Your first night on earth was under my eyes. Swaddled in blankets in your Moses Basket, like a tortilla wrap. Your breath so fragile, I could detect no trace of it, which served only to quicken my own throughout the long hours. Your alabaster lids so transparent, the shadow of your eyes beneath were visible. You were wholly still, save for your flinch startle reflex. What dreams could you have had, less than twenty-four hours old? Ones brought with you from my womb no doubt. Rhythmic dreams.
And somehow you soon migrated from the basket to my bed. For my ease of feeding you as much as your neediness. And how I was too terrified to go to sleep and roll my weight on top of you. So I watched you instead. My eyes accustomed themselves to the scanty light. Your dreams were now attended by little whimpers from your mouth. And I could see your chest rise and fall with your strong heart. Was I yet in your dreams, or was it only my breast? Was I glorious to you, or monstrous?
When finally you were decanted to a bed of your own, I would read you magical stories to convey you into sleep. Always I would linger by the bed and continue to marvel at your seeming contentedness. Finally retired to the bedroom next door, I never once heard you cry out in your sleep. Peaceful, agreeable dreams seemed to be the order of your night. And thereby I contented myself.
Oftentimes I snuck in under cover of night. In the guise of tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Leaving you gifts while you slept on unknowingly, yet expectant. The exchange of tooth or milk and biscuits for bulges in the stocking at the end of the bed or under your pillow. Waiting, suspending my breath until your twisting frame was positioned just right, so as to grant me access to slip the gifts under you. I am not a follower of religion, but in those moments you looked like an angel. And my soul floated up to the ceiling.
Those times when you were struck down by childhood diseases. How I maintained a tender vigil by your side. Mopping your brow with a damp cloth, trying to contain and drive down your inner heat. Catching the blocked cadences of your breath, feeling its release diverted through your mouth. Watching your pinched features as you struggled to overcome the snags and snarls of a body turned against itself in order to garner the necessary restorative sleep.
Once you disappeared off to University, I occasionally visited your room. To be confronted with the crisp lines of the untouched linen and the dry smack of cold, uninhabited air. I cocked my ear for any of the various of your pulses I had matched to my own, but now my breath lacked for its filial echo and filled my head with discordance.
Came that time when I visited you in hospital after you'd been knocked off your bike. When your arm was in plaster and held in a harness. How we joked about your involuntary salute. And that the steel armature holding it together would set off metal detectors in airports sparking shakedown searches. But it hurt you to laugh. Pushing spluttering air through mangled ribs. I could see the soreness etched across your face in spite of the analgesic deadening. In the end the pain would wear you out into an uneasy and throbbing sleep. I watched you and the years fell away as we resumed our mutual stations. Albeit until the nurses asked me to vacate the ward, since visiting time was ended.
And now it is you who sits at my bedside, though I cannot see you. I'm unclear if my eyes are open or not, but they are assuredly unseeing. My breathing too is irregular. Straining not to the pulse of my heart, but to lungs labouring out of synchronicity. Sometimes shallow breath, sometimes deeper. Trying every possible variant patterned after yours. As I try and reach out for the last time, to fall into conjunction with your stout heartbeat here and now. But I can't hear it. Are you even in here with me? I sense that you are. I think you may be holding my hand, may be softly purring words at me, but I can't tell. If you are, it is you who is awake and I am the one asleep.
I can hear one thing however. Deeply recessed in the back of my barely functioning brain. The sound of wings flapping. I always said you were an angel.