‘Are you still awake?’
‘I’ve been trying to sleep. But it’s hard to get to sleep.’
Her eyes flower from little slits. I kneel down to her bedside and rest my head almost beside hers on the pillow, but for my hand, which I place between us to cushion her cheek from the hedgehog stab of my own. Her hand comes up as echo, under her cheek, and our shielding fingers find and share an embrace. She smiles and tries to stifle a small laugh; her cheeks inflate in the same way a balloon responds to a first gentle, bellows-like demand of the lungs.
‘Do you think you might be able to get to sleep soon?’
‘You could stay for a while? Then I could get to sleep.’
I pause. Downstairs, a house waits to be put back into order. Her sister’s toy glockenspiel is underneath the sofa. The wooden beater lies underneath a jotting pad, presided over by the paper fan of one of the dog-eared corners. Her liquid-glitter wand, the one that has usurped beater as the implement with which to thrash at glockenspiel, has fallen flush with the skirting board. Reunifying these into the toy box was to be the first of my tidy-up jobs. I see them strewn there and want to tend to them.
I correct two awkwardly stray tendrils of hair that have fallen to obscure her face, using my free hand to sweep two fingers and stitch them back behind her ear.
‘Is Mummy back yet?’
‘Soon. She’ll be in her car now.’
‘Can you stay until Mummy gets back? Please?’
I try and forget the mess. The discord. The glockenspiel comes to mind again. Six of its eight steel bars produce the most soothing chimes, whether elicited by beater or its surrogate. The other two bars dink so very flatly. I’ve lamented this fact each day since it appeared from the stocking, almost a week ago.
Yet here, despite the late hour, despite her indefatigable spirit, here, there is harmony. And so my choice is made easy.
‘Okay, yes. But you need to get to sleep though.’
And so I let my weight give fully into the mattress. ‘I love you.’ I lift my head, cup hers and kiss her right temple through a web of hair: a meshed embrace – an amplification of her security – to tell her she is safe. And then a second kiss, with pursed lips, to spare her from the spiky halo that surrounds; this one landing with the weight and serendipity of a snowflake, on the soft end of her nose, this one to set her to sleep, this one to describe that for which words will always fail to find adequate form. This one to tell her I love her in a way that words can’t.