Thursday, 25 February 2010

#FlashFriday At 4am

The monster crawls out of my cupboard.  It has enormous white teeth, like a crocodile. Its eyes are red diamonds. It is going to eat me. I want Mummy, but she doesn't come. The monster climbs up my bed.  It chews my covers. It wants me more.


She hears me this time. She climbs into bed and gives me a cuddle

"The monsters have gone," she says. "Look, Alice is asleep. You're safe. It's four o'clock in the morning. Time to sleep now."

I doze in her arms.


"What? What?" A body falls across my bed, waking me up from a dream I cannot recall. For a moment, I'm five again, and the monster is climbing the bed. Then I realise this body is human. It is heavy. It smells of alcohol and cigarettes. It is Alice. She giggles.


"Gerroff me."

"Tripped on your bag. Shouldn't leave bags on the floor. Interfere with stiletto heels." She tries to rise and then falls back on me. I sit up and push her off me. I look at the clock.

"It's 4 o'clock in the morning."

"Sshsshshssh. Don't tell Mum. Don't tell Dad. SShhhsssh. Good girl. Back at midnight.Shhhshshhsh."

"Go to bed will you? I've got a test in the morning."

She staggers across the room, sinks under her covers fully clothed. I could help.  I should help. But I cannot move now. My bed is cosy and warm. She'll be all right. I turn over and go back to sleep.


I can't get comfortable. This bed is too small for two. His legs are too long, his torso too broad. Every time I move I cannon into another heavy limb. He's sleeping soundly, emitting the occasional snore. He is oblivious to the movements of my body.  I glance over at his digital clock. It blinks red letters at me 4:00. I realise I am wide awake.

We haven't drawn the curtains and a shaft of moonlight is shining on the bedside lamp. His face is in  in the shadows, but as I lie here, I can study the contours. His large Laurel ears are suggestive of imminent wiggling, even in sleep. His nose is perfectly straight until just above the nostrils. That slight wonkiness was what first drew me to his face. His lips are just the right side of fleshy. His chin, strong, but not too rigid. 

In the blurred hours between sleep and waking, the sight of him  is all the rest I need. I look at him for hours.


A wail wakes me. Again. It seems like only a moment since I put her in her cradle. My eyes will not open. My body is stiff. My night-shirt is wet with milk. Iain turns over and shoves me. 

"Baby's crying," he mutters. As if I didn't know. I am screaming with tiredness. I push my body up the bed, forcing my eyelids apart. Molly is building up a storm now. I sit up, and turn to the edge of the bed.

"Mummy's coming. I'm coming." Useless words. All she wants is the milk, but I can't move fast enough.

I switch on the lamp and look down at my watch. Two hours since the last feed at 2am. This child is voracious. I pick her up, and move back to the bed, plumping the pillows up with one hand. Two days ago, I'd sit and marvel at this tiny creation, her black spiky hair and little round mouth. Now, I'm just anxious to get the job done and back to sleep. I sit back down and pull her to my breast, trying to remember the midwife's words. Make sure she has the area around the nipple in her mouth. It's not as easy as it looks. Her mouth is wide open with her piercing shriek, but it slips off my breast. Once. Twice. Three times.

"For God's sake," says Iain.

"I'm trying my best." This time she clamps hard on my nipple and draws blood. I yelp, but at least she's on. She begins to gargle the milk down as if it is days since her last feed. Iain turns over in relief, and is soon asleep and snoring.

I, on the other hand, will be here for some time.


"MUMMY!" Oh God. It's the third time this week.

"Your turn," grunts Iain, I hope not triumphantly.

I stagger out of bed, wishing we hadn't opened that third bottle. My mouth is dry. I'm going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning. Molly is sitting up in her bed, staring in terror at the wall.

"The monster. The monster. It's climbing out at me."

"Shh,shh." I rock her to and fro. I'm exhausted, yet now I'm here, I love to enclose her body in mine, feel her limbs gradually relax as the dream recedes. Her hair smells lemony, her pyjamas are soft.

"You're safe," I say. "It's four o'clock in the morning. Time to sleep now."

She dozes in my arms.


Clive Martyn said...

Beautiful. Well done. As a 4am defender of bed monsters myself I can relate totally.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely gorgeous. Very comforting. Beautiful, beautiful work.

Anne Booth said...

Lovely story - brings it all back. I retweeted so hope more read it.

Love from

Anne x

Diandra said...

Very observative collection of all the nights/early mornings we don't spend sleeping. I miss "proper transitions" between the parts, maybe some more detail concerning the narrator's background, but that's probably just a personal preference.

G.P. Ching said...

Just wonderful and so true to life. Nice work!

Julie Jordan Scott said...

The Mum's work is a constant, never-ending 24 hour shift. You painted that late night aspect of it brilliantly.

Marisa Birns said...

I think that leaving out the details of the narrator's background is the perfect choice for this flash piece.

It would detract and it's not necessary for the reader. I was enchanted by the lovely story that depicts how life can come round full circle.


Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks everyone. I did consider carrying on till old age, but liked the idea of the mother coming to full circle. If I had more time I'd put a few more connections between each moment. I can see what you mean Diandra, but I was trying to give a sense of the ongoing experience of a certain time of night...

Michelle said...

very real - very beautiful

mazzz in Leeds said...

Awww, how totally, utterly charming.

Like Marisa, I think the gaps in the story should be there - the 4am fragments are where it's at, after all! I liked the full cirlce aspect of it, I think you were right to stop there

Cathy Olliffe said...

Love the story! Brings back not-so-fond memories of feeding babies at 4 a.m., staring out the window and wondering if there was anyone, anywhere, awake in the world.
Loved the way you joined the mini-stories together. Well done!