I know the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. – Ernest Hemingway
In the long shadows of the silent hall, I can hear their drowsy words.
“’S he awright?” The mother says.
“Yeah. He fine,” comes the father’s slow reply.
“Ain’t cried like that in a while though. You sure?”
“I mean, his diaper ‘s clean and he don’t sound sick or nothin’.”
“He been sleepin’ so good though… You certain ain’t nothin’ wrong?”
“Man Bell. I’m his Pa. Wouldna come back to bed didn’t think he were awright… Musta jus’ been the rain tha’ scared him or somethin’. He fine… Sleepin’ good as if he ne’er woke.”
The din of the storm patters out in tears across the frail old roof, and I take a single step towards the child’s room.
“Mmm, Jimmy… You certain,” Comes the mother’s voice, thick and dulled by her exhaustion.
“Lawd’s sake Bell. I was coddlin’ Jr. near on half an hour. He sleepin’. Ain’t nothin’ else to do… You wanna work some momma magic go right on but I got work in the mornin’.”
No. Stay. Sleep.
“Naw…‘S awright. Jus’ strange ‘s all.”
I wait a time in the quiet and the creaking wind. I take four tedious and tender steps across the weathered floor boards before a thundering snore comes roaring down the hall, a storm in itself. The sounds of sleep offer security, and my rustlings conceal themselves beneath the heavy hum, just as I cower from the light and hide my sin in Satan’s shadow.
The child doesn’t wake this time. His innocent suspicion numbed by a loving father’s rocking touch. Junior. James Junior. Bundled tight into his blankets, deep breaths flaring his button nose and filling his chubby cherubic chest, lying on his back with his unsoiled eyes pointed to God. I give him the smallest scent of the medicine I’ve brought, clinging to my cloth. The littlest breath. A harmless necessity. Father forgive me for I know not what I do.
“Shh. Shh. I’m sorry, James. Only a bit. Only a bit, love.” James is still in my arms. His breaths are ragged. I let out a little gasp and begin to cry. “Hush now, James. Dream sweet, little angel. Mommy’s got you. Every good boy must take his medicine.” I press him to my chest. We rock together back and forth; back and forth; back and forth. He smells of Love and Hope and Happiness. His hair is soft and thin. My tears drop on the supple center of his skull.
The rain has stopped, and the last winds of the storm whip the clouds away from the moon. Its light beams in through the window beside little Jimmy’s empty crib, and we step away to rock in the dark.
“Don’t cry now, little angel. Hush Hush. Momma ‘s here.”
It’s a long way home. Why do they always wail so? He’s been thrashing in the back seat since he woke up. We’ve been alone on 95 for long stretches. Nobody but the truckers drives these roads at this hour. Me and my beautiful baby boy are safe from prying eyes, safe from everyone but Him. He is watching me, judging me.
“Our Father who art in heaven hollowed be thy name…” I cast nervous glances back at my little Jimmy as I finish my Lord’s Prayer. Not so beautiful now that he’s red faced and grimacing.
“Come now, little one. All of that crying is going to hurt you. Everything is okay.” Still sobbing. Eyes wide open, set toward the sky, pleading to the Lord to damn me.
“Listen, my angel. Momma is going to sing you a lullaby to send you off to sleep. I can’t hold you, but we are almost home. Don’t worry. Don’t you worry none.” Relentless wailing. Nearly choking on the air he gasps for in between his wretched cries.
“Steal away,” I sing. “Steal away. Steal away to Jesus.” The yellow striped serpent stretches on past my sight, empty and slick with remnants of the storm. “Steal away. Steal away. Steal away hooome.” The trees, infected with a foreign weed, wall us in on both sides. “I ain’t got long to stay here.” Thick clouds sweep back across the night’s eye, and my headlights are dwarfed by the surrounding shadows. I sing louder to combat his cries. “My Lord, He calls me,” The rain returns. A gentle drizzle speckling my chilled windshield. “He calls me by the thunder.” Heavier now, slamming on the metal roof, splashing at my wheels and crashing through their wells. “The trumpet sounds within my soul.” My shouts are tearing at my vocal chords. “I ain’t got long—” Stop. Stop! Stop, damn you! Almost home, but this night’s rain has shrouded us in an impenetrable darkness. We are alone. Satan has suffocated us in his ebony embrace.
“Won’t you shut the fuck up, you little shit?” Louder now. Louder. How can he be louder? I’m sobbing with him, struggling to stay the road as we drive blind through the downpour.
The river is a tempest of clashing tides. The storm unleashes its wrath in the wind, lashing at the once calm fresh water until it writhes and bucks beneath its fury. How did we get here, my little angel and I, slumped in the silt and drenched to the bone? Which back road did I take to stray so far from home? I can’t see 95 from here. I can’t hear the cacophony of big rig beasts as they slice through the rain. I can’t hear my little angel. Not a cry or breath from his blessed lips. He is still in my arms. A pale blue. Silent at last. Empty eyes ever fixed toward God.
“Poor sinner stand a trembling
The trumpet sounds not in your soul.
You ain’t got to stay here.”
I struggle to stand, shivering and gripping lovely James with all of my might. Lord please watch over his eternal soul in your Kingdom of Heaven.
I pull a stone from the muck on the riverbed and bundle it with James in his blankets. Trembling with the force of my tears and shivering in the face of the storm, I lower James into the chaotic churning waters and watch them drag him to the deep.
I stand and gaze in silent guilt into the haze of this unending night. There is a demon in the river. Its cavernous maw breaches the surface, and it swims straight ahead, unhindered by the storm’s vicious torments. Lightning crackles in the distance and shatters the dark for an instant. I catch the Leviathan’s grotesque and scaled back slide effortlessly through the roaring waters and dive once more out of sight.
The clap of Thunder follows when the pitch black shadows have returned, and I walk back to my car covered in filth and reeking of fear.
“Okay now children, line up at the door for recess. I’ll meet y’all outside in just a moment so we can all go out to the playground together.” My class jumps up eagerly from their seats and their precious feet scamper to the door. “Slowly now. No running. No need to rush. The playground is staying right where it is.” Sweet Charlotte lingers behind her classmates and takes a few bashful steps toward my desk.
“Um… Miss? You ok Miss?”
I chuckle softly at her and flash a smile. “Why yes, Charlotte. Why do you ask, hon?”
“You jus’ lookin’ awful ill today, Miss.” I look down at her, and she drops her eyes to the floor, wringing her delicate hands and shuffling about. She responds to my surprised silence by blurting out, “Not meanin’ no offense or nothin’.”
I step over and kneel in front of her before saying, “Oh no, little angel. No offense taken. Your concern is much appreciated. I’m just a bit tired is all. Couldn’t find proper sleep last night. But y’all always do manage to brighten my day.” I wrap my arms around her as a loving mother would. “Thank you, child. Now go on. Get to the line.” She beams up at me and skips out of the classroom as I grab my keys and follow. I lead my first graders out onto the field.
“Okay class. Meet back here in forty five minutes. No dilly dallying. Enjoy your recess and play safe.”
Not a storm cloud in sight.
A Note From the Author:
I’ve taken quite an interest in Dylan Thomas’s style of writing after having purchased a book of his collected short stories a few months back. With this story, I have tried to emulate some of the features of his style which are common in his earlier works, not necessarily one story in particular but the style he has throughout his young career. I’ve focused on his fondness for confining the reader to the perspective of a narrator who provides one with a selective and obviously incomplete or skewed view of the world. Thomas does this in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, first person narrative. Thomas also plays frequently with the motif of religion and warps the traditional idea of what the motif should and can symbolize. Finally, Thomas’s early work often appalled editors and publishers to whom he sent it due to the dark themes. I feel these themes are exemplified by the relatively mundane characters and settings with in which he dresses his gothic subtext. I admire these aspects of his style and have worked to pull off something similar here.