly slide down the bunk bed ladder. I had to be careful not to shuffle my feet on the gray vinyl floor, or my plastic PJ feet would scrape. I would lean over Ben and listen to the sure sign that he was still breathing and still alive. I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed, but I had a mission to complete: to save my family. And though I knew the night monsters were out, I couldn’t let that stop me.

Next, I would check on my sister, Sheila. Her room was next to mine, and her door was always open for an easy entrance. I was afraid of Sheila. She was so much bigger than I was. If I woke her up, I knew she’d sit on me. I crept toward her. Even though a strand of light came through her bedroom window, I could barely see her outline. I placed my tiny hand under her nose, searching for breath. There it was: warm, in, then out, then in. I smiled and crept back to the black hallway, but then, in the dark silence, I felt the night monsters were watching me, and I wanted to turn on all the lights, but I just stood there, hyperventilating.

I forced myself back down the hall to Jenna’s room. Jenna was 16 and could turn scary at any given moment. In the daytime, if her bedroom door was open and I’d look at her, she would come at me with a knuckled fist. I prayed she wouldn’t wake up. I turned her door handle, and it made a loud click. I froze, then anxiously turned the handle the rest of the way and slowly opened her door. Nothingness. I stepped forward and stumbled over something, but caught myself. I picked it up. My hands knew right away that it was one of Jenna’s sequined mini-skirts. She hid them from Mom. I knew the path to Jenna’s bed, but my nail-bitten fingers almost touched her nose. She turned over, but she was breathing, and she had the worst breath. I backed away in the darkness, then closed her door and just stood there, searching for the courage to continue.

In the stillness, I wished I could go back to bed and put my head under the covers, safe from the night, but I had to check on mom and dad. The hall was still pitch black, so I placed my hand onthe side wall and skimmed it as I walked, and in my head I’d say, “Wall, Sheila’s bedroom, wall, bathroom door, wall, turn left.” I made it to Mom and Dad’s room. On nights I could sleep, I had recurring nightmares, but I was afraid to wake my parents. When I did, I would gently shake my mom, who would open one eye and whisper, “Go to your dad.” “No,” I’d think to myself, “not that.” Even if I barely touched my dad with my finger, he would startle and sit straight up, which would make my heart pound. Then he’d grumble, lay down, open the covers, and let me crawl inside. This night, after examining my parents for signs of life, I was so relieved that, exhausted, I laid down on the scratchy, olive-green, shaggy carpet next to their bed and slept easy for the rest of the night.

I still think back on that poor little girl. She spent her childhood walking the halls of her house, full of fear, wondering if death walked before her, always thinking about what the night might force on the morning. No. I thought, in checking on my family each night, I was protecting them from death and preventing each tomorrow from being different than each day. As if I could control that.