Mama brushed the hair from my face and slid her finger across my cheek. Her voice rose and fell in all the usual places when she sang me Sweet Afton and when she finished she told me to scoot over and laid her head beside mine. Her breath was sweet when she leaned in to rub our noses together and I giggled.
“Can you say Wynken and Blynken on your own yet?” She asked.
“Yes Mama” and I stretched my arms up in the air and wiggled them while I stalled for time and tried to remember the first few words.
“Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night…” Mama led me to it.
“Oh right.” My arms came crashing down and I said, “sailed off in a wooden shoe-”
It took me a few minutes to get started but the middle was my favorite so I remembered it without any prompting. I imagined that the cliffs outside our house and the boring blue ocean below had turned into a glittering sea that floated into the air and was filled with sights more beautiful than I had ever seen and that three little faeries were busy throwing their nets from a shoe like Daddy did from his boat but they were happier and there was no fishy smell.
I stopped and asked Mama what Wynken, Blynken and Nod fished for in the air and she whispered in my ear, “They fish for the stars.” Twirling a strand of my hair around her finger she said that the three were greedy little faeries and that faeries covet the stars more than they covet kisses from children or the voices of the oldest singers in the world. She said that they sell them at their markets and trade stars for true love.
I made a splashing sound with my lips and spit got on Mama’s face. She wiped it off and looked at me smiling.
“Sorry.” I told her and she kissed me on the forehead. She offered to finish the poem for me, and I told her that I knew the rest but was too tired to say it.
“That’s understandable” She nodded with a serious expression, “you’ve got a lot of dreaming ahead of you tonight.”
Mama looked into my eyes through the dark while she said the last of the poem, making her nightly promise through the words of Eugene Field,
“So shut your eyes while Mother sings Of wonderful sights that be, And you shall see the beautiful things As you rock in the misty sea Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three…”
In mid yawn I cut her off and finished,” …Wynken, Blynnken and Nod.”
I asked her to sing me another song and I laid my head on her chest and listened to her breathing while I mouthed the words. Her heart beat a slow bump, bump and more than the song she sang, it made me want to close my eyes and drift away. Her hands in my hair pushed me forward and I slipped but before I fell into dreams I said, “Daddy says you’re not really here.”
Her heart stopped beating.
“He says you’re dead and that I’m confused.”
For a moment her chest disappeared and my feather pillow took her place. My heart stopped too for fear that by speaking them, I’d made the words true. I was cold and all of the sudden scared until she came back to me and I heard her say, “What do you think Ashley?”
“I think you’re here.” I said.
Mama’s heart started beating again when I spoke and her hand closed, almost hard, around my waist, the other in my hair, unmoving. She swallowed and words she wanted to get out stuck in her throat making a cracking sound until she was able to say “And don’t you ever forget it.”
Then she began to sing again and the waves outside and her voice and the slow bump bump beating of her heart wrapped me up and carried me away to glittering seas and greedy fae.
Callie Armstrong © 2014