The girls are eager to mark the time, eyes flush with the heady knowledge of unlocking a secret, the secret of these numbers glowing red on the alarm clock. "It says 7 and 1 and 4," Madeleine says, running to me in the laundry room. I find Violet at the clock a little while later, on her tip toes, eyes level with the numbers staring back at her. "It says...it says...it says 7...and...2...and 3," she announces. She labors over the numbers a minute. "It's seventy two three," she announces. "What do we do at seventy two three?"
I tell them bed, it's time for bed. We're a parade of pajamas, of twirls, of a superhero cat who wears socks for paws and a blanket for a cape, of protestations against sleep. There's a lot left to do, their jumping bodies say. There's a lot of life left in this day.
And me, I'm weary, slumping into Madeleine's bed with her latest reader. She keeps getting stuck on the word "spots" and she jabs at the word with random guesses. "Sss puh aw tuh sss," she sounds out. "Ssspuhawtusss. TAPS! Pats? Pans?" Somehow we soldier through.
Then it's lights out and drinks of water and where's my lizard and flipping through books after I've said to put them away, the loud snick of pages rubbing together with every flip. And as I juggle requests and stern warnings and try to remember not to be mad at them, I can feel the tickng of the clock in my veins, can feel the deepening dark pressing down on me. The night is getting away from me. It's practically gone.
Just then I realize I'm stretched way too thin, and just as the realization dawns, I am already snapping. I can feel the tension just burble up and out in the form of yelling, in go to sleep right now, why can't you guys listen, you know the routine, this is what we do every night!
I want to cram the words back in my mouth, but I can't at this point. So I tell them I'll be back in five minutes and I leave. I sit. I breathe. My evening To Do list swirls in my head and I think, To Do tonight is chill out. To Do tonight is to love my children. I go back into the room, my To Do list still grasping at my ankles, dragging itself limply behind me.
The girls are sleepy now. Violet is almost asleep; Mad is on the verge. I kiss Violet, stroke her hair. I sit next to Mad for a minute. I consider what it would mean to slow time down, to slow it to nothing. In a blink eyelashes clasp together and apart again. I listen to the soft shhh of the delicate lashes clinging briefly before being pulled apart again. Pupils close just so against the light. A breath is surrendered from my body; the air unfurls from my lungs and is brought back in again.
The sonorous sound of a heart deep in the walls of my chest. A tender thud that is the opposite of strong, just tissue fashioned into shallow canals, a container of blood, and a seizure of movement. In and out. This is what I, my entire existence, is reduced to: the insistent, barely-there thud of a heart. The in and out. And in. And out.
Across the room Violet sighs and time triples. Oh, enough, this is all we are. I say goodnight and carry my thudding heart out with me. From their room there is the soft buzz of life. Even in their sleep all this living stays with them, lives keeping time with the rhythm of hummingbirds.