What I Know Now
I hear a voice over the baby monitor. A voice from our baby son Luka’s room, next door.
John doesn’t stir. Of course he doesn’t. I turn and look at the back of his head, half convinced that he isn’t asleep – that he’s deliberately pretending he hasn’t heard – but it’s no good. I’ve been told by so many people that a mother has an uncanny ear for the sounds of their child in need that the notion has stuck, and I can’t help but feel a tiny stab of pride that I’m better at this than he is as I try to tune in to the sounds from the little speaker, make out what they really are.
Every few weeks, it’ll sound like an actual-to-goodness human voice over the monitor. Not the sounds of a six month old baby, but a full-grown person, making full-formed words. The first time we heard it, it horrified us. Luckily, we were visiting with my sister at the time, and she said “Nah, that happens with all the monitors… it’s interference or room noises or something, not real words”, and that and a bit of a longer listen set us straight.
Now, when it happens, John gets fascinated with what he calls “pattern recognition” – how we can pull together varied sounds and make them sound like voices in our heads, like people do with crying geese or such.
It still creeps me out a little, personally.
And there it is again. It might be a voice, or it might not. Which means it might be the sound of a strange man in Luka’s nursery, or it might just be Luka waking in the night, and trying out a new sort of cry to get our attention.
It has always struck me as strange, when this happens, that the parental instinct to protect one’s young doesn’t kick in. Logically, why wouldn’t I run in there as fast as I can just in case? Or wake John up so he can?
But I don’t. And that stab of pride becomes a tiny prick of guilt with what I identify as fear and self-preservation if there’s an intruder, or fear of embarrassment if there isn’t.
I lie in the dark, listening, and try and work out what to do. I decide to shift noisily in my bed, see if that achieves anything.
The noises in the next room stop. At which point I realise that that doesn’t actually prove anything. Maybe there’s an intruder listening out for sounds of stirring from us, or maybe I’m just imagining the sounds. Useless.
I decide to get up and see if the baby needs anything. That’s the normal thing to do when you think they might need you in the night. No husband required.
There’s someone standing over the cot bed. A little taller than me, and standing like a man. Yelling, or running from the room to get my husband, don’t occur to me in my panic. I’m scared of what he might do to Luka if I stop watching him.
“Get out of here.” I say, trying to keep my voice as neutral as possible, not wanting to startle him, or show him fear.
He turns toward me, and now I can see past him to where Luka is lying awake in bed, smiling up at the stranger. My son catches sight of me, and beams even wider. I look from him to the intruder, who is staring at me, a broad smile on his own face.
He looks familiar, but not enough that it calms me.
“I said get out!” I repeat, dimly aware that I’m in the way of his only exit.
“I’ll only be a minute.” He says. There’s a weird expression on his face, now.
He’s got a nice face, actually. Pleasant without being too handsome. He actually looks a bit like John, though older. Much older, maybe, but sometimes it seems not. There’s something about that smile.
I reflexively look at Luka. He has stopped smiling at me and is now curled up, trying to find his feet in his sleeping bag.
I don’t realise I’m watching him until the man speaks again, startling me.
“I haven’t been careful enough, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have heard me.” He keeps smiling, but his eyes soften suddenly. “God, it’s so good to see you again. I wasn’t supposed to, but I’m glad.” He looks back at my son, who coos up at him, raspberries. “I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”
“What?” I blurt. “Who the hell are you? Why are you here?”
He keeps looking at Luka.
“We get to come back, you see, to share a few secrets. At the end… after the end, really, we get a few precious chances to visit here at the start.”
He turns back to me.
“Don’t worry mum… he won’t really remember.”
The three of us there, in the dark, me not really understanding what he just said, and I realise that I’m crying, and can’t stop.
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