This is a work of fiction, and was inspired by this
from Mims the Word.
The street light I can see from my window is broken. I’m nineteen, and Dad took away my nightlight when I was ten. We’re in lockdown, but I’m a lot more afraid of the dark than of COVID-19.
That’s why I’m in the basement storage room with my hands deep inside a drawer, looking for it. It’s full of old tools. I sigh and check through the contents, but my nightlight isn’t there.
All this lockdown stuff wouldn’t be so bad if Mom hadn’t just come home from the hospital with my big surprise of a little sister. Well, okay, she wasn’t a total surprise. I knew about her a few months ago. At first, I thought Mom was just eating too much pistachio ice cream. Luckily for me, I didn’t say anything like that to her, and one day, she said something about the baby moving. So that was the big surprise, except she didn’t know it was a girl then. I didn’t want to know, so I just bent my head over my college textbooks and ignored the whole thing for as long as I could.
Now though, I can’t really do that so well. She’s here. Our house only has two bedrooms, and I don’t think any of us will be able to sleep in the garage, so I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be sleeping once she’s old enough to need her own room.
I tug on the next drawer, but it’s either stuck shut or locked. Mom and Dad have the keys. I pull harder. It squeaks, but doesn’t slide out. I try the next one. Bingo. My nightlight’s on top of an old transistor radio Dad inherited from his father. I take out my nightlight, close the drawer, and go back upstairs. I hope nobody will catch me taking it into my room. I guess it’s weird, I mean, I haven’t used it in nine years, so I should be over my fear of the dark, right? Except I’m not — not completely. Maybe it’s my new sister, or maybe it’s lockdown weirdness, but the dark is really getting to me again. It doesn’t help that Mom likes to turn off all the lights at nine; she says it helps to regulate her and my sister’s sleep-wake cycle. All I know is that it’s definitely not helping to regulate my passing-college-with-flying-colors cycle. Lying awake with your heart and mind racing isn’t exactly conducive to getting through online classes the next morning.
I almost make it to my room undetected, but Mom’s in the hallway outside her and Dad and my sister’s room and she sees me.
“Oh, that was considerate of you. Thanks, Billy. I’ll keep it on so Mona’s not in the dark on her first night here.” She takes it from me, smiles, and goes back into their room. I could cry, but there’s no point. I’ll have to try and sleep without any light at all.
It doesn’t work, just like I knew it wouldn’t. It’s midnight, and I’ve been lying here for an hour.
“Waaaaaaaaaaa!” I know it’s Mona, but the sound still makes me jump. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Can’t Mom and Dad hear that? Apparently not, because she keeps it up for a minute before I hear Mom’s voice.
“What’s going on?” She sounds really scared. “Bill, what’s happening?” She means Dad, not me. I don’t get why they didn’t change my name when they adopted me. I mean, I was only three, for crying out loud. Speaking of crying, Mona does it again.
“Bill, what’s that sound?” Mom says. “Bill! Wake up!” Dad mumbles something, and Mom says, “What?”
More loudly, he says, “It’s Mona.”
“Mona?” Mom says, as if she’s never heard of her, “what?”
“It’s our new baby, Mona,” Dad says. “She’s crying.”
“Oh,” Mom says. “Mona, I’m sorry. I got so confused, please stop crying and go back to sleep.”
Mona cries louder.
“Remember what the nurse said,” Dad says. “If she wakes up at night, feed her.”
“Oh, did she say that?” I put the covers over my head and try not to listen to them anymore. I’m so tired, but I don’t fall asleep until after the second time Mona wakes up, which I think is about four.
Mona’s crying wakes me up. I roll over and look at the clock. It’s eight. I have an online class in half an hour, so there’s no time to go back to sleep. I rub my eyes and heave myself out of bed. I throw on yesterday’s clothes and hope Mom won’t notice and demand that I shower and change.
I wash up, grab a coffee, open my laptop, and log in. I’m practically asleep at my desk as the professor talks about calculus. Why can’t we record these lectures and watch them when we’re awake?
“So, do you have questions about integrals?” he asks. I do, but I’m too exhausted and befuddled to pose them. I look at my notes and realize the page is blank. Great. I’ll have to slog through the textbook and hope I can make sense of it. Not now, that’s for sure.
I don’t have another class until ten, so I go into the kitchen and open the fridge. It’s completely empty. I check the freezer. There’s nothing in there that I can cook without a detailed recipe and a lot of time. The cupboards are empty. The sink is full of dirty dishes and the trash needs to be taken out.
I go into the living room, where Dad’s reading the paper. Strange how things have changed. He used to be gone by seven, but now he sleeps in and doesn’t have online meetings until one or so, because one of his coworkers is homeschooling her kids in the morning.