My mother stood in shock, holding me, a sleeping bundle, a parcel of limbs, of skinny legs and soft cotton sleeves.
I don’t remember it of course, I just have that knowing kind of memory. Like the memory you have of being a baby in the bath. You’re too young to remember it, you know it from photos you’ve seen a hundred times. But you think you can really feel the soapy water, the light breeze on your damp shoulders, the suds between your palms. You don’t really remember it. But you know it.
She stood there, my mother, in the pitch blackness. On this night, we holidayed at Kangaroo Island. We slept early so we could rise at dawn to look for Fairy Penguins in the beach rocks of a bitter morning. The ocean groaned from beyond our window. It’s a more ancient place, on the island. The sand is older, greyer. The sea grasses are more weary, tired of being blown over day after day, year after year.
In a cabin we slept: my mother and father in a double bed; my kid brother sleeping in the bunk beneath me. He went all night with this sleeping noise—a distracted, contented sort of moaning. A crackly, grizzly sound that went for ages and then stopped suddenly. It would scare you if you didn’t hear it every night.
I was a sleepwalker, the child who sat up in the middle of the night. Just bolt straight up, in the depth of the silent night, asleep but alert, sitting up, ready to speak, and then—back to sleep.
I suppose I sat up again that night. Or I suppose I fell, my body paralysed in sleep. And I don’t
suppose why, but suddenly, my mother was there, just as though she knew to leap out of bed and rush over to catch me.
With the wings of an archangel, she flew to my bedside. Her feet never touched the icy wooden
floorboards. She hovered, light and sleepy, eyes closed, knowing and yet unknowing, just waiting with arms outstretched.
And I tumbled softly, effortlessly, straight into her arms. Like an actress in a play, I simply fell, dramatic, but trusting the arms waiting to catch me.
And it wasn’t until I hit her arms, that she jolted awake, and the world came rushing in with a sharp, painful breath that awakened her body. And there were her feet, on icy wooden floorboards. And there was her child, a dainty fawn, all downy softness and dopey limbs, in her arms like a baby. She woke with the shock of a snow shower, a freezing anticlimax. Like painful breathing after an early morning sprint. With the heady wash of relief, and the bafflement and confusion of a sudden start.
She carried me to the safety of her bed, and we slept with breaths climbing in one body and out the other. I never once roused, until I woke up, a little closer to the earth.