Shall I Tuck You In?
A Badtime Story
The twins had never seen Nurse Mariam smile and so, when they saw that unfamiliar gash appear like a crescent moon torn from the sky of her face, they held their breaths.
‘Are you not asking for a story tonight?’ she said.
The twins stared at her, their bodies limp on the cold, white bed sheet.
‘Are you not asking for the light to remain burning in its glass carapace?’ she said.
The elder Jacob gathered a fistful of cotton sheet in his hand.
‘Are you not asking for the door to stand ajar like a gawp?’ she said.
The younger Jacob picked his nose.
‘Are you not asking anything?’ she said. ‘Did Cloister sew your mouths closed?’ At this she held a corner of the top sheet to her mouth and let out a giggle. ‘Speak up, speak up. Did the cats get your tongues, again?’
The younger Jacob giggled too and received a sharp jab in the ribs from his brother.
‘Why are you smiling?’ Jacob asked. ‘And, was that a laugh?’
Nurse Mariam twirled away from the bed, the top sheet winding around her like the spine of a sun-bleached snake. ‘Why? Because I am delirious. And yes, because I cannot contain it. Dearest Cloister has asked for my hand in marriage and the joy of it has infected me like a plague.’
Elderly though she was, the nurse skipped out of the room like a broken chair being hurled through a window. ‘Sleep well, dear boys. My sweet, sweet boys. Sleep well.’
And with that, she was gone…
…leaving the story unread, the light burning and the door gaping open.
Jacob and Jacob looked at one another. They were not strapped down, nor restricted by their bed cover. They were neither swaddled like babies nor guarded by dogs.
They were free.
Moving as one, the twins rolled out of bed. Thump thump they landed upon the floor like sausages dropped upon a kitchen floor and there they stayed for two entire minutes, until they were certain their nurse was not about to come running back.
Step by step they edged out of the room to break the divide between the tooth-yellow light of their bedroom and the slug-blood dark of the landing.
Ahead of them the warped wooden floor boards dipped and curled and the twins, having walked this way for centuries, kept themselves to the edges which did not creak and were less likely to crumble like time.
The darkness intensified. It gathered up like tissues stuffed into a wound. The twins crept on.
And on until they reached the hidden door which led to the servant staircase. Carefully they passed the closed door and headed towards the wide window at the end, against which was rattling the stumps of a tree.
‘Easy,’ said Jacob.
‘Peasy,’ said Jacob.
Placing their hands upon the frame, the twins lifted the sash window and turned, ready to climb out into the chill air.
‘Shall I tuck you in?’ said Nurse Mariam, emerging from a dark corner still wrapped in their top sheet.
The twins fell to the floor and closed their eyes as their nurse slammed the window against the insistent tapping of the severed branches.
‘Count yourselves lucky,’ she whispered as she tucked their limp bodies under her arms. ‘But not as lucky as me.’
Badtime Stories, by Dom Conlon and Carl Pugh is coming soon from Unbound in glorious hardback. To pledge your undying support for this project, please visit: https://unbound.com/books/badtime-stories