In honor of International Women's Day...
In the darkness, the light from the fire was blinding. She could feel the heat on her skin. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t move. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t breathe. There was no air in the blackness, no ground, nothing except for her and the fire. It burned her.
Sarah shot up like a trap. For a second, everything was quiet. She sat there in the bed, her eyes trying to see in the darkness, wondering what had awoken her. Then she heard the whimper again and remembered. She threw the covers off and jumped out of bed, running the short distance to her daughter’s room.
The small girl was tossing in her bed like a ship in a tempest, thrashing and whimpering in her sleep. Sarah grabbed her in her arms and cradled her but she didn’t wake and the action earned her a strong kick on the shin.
“Ali, Ali- it’s ok! Wake up, sweetie- wake up!” she shouted, half rocking and half shaking her as she did.
“Noooo-“ Ali whimpered, tears seeping out from under her closed eyes. She thrashed and pushed against her, nearly dislodging herself from her mother’s grip.
“Ali!” Sarah yelled, her desperation causing her voice to shriek.
“Na-uah” Ali screamed as she opened her eyes. She stared wildly for a second before her eyes fixated on the image of her mother leaning over her and then tears started in earnest. She buried her head into the folds of Sarah’s nightgown and unleashed a sea of tears and angry, muffled sobs.
“It’s ok, sweetie- it’s ok” Sarah cooed, stroking the small girl’s head as she rocked her back and forth. “It’s ok, mommy’s here. You’re ok.”
It was a long time before the sobbing slowed and the girl calmed in her arms. Sarah could feel a dampness spreading across her belly from where her face had been buried. There was the sound of muffled words and Sarah stopped her rocking.
“What is it, sweetie? What happened?”
“They were burning!’ Ali cried, pushing back from her mother’s embrace to look up at her. Her face was dimly lit in the meager light from the turtle-shaped night light on the bed side table but Sarah could see the shine from her tears all over her face.
“Who was, sweetie?” she asked, her voice calm and soothing.
“They were burning and I- I couldn’t get out!” she yelled.
Sarah smoothed the tears from her face and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “It was only a dream- you’re safe now. You’re here with me and… where is he?” She held onto the small body as she leaned across the bed and felt through the mess of sheets. Then she leaned to the other side and reached around to the floor, her fingers finally brushing the small, fluffy object.
“Uhn- here he is!” she said, grabbing the stuffed monster up off the floor and brandishing it above her head triumphantly. “You’re here with me and Mooby and everything’s ok,” she said as she placed the stuffed animal into her daughter’s hands.
Ali grabbed onto it and smothered it against her chest.
“There, now- that’s better.” She continued to rock her daughter, cooing slightly.
“But what if it comes back?” Ali whined, her voice shaky.
“Well, if Mr. Mooby would do his job,” she said, pointing at the fluffy, purple monster with an accusatory finger, “then we wouldn’t have any nightmares, now would we?”
“Yeah,” Ali pouted. “He’s supposed to chase the other monsters away!”
“I know- what’s up with that, you slacker?” Sarah asked as she raised an eyebrow at the stuffed animal. “Well I know somebody who’s not going to get that raise he was asking for.”
“Yeah, you slacker!” Ali parroted as she poked the small monster in the face, then hugged him more fiercely than before in punishment for his misdeed and settled back into her mother’s lap. She kicked and pushed as she curled herself up in the embrace.
“Ooof-“ Sarah said as a small knee jabbed her in the stomach. She pushed herself up a little further on the small bed and leaned back against the headboard. “Well, I’m sure he feels bad and he won’t make such a terrible mistake again.”
“Ya-eah” Ali said in a yawn. She settled back into the warm embrace and closed her eyes.
The adrenaline which had hastened her arrival wearing off, Sarah found herself yawning. She stared off into space as her sleepiness started to wear her down, then realized that the small burden on her lap had already settled. The small, even breaths let her know that she’d fallen asleep already.
“Uh, oh- now. Let’s not fall asleep until mommy can-“ she said, trying to move the bundle from her lap.
Ali made a soft, protesting noise as her bed moved underneath her.
Sarah signed and settled back into the small bed again. She pushed one of the pillows behind the crook of her back and tried to get her other leg up on the bed but the awkward angle prevented it and Ali was nothing more than dead weight now. She rubbed her eyes wearily, wondering how long she would have to stay like this. Then Ali made a small snort as she snored and Sarah smiled at her. She sat there for some time watching her sleep until her eyelids grew heavy.
She would fall asleep there, as she had many other nights, and pay for it in the morning with a back ache and sore shoulders. But she’d never complain. It was just part of the job, she thought. And she was proud of it.