Lars sleeps, a chthonic lump in the center of the bed. He is a black hole, swallowing the slumber from the room.
Jan tries to get to bed early enough to catch the post-bedtime uneasy silence. She can hear Beth’s restless stirring, her radar on duty just in case Mommy might spend time with Baby without Beth present. Sometimes she isn’t sure if the rustling is Beth turning in her sleep, or Raven shaking his wings out above her. She wants to tell him to leave Beth alone, but knows this will only set him off.
She lies in the dark, willing them to keep this tense truce: Lars at the center, asleep, Beth on the floor, where she has adamantly moved her mattress, refusing to leave, wakeful with eyes closed. Raven, perched on the open closet door, present but silent. She, at the edge of the bed, forming a living barrier so the baby can’t roll off.
Once the baby wakes up though, the vortex begins. She tries to get the nipple in his mouth before he can truly wail. She’s too late. Behind her back, she feels a presence. Raven, there to tell her that this doesn’t solve SIDS. Beth, standing stubbornly, knees turned slightly inward, blankie in hand “Mommy, hold me,” she says.
When she is settled at the foot of the bed, “I need my paci.”
Then, “I need milk.”
“When I finish nursing,” Jan says.
“No, now!” Beth says.
The baby lets the nipple drop, head going back. She feels his soft exhale, the hand on her breast suddenly slack.
She stumbles out to fill the bottle.
Back to bed, Beth crawling between her knees.
She used to resent Lars’ deathlike slumber. The way nothing could wake him once his head hit the pillow. How it left her so alone, night after night.
Now she is grateful for it. For the buffer of silence it forms as she ferries them through the night.
Batnadiv HaKarmi is an American born writer and painter living in Jerusalem. A graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, her work has been published in Poet Lore, Ilanot Review, Poetry International, MomEgg Review and Partial Answers. She is the recipient of the Andrea Moria Prize for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction.
She teaches Creative Writing in Emunah College, Jerusalem, and is on the faculty of the Brandeis Institute of Music and Art, Waltham MA.