Night of a Promise
By: Devan Blanchard
The night is old, and I'm wide awake, staring at the pale ceiling above with little light. Light costs money, and money is tight… but we are still not freezing. Not starving. Not dirty. But now I feel that I'm dirty. Here on my beige futon botched and mildewed beyond belief I feel the filthy things that have happened, and even in my baggy plaid pajama pants and patched cotton jacket I shiver from the actions. Frowning, wrapping my arms around myself but still letting my amber eyes star up, my burgundy hair trailing down my backside. This feeling is wrong, but I can't shake it – not completely. Tonight is going to be rough, and my smile may falter, but tonight he won't scream. Echoes of high pitched squeals reverberate in my mind as I blink, my heart pounding and eyes stinging, and hands shaking. There is one voice, one voice crying, and one voice alone: the voice of my son. And tonight he will sleep a soundless sleep and dream about things not possible but thought to be.
I'm walking through the living room, the light fading from my bedroom and flickering on into a haze here, and the stillness of the night calms my heart. Though not my smile, it still remains askew. Askew with the slights of the circular splotches of mildew crawling along the corners of the ceiling, with the dented wood paneling on the walls, the tattered furniture, and stripped carpet running against my feet. It all pulls down my smile in the night, but this silence of the night brings it back. Brings tears to my eyes at how I can't fix the shouts or the conditions of this place, even when I have the power to do it. But do it have the strength; do I have the vigor to rise the power within me to repair the apartment without tapping into the swelling waters of the ocean in me? No, no I do not and the answer makes my face screws up and two tears start to roll down my olive face. Only two tears fall and are swept away before I reach the birch door covered with pages torn out of coloring books, the lines ignored and wild and flamboyant streaks of color dart around the pages of superheroes, dinosaurs, jungles, and random holiday scenes all signed in the left corner with the unbalanced scrawl of a four year old: Derik
Everyone of those pictures brings a carful smile to my face, and I even chuckle a bit when I remember what he said when coloring on the floor one day: colors bitten and broken down to nubs and papers scattered around him, he looked up at me with his little smile and shinning dull amber eyes and said,
" 'ommy I want to be a drawer."
I was in the adjacent kitchen, leaning against the wooden counter top and gulping down my morning's brew of coffee, so I tuned around to see his "art", smiling at one of the pictures of a fish colored with red, purple, and yellow striped and stepping down to hold it. Derik was now at fast working on his next master piece, but I stopped him when I said,
"This is good Dare Dare; I'm going to hang it on the fridge."
"Yay, 'ommy liked it!" Derik exclaimed, shooting me a beaming smile, then looking back at his picture concentrating, "I'm 'oing 'ta make 'ommy more. Make her happy again."
For a while longer he continued to color and talk, and laugh when I said maybe he should sell his pictures for money – for which he giggled,
" 'ommy, why do that? Then they won't be 'ere."
No, they wouldn't be here, and that picture is still taped to the rusted door of my once blue refrigerator, and that was several months ago. Here there is still silence, but I don't trust it. Instead, I press my ear against the paper, shutting my eyes tight and hoping for nothing to be stirring in that room. Sometimes he can't scream but the things still find him in his dreams, things he shouldn't remember. What I hear is the sweet sound of nothing as I open my eyes and exhale the breath I find I've been holding. But I can't stop tonight, can't stop what I know will happen, so I grab the brass knob and open the door only to allow a sliver of light. I gasp at the hinges' squeals of protest, looking at my son to see if it has disturbed his sleep. It hasn't.
From here I can see the sun kissed tone of his complexion in the light, and his black wild curls falling before his round face and button nose. Now he looks peaceful, but I know the guise will fall soon in his sleep with the memories of his past alterations. Of the face we all fear. And I can see the orange walls muted in the darkness, his emerald floor covered with bits of crayon and various toys beside his toddler bed covered with a green, brown, and orange bed spread keeping him snuggled in his cartoon footie pajamas
"He's called Snuf 'ommy." He once said to me, telling me about the stuffed green cartoon elephant that had loads of friends and always helped them with their problems. There was also a male witch who solved crimes, a gang of misfit pets, and a toad he loved to sing with.
Right now he might be dreaming about one of them with his breath at ease and ghost of a smile tugging at his lips, and I don't want to disturb him. So I push the door open a bit more, cringing at the sound, and walk into the room – to his bed against the far wall. My silhouette form blocks the light from his face, but something is wrong with him. His face is starting to screw up. Nightmares unleashed. Poor son, but I take a deep breath and concentrate on the power in me as I finish my walk and stand before his squirming self. His breath is catching; my heart begins to gallop, seeing him stirring in his sleep. Trapped. Soft whimpers are starting to punctuate his movements, my heart pounding and eyes stinging as I feel the eruption of flame within me. Much power is coursing within me, making my hands shake, but I do not falter as I bend down and place a kiss on Derik's four head with the weight of feathers – saying,
The power surges through me and into him, easing him out of the plagued memoires and softening his expression and breath as on tear drops from me to his check with the weight of my life, splattering cold against him and glistening in the pale light. Our kiss is disconnected as I rise and smile at my sleeping child, hearing an alarm announcing it August 2nd: his fifth birthday. Although today is supposed to be happy, I can't keep my smile from waning as I shuffle back towards the door, looking back to make sure he's sleeping soundly and being carful not to trip over one of his toys. Because of what this day means, my smiles are going to be strained and hard to manage today. But I will do it, and it will be real. Just the tiny beeping of the alarm can be heard when I reach the door, and turn around to see him truly smiling in his sleep, which finally steadies my heart as I grab the knob and start baking away with back hunched to see the last of the light leave his room as I whisper,
"Happy birthday Derik, sweet dreams."
I'm biting my lips when the door licks shut and the squealing stops, knowing that for now his dreams aren't plagued but joyful. Maybe Snuf is there helping him color. Before I can get to the alarm to stop it, it stops by itself, but the phone starts ringing right after. Who could be calling at this hour; they might wake up Derik? In a second I'm over by the kitchen wall where the square thing hangs attached to the wall and receiver by a cord, and I answer it.
"Hello, who is this?" I ask.
"It's me… Fredric."
"What do you want?" I spit, clutching the phone and wishing for immortal strength.
"To come over, look I –"
"No. And I don't care," fire flares to life on my small hands, "Bye."
The phone is slammed down with an enraged clank, forgetting about my sleeping child in the next room. But my fire dancing on my hand won't subside even when my breath returns to normal. Why must he do this to me? Trying to calm myself down, I walk over to the stained and pealing burgundy couch having lost the majority of its leather years ago and sit down, cradling my head on my hands. My fire doesn't burn me, doesn't even sear my hair veiling my face now as I feel dirty again… shivering and feeling something moving in me: the ocean. This is his jacket, and I shouldn't be wearing it because of what he has done to us, but I can't help it. It reminds me of better times. He isn't calling back, so I get up to start making Derik's umm… interesting cakes of strawberry, blueberry, and vanilla flavor and filling, but I don't get to the kitchen before I hear a knock on the door. Three knocks. Three knocks that are timid, and my brow furrows at the idea of why could it be. Since we don't have to buzz people into the building it could be anybody, some people not wanted.
"Lillian please let me in," begs Fredric my former husband and Derik's father.
I take a double take to make sure the door is locked and say,
"Just go Fredric; I'm not letting you in. Ever."
"But I want to see Derik." He pleads.
My heart pounds, and fire flares all around me, the lights blinking under the strain of my emotions, and I run up to the door shouting,
"This isn't about him, and you know that!"
"No… it's not." He murmurs.
We just stay in silence for a few moments, and my fire is forking in every direction off my hair, and my eyes are glowering at the door. I can just see his sapphire eyes drooping down to play with a loose string on his hoody or him curling his straight black hair with his pale hands, waiting for me to open to door for him but I won't. He will have to wait for his time to see him son if that's the reason he came here so early. Outside I hear him leave, his gait defeated as he shuffles down the hall to what ever teleporting machine he used to get here. With him gone my heart flutters, and I can barley keep myself from collapsing before I back up against the wood-paneled wall, supporting myself with the wall, breath ragged: exhausted. I can't catch my breath for one, two, three breaths while my flames char the walls – subsiding down to a glow upon my flesh. No fire alarm goes off even though tendrils of black smoke are drifting around the rooms, and with my breath caught I glace Derik's door and see the knob turning. No.
The squeaking from he hinges appears to wake him more up, but he is still rubbing his eyes with his chucky closed fist and yawning when he steps out of his room to see me backed against the wall and sucking down breath as though I'm an addict.
"' Ommy?" He's confused at the picture he sees and ambles over asking, "What wrong? I heard screams."
In a faster hobble he comes and embraces my leg, burrowing his face in my pants whilst saying,
"Did the bad face come get you?"
For a moment I'm speechless, for he can remember the dream I guess, but I slide down to meet him eye level – bits of charred wall falling down upon me – so I can say what I need to without falling down.
"Everything's fine," I ruffle his tangled hair and try to smile, "Mommy just saw a rat, a mean, nasty dirty rat."
But he's pouting, and I can tell he does not believe me when he embraces me again, stuttering,
"I-I-I w-was s-s-c-c-ared."
Even not having the dream he is having a horrible night tonight, and I feel like I have failed him. Failed in protecting him from those dreams, failed by no providing a good home, and failed by letting them take him away when he was born. Those memoires are what are hurting him, making him sob against my shoulder now as I attempt to sooth him, but those three days were so horrible for him. And I will not let that happen again. Taking every bit of energy I have left, I push myself off the floor with Derik hugging my hip, still crying on my shoulder and dampening the jacket his farther gave to me oh so long ago. I don't bother bringing him to his room, instead I lay us down together on the couch. Now he rest on top of me, silent and falling to sleep with me rubbing he side and still glowing a flame of warmth between us.
"Dream and perfect dream Derik, with lots of color for mommy," I whisper to him in my arms on me, and he moans an answer I can't understand then stirs a bit putting his foot in my side and hands tangled in my hair, but I don't move. Tonight I will watch over his dreams, and no one will ever hurt him ever again, and I promise that.