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The Bedtime Routine

QU Montage

By Samantha Austin

At night, my father used to tuck me in.
He would grab the covers and sheets
and place me neatly beneath them,
use his arms, thick and strong, to center me on the oversized mattress,
and plant a kiss on my forehead before flicking off the light
and walking away.

I remember his footsteps more than the man himself
in stages of ages I can no longer describe—
just his paces, swollen patterns of carpet reflected in a stained glass mirror hanging to the left of the door.

Most mornings, I am envious of a sun that rises more evenly than my chest.
My days are hollowed with a desperate need to hide and be seen, if only to see: 
I am not alone.
Yet I’ve traced your steps for ages,
thousands of miles spent translating coded pages
of direction and expectation 
desperate to age the way you’ve envisioned,
to clog the veins with a humility based collision
of all you need me to be
and all I have become.  

But when do the years give fruit to life of its own? 
Vines cast into soil made of petrified ash,
a young woman born into an ancient soul
afraid of all she’s meant to give back?
My father used to tuck me in but nowadays I go to bed alone,
determined to keep promises to a man centered on a mattress of his own. 
I lie awake.
And feel pauses in the night air too still to be silent.
I simply wait.
And see devils in the cracks beneath my door, 
gnats circling like pending mythological fates and a stoic prayer to a God
I fear to admit I hate. 

I walked into a room last Friday and spoke with a man twice my age.
I sat in a hard-boiled seat and watched him direct himself into my mind,
all flashing lights and bright orange cones, sirens, whistles, 
ignition in origami flammable bones
and he asked me, “What do you want?”

I want to sleep in a bed without sacrifice, just desire,
to be the best and the worst of all you’ve ever known.
I want to stick my hands into chimneys and escape with the ash
to resurrect the fire, admire a warmth I barely know. 

I want to kiss a real man because I still feel like a child
and I want to laugh when someone falls and cry when they return.
I want to feel nervous, angry, spiteful, regretful and full of love
just to lose it all when I become full. 
I want to shed my skin like sheets in front of you tonight.
I want to line my prints in grease and mark the walls of this room.
I want to flirt, fuck, and curse, a triple threat of my creation
just to discover functions of my body separate from your foundation. 

I want to collect pennies from phone booths and count the change in groups of three,
rub the copper against my skin to make an olive tint appear. 
I want to sleep through the night and be upset when I realize you’re gone.
I want the flesh on my fingers to grow faster just so there’s more to feed on.

I still own those covers and sheets from the nights my father tucked me in. 
All pressed and cleaned and folded in a wooden engraved chest, 
haven’t used them in years, but I still imagine myself in that bed.