“Mama, I can’t sleep.”
I sit on the edge of the bed. Sophie’s feverish little hand sneaks into mine, all sticky with sweat. Her forehead gleams and her eyes are too bright, too shiny, and I can’t let her see how exhausted and scared I am.
With a weary smile I stand, drawing her curtains to let the moonlight flood into the room. Her walls are painted painting with silver and it feels like we’re underwater. Outside, it’s a clear night. The stars look like pinpricks in black cloth, letting light through tiny holes – perhaps the light comes from heaven.
“Can you see the moon?” I ask Sophie. She notes mutely, hands folded on her stomach.
“He’s there to watch over you,” I tell her softly, watching her face as she watches the moon. “He’s a kind old man that shines at night to show you that nothing is too dark for you to handle.”
Sophie’s chapped lips curve into a tiny smile, and my heart aches. I continue my story, choosing each word with care. “But sometimes we can’t see the moon. On some nights it’s too cloudy and everything looks dark.”
The last couple of months have been the darkest of my life, and I’m sure Sophie’s known that too. She knows that she’s not getting any better; she’s just not asking questions. I brush back hair that has stuck to her clammy forehead, and her eyes flick to me. “But remember, Sophie: even though everything is scary and you can’t see where you’re going, the dark is never too much for you to handle.”
She blinks, and I pray that I’ve got through to her. “Do you understand, Sophie?” Her chin dips with a nod.
“The moon is behind the clouds,” she says, unprompted. “When it’s dark, he’s not gone, just hiding.” I smile, so relieved – and the feeling of my heart tearing in two. My eyes prickle with tears.
“That’s right,” I say thickly, bending to kiss her skin. She’s like fire under my lips, her skin burning up. “You’re such a good girl. I love you very much.”
“I love you too, Mama,” she whispers, and I have to go. Fleeing from the room that has become her hospital, I fly down the corridors. I make sure I’m well out of earshot before I start weeping, great gasping sobs that want to tear me apart. Once I’ve begun I don’t think I can stop. And all the way through, the only thought in my head is ‘oh, god, please – I can’t lose her too’.