Your mother kept the night a secret from you for six years.
This slips out while you and your husband are undressing, sniggering together about tonight’s dinner at Ben and Theresa’s, and how ridiculous it is that they’ve decided not to teach their son to say please and thank you because they want him to be ‘spontaneously genuine’ in his interactions with others.
Jed was saying how he didn’t think Ben was so airy-fairy, but he can just picture Theresa reading advice in a stupid New Age parenting manual and deciding it was genius.
So you said how sometimes perfectly sane people do silly things where their kids are concerned, like your mother keeping the night a secret from you for six years. ‘Come again?’ he asks, his shirt half-way unbuttoned.
You thought he hadn’t heard, but when you turn around to place your watch on the nightstand, you see he’s looking at you with doubtful eyes and a mouth that’s verging on a smirk.
‘My mother, she didn’t tell me that there was a night-time until I was six-years-old.’ Jed slowly pulls his shirt off and goes to hang it in the closet, and you notice how his belly has started blooming above his belted trousers, like the cap of a mushroom with his skinny legs the stalk.
He comes back to bed just as you’re settling in with Patricia Cornwell, and you can feel his eyes on you and a blush creeping up your neck, but you determinedly find your spot and stare at the words on the page.
‘Are you going to tell me?’ he finally asks.
‘Tell you what?’ you say, turning a page in the book.
‘Why Eleanor would do something like that?’ he replies, and after a beat adds, ‘and how she managed to pull it off for six years?’
A blush creeps a hot trail past your jaw to your cheeks, and you fleetingly think that you haven’t blushed this way in front of Jed since before you were pregnant.
‘I don’t know, she just never told me that there was a night-time and a day-time.’ You turn another page.
‘But, how?’ he asks, ‘why?’
Puffing out an angry breath you cut a violent dog-ear into the page and turn to look at him, resting on his side with one eyebrow quirked atop his wrinkled forehead. ‘I don’t know, she just never taught me that there was a day and a night or about stars and the moon and when it was bedtime she always shut the curtains in the house so I couldn’t see outside and she never said “good night” she’d always just say “sleep tight”,’ you huff again, ‘So I guess I always just thought that it was daylight, all the time.’
He doesn’t say anything for a moment and you end up just staring at each other for minutes, just listening to each other breathe, until you have to cut the silence; ‘okay? Can we drop this now? I’m sorry I even bought it up.’
‘Well, we would have never done anything like that if we’d had kids,’ he says, ‘and we’d have taught them their P’s and Q’s too,’ and then he’s flopping onto his back, leaving you to stare at him in the buttery glow of the Tiffany lamp.
You must make a sound, because his head turns and then his hand is reaching to squeeze yours and he says something like; ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean . . . ’
‘No, no, no,’ you say, swiping at your eyes and rolling to your back but keeping your hand tethered to Jed’s. ‘It was crazy, and I don’t know why she did it in the first place and I never thought to ask her. I don’t even know why I’ve never told you, or anyone, it’s just a bizarre little piece of my childhood history. . . ’ and then you let out a breathy laugh that fishtails at the end, with a little hitch in your throat.
‘When I was little, mum made me cover my eyes whenever we drove past a McDonalds,’ Jed suddenly breaks the silence and you give a wobbly little smile as he continues, ‘fat lot of good trying to hide the place did,’ patting his paunch belly.
Another moment passes with his hand pulsing yours, and then he’s sitting up again, crossing his legs, Indian-style. He runs his hands down your calves, but his brow is still wrinkled.
‘What?’ you ask, giving his pyjama-clad knee a tap with your foot.
‘How did she tell you?’
He nods, keeps his hands running up and down your calves, ignoring the slight rise of growing hair. ‘You must have been scared when you first saw the dark.’
‘I always knew about the dark,’ you say quickly, ‘I knew that the lights went on and off in the house and I slept in a dark room, I knew about the lights going out I just didn’t know. . . ’ now that you’re saying it out loud, you hear how odd it is, how different your mother made you because of this one component of your childhood.
Jed rubs your leg a little firmer, bringing your attention back; ‘Were you scared when she told you?’
And you think back to a day that was actually a night, years and years and years ago; when your mother woke you by tracing the arch of your eyebrow with the pad of her finger.
‘No,’ you say, ‘not at all.’ You stare up at the ceiling, ignoring the persistent crack that’s coming through the plaster; you admire the glow of the lamp on the dark walls and imagine your bedroom like a lighthouse on this darkened street.
‘She woke me up by whispering into my ear; “I have something to show you,” and her breath tickled, and I remember knowing it was a surprise. . . ’ you look up to see Jed staring at you, so intently, and you smile at him, ‘I suppose it was a surprise.
‘It was summertime, because I remember I was only wearing knickers and a singlet, and mum made me put on my slippers and she was wearing one of dad’s old t-shirts that she could never throw away, and it went down past her knees.
‘And she took my hand and led me through the house, where all the curtains were shut, and she took me to the back door and told me to push it open. And I did, and I remember thinking there was another house attached to ours, hitched to it like a caravan,’ you turn and Jed is smiling with you, ‘because I couldn’t think why it was dark in our backyard, except that there was another house with all the lights switched off too.
‘Then she sat down on the little stoop, and pulled me between her legs and she told me to look up, and I did, and there were all these tiny holes in the roof where light was getting in. But then she explained to me, she said “stars” and I remember not knowing what she was talking about, but that word was the prettiest one I’d ever heard, and it was even nicer coming from my mum, saying it in a whisper into my neck. Stars, I thought, and then mum pulled me into her chest. . . ’
You stop now. Because that first night becomes blurred, it ends with your mum’s breath on your neck, her arms holding you and the night sky before you for the very first time.
‘Why do you think she did it?’ Jed asks.
You give your head a little shake, and Jed uncrosses his legs and takes his place beside you, his side pressed against yours, and when he starts talking you feel the vibrations of his voice shaking your bones.
‘How amazing would it have been if she’d been able to keep the secret for longer? Imagine turning eighteen and your mum telling you she has a surprise. And at eighteen, when you think you’ve got everything figured out and you’re ready to bat any curveball – imagine in that moment your mum takes your hand and shows you night,’ he turns a little, and then his soft rumble is in your ear, ‘imagine thinking that you have everything all figured out, and then your mum shows you that you’ve still got so much to learn, that the world as you know it can still surprise you, because you’ve been living in daylight without ever knowing what was on the other side.’
You turn to your husband, his eyes shining and crinkled at the corners, his mouth beautiful and pink and as kissable as the first night you saw him.
‘Thank you for telling me,’ he says.