I stood against the railing and looked out the window. Clouds scattered across the night sky like cotton stretched thin so mom could stuff them into my lightweight quilts. Were there any stars that blinked? I must have looked but couldn’t find them or the face of the moon, knowing it’d be as soft, distant and beautiful as mom’s face at home.
I had just turned three, and said goodbye to grandma who was watching me when mom and dad worked. She missed her home in the north where ice covered everything outside but her heated brick platform bed made the rooms cozy all winter long. So dad put me on his bicycle this morning, tucking me close, yet pedaling us farther and farther from home. When he told me goodbye, grabbing my fingers and swinging them this way and that, I didn’t understand what he meant by “picking me up Friday”. It was only Monday then, even I knew Friday would be many days away and what about nights? Did the teacher shush me quiet and put me to bed, after dad left? I fell asleep uneasily, missing the sound of our kettle whistling softly on the coal burning stove, missing my brother Lou’s clumsy attempts to make me laugh, and missing the lamp lights that peeked through the curtains of my lashes while mom and dad turned their pages quietly from their desk.
A tear escaped before I realized it. I knew no one would see me but somehow it made no difference. I had woken up earlier from a bad dream, so I reached out for mom’s warm shoulders and soothing steady breath but found nothing. The slats on the railings bit my hand instead, reminding me that I was in one of the beds at the Garden of Children’s Weekly Care Center.
The room was so large I couldn’t take it all in, a forest of beds with tall railings standing guards. Were there twenty children sleeping through the quiet of the night on their own? Thirty? Fifty? I felt the presence of others, an occasional cough, a soft wail, but I was alone in my jail of thick slats and stiff sheets. The soft wood on the bed frame gave under the pressure of my nails, crescent marks of smiles and frowns. I had no recollection of this but mom later told me nail marks covered my bed there, a thousand tiny exclamations and question marks. After a while I must have gotten tired and sat down to rest my legs, eventually collapsing down to my side waiting for my eyes to shut.
Moonlight finally wandered through patches of clouds and sneaked around curtains to keep me company. Except it cast shadows that moved, so I turned and buried my face into my palms, willing and waiting for this to end, like the footsteps that went away, the cough that quieted, the dream I had woken from.
I waited, for an eternity, for dad to come pick me up, somehow.