Long After Bedtime || Shandy Lawson

Long after bedtime and long
before the birds and the dawn
when I could hear the furnace tick
click-tick-tick from the basement,
and Dad’s sleeping-sounds stumble
from under the bedroom door
and not even a car on the road
out front, the whole street asleep.
I tiptoed out of bed and pressed
my door shut and switched
my little lamp on and dug a pencil
and a few crayons from my dresser,
some prized sheets of new copy
paper folded once and stapled
in the middle—an empty book
waiting only to be written and
perhaps illustrated, dedicated,
indexed, mapped for a sequel—
and I’d start at the beginning,
no thought as to where it would go
only an idea of the book I wanted
to make—which was assuredly
already written and one I’d just read
the afternoon before, or some
retelling of a fairy tale with the
names changed.

I found happiness in putting words
down, even if scarcely my own.
It felt essential and obvious and yet
so good that I hid it—
aren’t such good-feeling things
to be done in secret?
(I had a pack of gum hidden
under my bed as well.)
So I sat on the carpet, legs folded
under, and set up at the wooden
chair serving as my desk—it was
painted blue?—and put down
words, happy as any child had ever
been, scrawling and scratching
at the paper with my pencil and
crayons, pausing now and then
to listen for footsteps in the hall
or birds in the birch outside
my window to tell me it was time
to go back to bed for a few
hours because soon the happiness
would have to be put away, slipped
back into the dresser drawer with
the rest of my work where it
would stay until tomorrow, when
I could fill in another page.

But I’d keep the story in my
head as the day passed,
gripping it hotly like a shield
against all I feared out to get me
until the afternoon gasped its dreadful
last, and the bus let me go in front
of the house and school clothes
were put away clean, old play
jeans and tee shirts put on and soon
stripped off after dinner, bath time,
maybe a little television, then the wait
began. Maybe I’d drift off a little,
probably not, but I’d wait and wait
through “Dallas” or “Dynasty”
until long after bedtime and long
before the birds and the dawn
when I could hear the furnace tick
click-tick-tick from the basement.

This was originally published in Spring 2018 edition of The Helix.