The time I come home from work varies. On one shift, I can get home before midnight and feel as if I get a real night's sleep. On another shift, I'm not asleep until 2 -- mere minutes, it seems, before the sky starts to get light again.
On some nights, when I get out of the car, I can hear a train coming down the grade to the docks. During the summer, the night air is cool, and even on moonless nights there is enough light from the stars to see at least the outlines of trees.
Inside the house, I go to the kids' rooms. I wake John up to go to the bathroom and am usually treated to some sleep-talking. "I wanna use the cardboard!" he might cry out. Or "Did you win?" Or "I went with the hunna bumble mmfbdn." I aim him at the bathroom and then hug and kiss him when he returns. We find his doll, Sarah, who still creeps off on nighttime adventures, and tuck her in. He is cuddled under blankets, warm and safe. We used to call him Bundle-o when he was a baby. He will not wake -- and will hardly move -- until morning.
Sometimes, Maia is also in his bed. If so, I pick her up, heavy and warm, her long legs dangling farther than I expect. She is sulky and luscious when wakened, unlike John, who is befuddled and sweaty. I put her in her bed, ask her if she needs the potty or a drink (known as a dink wadee, from her old baby talk), smooth back her hair, and kiss her goodnight.
Once I am in bed, it feels as if the house relaxes. I can tell it's been waiting for me to come home. The lights are off, the dishes washed, doors closed. Matt mumbles a welcome, then continues his silent sleep. The night begins in earnest. Our house, built in the 1960s, does not creak or settle the way the farmhouse did. The stars ease through the sky; the trees rustle and fall quiet.
Sometimes, though, it is hard for me to sleep. Watching the wire can be a difficult thing. There are nights where the stories run through my head, the ones with slugs that say BC-IRAQ-NOTIFY and BC-NY-CHILD-DEATH and BC-TN-KILLINGS. It is hard to shut off the wire in my head when I come home and go right to bed without talking them out.
In the part of the night when the clock forgets itself and slows, when the moon hesitates, two small feet touch the floor. I have no idea how carefully and soundlessly they creep, but I do know they never wake me. I cannot imagine how their mistress feels as she makes her way through the dark and not entirely familiar house, up steep stairs and through a maze of moving boxes. I do not know how long it takes for her to make her little journey, almost every night.
John used to do the same thing, but differently: He would wait until we had gone to bed, then leap out onto his floor and run to his door. Flump! tump-tump-tump-tump-tump-tump-tump. He would stand outside our door, and we could hear him panting the way small children do when scared in the dark. He would push our door open an agonizing inch at a time, making it squeak. One of us would say, "What is it, John?" and he would blurt "HI!" in surprise.
But with Maia, it's different. Sometimes I wake slightly when she puts her hands on the bed and I listen to her climb -- as slowly and quietly as she can, because she knows that to disturb me may mean a return to exile. Sometimes I don't stir until she has burrowed under the covers and I feel her knees in my back or her hair tickling my face, and by that time, of course, it is far too late to banish her.
Our bed was big enough for two plus a baby. A child, however, is pushing it. But more often than not, I scoot to give her room, and Matt balances near the edge of the mattress, and the house is silent again.