Writing & Photo Contest 2015 Runner-up — Fiction

The Night Shift

“Wake up, Mom,” I whisper. I gently shake her deep breathing body.

She groans beneath the covers. All I can see is the top of her head.

“Come on, Mom, it’s time for you to drive us to school.” I make my hand more forceful, careful to not anger her.

She groans again. Her hand escapes from the covers. She waves me away.

I leave the darkness of her room and walk down the hall to Caitlyn’s room. I hold my breath as I push open her door.

“Wake up, Caitlyn.” My whisper floats through her dark room. She is curled into a ball under her blankets. “Time to get ready,” I say.

She lifts her pillow creased face. “I want Mommy to wake me up.”

“She’s still getting out of bed. Don’t bother her, she’s tired. Get up now or you’ll be late.”

Caitlyn gives a little squeal of cranky protest. I ignore her and go downstairs.

This is how it is every morning. Mom doesn’t get home from work until around four in the morning. She might get a half-hour of sleep before Dad wakes up to leave for work. She always complains that he’s too loud, but she’s just a light sleeper. After he leaves, she might get an hour or so before I wake her up around seven. She has to help Caitlyn and me, but mostly Caitlyn, get ready for school. No matter how old we are, this is how it’s been.

Mom drives the morning carpool for my friends and me to Edenwood Middle School. Then she drives back home to pick up Caitlyn, who goes to my old elementary school, Shelter Bay. After running a few errands, Mom will come back home, eat lunch, and take her afternoon nap. If she’s lucky, by the time she has to leave home and go to work in the evening, she will have gotten five hours of sleep.

I’m usually eating breakfast when Caitlyn comes flying downstairs, with the grace and energy only a little kid can have at 7:30 in the morning. Mom comes trudging behind her, still in her nightgown. I can see dark circles formed under her half-closed eyes.

“What do you want for breakfast?” Mom’s voice is still full of sleep.

“Cereal,” Caitlyn chirps, reaching for the cupboard.

“Sit down. I’ll get it,” Mom says. Her body sags and her eyes droop. And yet she pulls out the Froot Loops, pours them in a pink plastic bowl, and adds the milk. She kisses Caitlyn on the head as she places it in front of her.

“What time are we leaving?” Mom asks me.

I stare down at my bagel. She asks me this almost every morning. “We’re picking up Denise at 8:10.”

It’s 7:40 right now. By the time I put my shoes on, Mom has swept the floors, gotten our lunches ready, put in a load of laundry, and managed to change out of her nightgown. “Be ready when I get back,” she yells to Caitlyn as we leave.

In our minivan, I sit in the passenger seat every morning. Denise sits behind me, and Safiyyah sits behind Mom. I have to turn my body halfway in order to talk to them. Mom pipes up in the conversation sometimes, but she mostly stays quiet. By this point, her eyes have gained a little more colour.

She pulls to a stop in front of the school. We jump out of the van.

“Thank you,” Denise and Safiyyah say.

“Bye, Mom.” I hike my bag on my shoulder and look at her. She slumps into her seat.

“Bye.” She blinks slowly.

I join Denise and Safiyyah. The buzz of students is all around us. I never hear the van leave the school. Mom always waits until we’re at the back of the school before she drives off.

“I’m so tired,” Safiyyah complains. She lifts her face to the sky, eyes closed.

I picture Mom. Her sunken eyes stare back at me. I think of her broken naps and sleepless nights. “I’m not that tired,” I whisper.

This was an entry in the 2014/15 Writing & Photo Contest.

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