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At Home in the Dark

by Melanie McGehee 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 5 months ago
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-my little night owl helped me see

(ETSY seller NeedleFeltFinds)

Liddy was never afraid of the dark. It’s like she’d kept some womb-like essence inside her when she came into this world, an essence that was at home in water and soothed by the night. While other mothers complained of evening colic, I was at my wit’s end with my daughter’s cries by ten in the morning, that time when there is no denying that the day has laid claim and a person, an adult at least, would like to accomplish something, begin to be what the world describes as productive.

It’s true. Oh, so true. At least I think it is for most of us. Mothers still want to do other things.

And at that midmorning hour, a baby should be ready for her first nap. Liddy’s daily resistance to it frustrated me. I was past the when she sleeps I sleep stage. I wanted to get back to writing. I loved words. And Liddy had none to share with me yet.

A few months into our relationship, one of what I called constant companionship, stay-at-home mom and infant, my mother came to stay with us for a week to give me a break.

She brought an old lovey from my childhood, a stuffed owl, needle felted by my grandmother from lavender and deep purple wool, because those had been my favorite colors.

“Oh, FLUFF EYES! I’d forgotten about him!”

Mom laughed. “You always called him EYES. Just EYES. I added the FLUFF each time you said it. I thought you’d never catch on.”

That week, I didn’t know if it was my mom’s baby magic or FLUFF EYES, but Liddy napped twice a day, every day, without a fuss. She’d hold the small owl in her right hand, fingers not yet long enough to reach all the way around it, grasping it tight until she began to doze. Then, the purple owl would fall to her side and we’d know she’d given in fully to sleep.

My mom noticed the oddity first. “Look. He falls face up every time, his eyes always looking at her.”

It was true. No matter if mom was in the rocker with Liddy or on the couch with Liddy or sitting at a kitchen bar stool holding Liddy, whether FLUFF EYES had just an inch to fall or a couple of feet, he landed face up.

After mom’s visit, I found myself enjoying mornings more. I’d rock longer than it took for Liddy to fall asleep. I’d linger with her in my arms. One morning I caught myself whispering HOO HOO to her, like one would whisper SSHH SSHH to quiet a child. To my delight, she mimicked me.

Hoo. Hoo.

It became our thing.

One night I heard her. She'd been in her crib for hours. I was just settling down for the evening, brushing my teeth in the hall bath across from her room. HOO. HOO.

How strange, I thought. She'd never called for me at night. I was actually a bit pleased. I enjoyed going to her, anticipating her relief when I arrived. I called to my husband to share this new thing. He was already in bed, reading a book about dreams. I remember he'd bought it when I was pregnant and having strange ones. Oh, my husband. Always one to believe in something.

But that night, Liddy did not respond to me when I came into her bedroom. I called to her. LIDDY, HOO. HOO. She was sitting, having just learned that week how to pull up and steady herself. I could see the outline of her face in the barely lit room, the little half-moon shaped night light's glow not quite reaching high enough. I was disappointed that she did not look scared or sad. Isn't that something for a mother to admit...

I confess it, though.

Liddy was making other sounds. In addition to a HOO HOO every now and then, Liddy was saying lots of other things. I couldn't understand. She was still an infant. I feel silly even mentioning it. Babies babble at that age. But something in me knew that this wasn't typical baby babbles. Liddy was talking.

I wanted to decipher a bit of it, at least. So I sat down on the floor beside her crib, legs crossed like a kindergartener. I felt Fluff Eyes on the floor and smiled to myself. Then that's when I knew it. Liddy was talking to him.

I don't know how long I stayed there, but my husband had already put his book away and turned off the light when I came to bed. He reached for me when he heard me whimper. And I snuggled into his side.

"Hey," he whispered, "our Liddy can see in the dark."

It was the first time I let myself grieve it. "But she can't see me."

Liddy is blind.

I don't know why I added to her blindness that first year. Somehow I believed that because she could not see me that she would never know me. I thought she'd never walk, never talk, never leave this house. I was blind to all the things that one can do when they can see in the dark.

There were hard times. Oh my goodness. There were hard things to learn, hard adaptations to make. Kept me so busy that I've now gone years without sitting down to write a single thing. Before Liddy was born, I believed I was a poet. It's been a long time since I've strung together anything coherent.

She's gone. We left her at college today. She got a swimming scholarship. Remember I told you about that womb-like essence? At home in the water. That's my girl.

Tonight I'm in her room again. And I'm ready. I'm ready to tell you what I've learned. Because I learned to see in the dark, too. Fluff Eyes is gone. Liddy took her to college. But I saw the strangest thing. A visitor right outside the window. He made me giggle.

I wonder if he's been out there for eighteen years. I pushed my nose up against the pane and tried to see his coloring. Probably brown or maybe grey. "HOO HOO," I called.

It's when I knew. In the dark, your owl can be anything you want him to be. Even purple. So I sat down again on the floor, cross-legged like that night and began to babble. What else do I see?

- Author Note: This is not a true story and I confess I have no experience with blindness. I can say that my own child has certainly helped me see more clearly “in the dark” and I believe each has such a capability to help we adults.

Short Story

About the author

Melanie McGehee

I write to feel alive and to heal. Sometimes, the stories I weave are true.

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