Saturday, February 2, 2008


I navigate the cluttered floor by touch, placing each foot carefully, and trace the edge of the bed with one hand, until I reach the far wall. In darkness I fumble for the lamp, whose time yellowed shade once stood on my father’s bedside table. It fills the room with earthy, mellow light. Near evening’s end, one door removed from the chaos and noise of the rest of the house, this room is a sanctuary of stillness.

I slide a drowsy Arlo from my arms to the bed. He twists his round baby-body to stare, mesmerized, at the wind chime dangling behind my left shoulder. I jingle the chimes as I turn away and survey the work to be done.

Throughout the day I spend much of my time cleaning up behind a two year old and she spends much of her time messing up behind me. My bedroom is the one place where cleaning isn’t entirely futile. You see, this room is mine. Unlike the kitchen or living room, whose domains are the hurried tasks of maintaining a family in action, my bedroom is a place of sleep. Neither the toddler nor husband is particularly interested in sleep. They both play, play, play until flinging themselves, exhausted, into bed. I, on the other hand, love to sleep, almost as much as I love preparing for sleep.

I begin by gathering the discarded laundry into a big pile in the corner. It fills a large, wicker basket, and most of the space between Arlo’s crib and the wall. Blankets, jeans, shirts, and two dozen single baby socks, all evidence of tasks completed and games played, shoved into one place, held in queue till the afternoon I decide to brave the laundry room and wash it all. I pull another handful of socks from beneath the bed.

Abby cuddles books like stuffed animals when the family lays down for afternoon naps. They get tangled in the blankets and make their way to the floor, in much the same fashion as socks. I discover a cache of these forgotten friends beneath the bed, as well. They should go on the end table, but it’s too crowded there. A flock of jelly jars congregate beneath the lamp. In the light I see dust particles floating in the water, so I gather a few and whisk them off to the kitchen. The remaining jar I don’t even bother to dump or refill. I know that around midnight I’ll wake up parched and take a drink of that stale, warm bedside water. There’s something magical about water that’s gathered and filtered two days worth of house-energy and dust. Drinking it is a kind of spiritual cannibalism, like the snake who devours herself to recreate the universe.

I’m grinning at my lunatic housework when Chris walks in. He’s still wearing his jacket and shoes, both of which will re-clutter my floor before morning. Arlo hears his dad’s heavy-footed entrance and flips back over onto his back. There’s a puddle of baby drool where he’d been gumming the blankets.

“Will you pick him up for a moment?” I ask. While the boy-folk coo at one another, I pull the sheet back over the bed. It’s old and yellow, like the lampshade, with two holes the size our dog, back when he was a puppy with bed privileges. I shake out the pillows and flip the drool side down, then begin hunting around for fresh blankets. That’s another trip to the living room, where I gather Arlo’s baby blanket, a snuggle blanket for me, and another pillow. I flip these across the bed with a sense of achievement.

I’ve never understood why people make their beds in the morning. To me a tidy, comfy bed is the promise of sleep. Seeing the pillows neatly pilled and Arlo’s blanket folded near the foot, says that the day’s work is nearly done. I shuffle off to the bathroom to wash up.

Returning, I light candles and turn off the lamp. Arlo and Chris are both lying in bed, so join them and pull the baby close so he can nurse. As the ancient endorphins of motherhood, wash away the last of my worries, I long for the skill to draw the curve of his small face nuzzled against my skin. Tiny hands hold tight the fabric of my shirt and my hands are curled around his back, supporting the spine. Chris looks awkward and envious so I give him a smile. “You should stay and cuddle with us,” I suggest, but he’s already shaking his head. He still has a video game boss to defeat and cigarettes to smoke and probably twelve other important tasks I’m utterly oblivious of. He lingers long enough for Arlo to fall asleep and takes the snoring infant over to the crib.

I stretch out across the big, empty bed, breathing smoke and the scent of paraffin. My mind spirals outward, taking in the details of the moment, weaving impressions into memorable words. I’m half dreaming when Chris slips back into bed and we drift off together into the stillness of sleep.

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