Don't Wake Mama

by Deirdre Erin Lockhart

Don't wake Mama, Daddy always said. Mama caught cancer. It made her sleepy. I played quietly, sometimes peeking in at her. Other than the strange hair that made her cry, she looked like Mama sleeping. She didn't look like Mama awake anymore. Something made her face twist and her eyes sad. It made me squirm when she looked at me. But not when she was sleeping. So I was quiet.

I played in the hall near her room where I would hear if she called me. I had a big bucket of Duplo Blocks. I could make towers as tall as me. Usually red ones. But Daddy said the bucket made too much noise, so he put it on a high shelf, and I played make-believe. I made believe Mama played with me. Sometimes, when she wasn't sleepy, she did.

But today Mama was sleeping in a strange bed in the livingroom. It was all white and shiny, and its sides tucked around Mama. Her new hair spread over a shimmery pillow and her cheeks were bright pink. People crammed the livingroom and stared at her. If they weren't careful, they would wake Mama. I didn't like them. They looked sad. Their crying was going to wake Mama.

I clutched Bessie tight and peeked through the door. I wanted Mama back in her own bed. I think Daddy did too; he kept looking at her, all sad and disappointed. Daddy could carry her back to bed. He had before. I would tell him to, then all those people would leave.

But it was hard to reach Daddy. People crowded him. If I wasn't afraid I would wake Mama, I'd pretend they were trees and the livingroom a great big forest. And I was lost. Bessie wanted to pretend, too. But we were both good and kept quiet.

"There's Bailey," someone said, and a hush like wind swept through those black trees and blew them apart, and I reached Daddy. He looked afraid to see me. I bet he thought I would wake her. But I wouldn't. Really I wouldn't!

"Mama sleeping," I whispered and put my finger to my lips like he always did. I wouldn't wake her.

"Yes, baby, like I explained last night."

He opened his arms and scrushed me in them. Daddy was crying again. Daddy never cried before Mama caught cancer. Daddy yelled a few times, even made Mama cry, but I never saw him cry.

"They shouldn't be here," I said.

His hug loosened, and I could breathe again. So could Bessie. "Who shouldn't, baby?"

"All of them." I whispered. "They're gonna wake Mama."

"No, baby. Mama won't wake. Remember how we talked last night? I told you she was very tired and needed a long rest, the kind you can't wake from?"

I nodded. Mama always woke. But I would be very quiet this time. So would Bessie.

My Duplos were back out the next morning. Did Daddy think I would forget? I tiptoed past Mama's door, and Bessie tumbled downstairs after me. I told her to be quiet, but Bessie was always loud. I dropped her on the kitchen floor and spanked her. Her open-close eyes shuddered in her head, then she said she was sorry, and so did I, and we were both quiet.

Mama slept a long time. Her door was closed. I didn't even peek in. Maybe when she woke, she wouldn't be sleepy anymore. Bessie and I played outside. It was nice and hot. Then it got cold. The yard turned all orange with leaves. Bessie and I built tunnels and houses and castles and dragons until it grew too cold to play outside.

It was hard not to play with my Duplos when I was inside and they were right there all colorful and inviting. Bessie and I decided to put them on the high shelf so we wouldn't be tempted. Bessie was no good at it. She kept flopping in my way until I had to tell her to sit in the corner while I did it.

I pulled the chair all the way to the wall and climbed up on it. The bucket was heavy. It yanked me right off my feet, and I splatted into it. Then I got it up high. Almost over my head. But not high enough, and we tumbled off the chair. The blocks spilled like a rainbow over the floor, and I landed on top of them. It hurt, but I didn't make a sound. Not a sound. Just stared at Mama's door to see if I woke her.

Then Daddy came running. Daddy forgot Mama was sleeping and called loud if I was OK.

I put my finger to my lips like he used to do.

And he dropped to his knees before me. "Why? Baby, what's wrong?"

"Shhhh!" I scolded. "Don't wake Mama."

Bad enough having to remind Bessie all the time, Daddy should remember!

He blinked at me. The strangest look came over his face, like he was Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh. "Bailey? What did you say?"

I was getting mad. My legs hurt. The Duplos cut them. "Shhhh!" I hissed, starting to cry. Now he made me wake Mama. I hadn't meant to. I had been so good!

"Oh baby." He stood me up from the pile of Duplos and held me tight. Mama didn't make a sound. And somehow that made me cry harder. "Baby, what were you doing with the chair?"

"I . . . I had to put the Duplos hiccup up. You took them down. You shouldn't hiccup have. You know better, Daddy. They wake Mama."

Now my hiccups would wake her! They were verrry loud.

"Baby, you can't wake Mama. Remember our talk? She won't wake up again. Remember? You can play with your Duplos now. You can run or yell or cry. You can do anything you want to do."

I stamped my foot in the Duplos. "I don't wanna wake Mama!"

"You can't, darling, you can't." He rubbed my back and picked me up. Then he opened Mama's door. It was very dark. But the bed was made. Mama wasn't there.

BIO: DEIRDRE ERIN LOCKHART is a Canadian author with stories regularly appearing in Joyful! Magazine.