As Laura turned the pages of Tabitha’s favourite book, familiar words calmed her frayed nerves. It didn’t seem that long ago she was a slip of a thing in uncertain arms. With Martin’s encouragement, she rang her mum. Within half an hour, a proud grandmother had ventured into the hospital ward. For ten minutes it felt like they were a proper family. Until she had to leave to make Thomas’s dinner. It was then she had no choice to accept – her mum would only ever be a part time Nanny.
‘Buddy wants you to do the voices Mummy.’ Tabitha said.
Tabitha hadn’t let go of Buddy since they got home. Had pestered Laura about when they were going to the park again. Despite meeting so rarely, two generations had developed a strong bond. A love of reading, especially Little Red Riding Hood, started with the gift of Laura’s favourite book.
It was while her mum read to her, when Laura was not much older than Tabitha, that her chaotic home life made sense. They didn’t have to be quiet. Her mum would make her giggle with all the comical voices for the characters. She loved the grandmother the best. When the wolf was killed by the huntsman, they both clapped together.
‘Read it again Mummy,’ Tabitha implored, her eyes quickly losing the fight to stay awake.
‘This is the third time I’ve read it.’ Laura tucked her daughter into bed.
‘Will we see Nanny tomorrow?’ Tabitha yawned.
‘I’m sure she would love that.’ Not for the first time that night, Laura’s thoughts turned to her mum.
‘We could go and feed the swans.’ Tabitha said.
‘We could, but for now a little girl needs her sleep.’
‘Will you put my nightlight on?’
‘I always do and Buddy will watch over you.’ Laura said.
‘Is Buddy as old as you Mummy?’
‘Older I think, your nanny gave him to me when I was a baby.’
‘Wow, he must be five hundred years old then.’
A laugh sprinkled out of Laura like hundreds and thousands on a cake. As her daughter finally succumbed to sleep, the dragon night light was switched on. ‘Goodnight sweetheart, sweet dreams.’ It wasn’t until she could hear the contented soft snores that she finally left the room.
Laura took out her mobile to text her mum. We could go and feed the ducks again tomorrow. Are you free? She went to press the button, but aware of the time, deposited it back in her pocket.
‘Cup of tea?’ Martin shouted from the kitchen.
‘Yes please.’ Laura replied, and caught sight of her reflection in the mirror – the same blue eyes as her father, the same shaped shoulders. The same temper. She hadn’t meant to snap when Martin offered to take her turn tonight. None of this was his fault. But he wouldn’t let up. Why do you have to keep on at me Martin. I said I would put Tabitha to bed! When the vein in her neck throbbed, Laura walked away. Counted to ten. Counted to ten again. Let her anger abate to nothing. It had been a long day, but that was no excuse.
‘The wolf, dressed in her father’s clothing, said ‘What big eyes you’ve got.’ Her mum’s voice never carried further than the door, but Laura loved the way she made up all the voices. She thought the wolf sounded a little like her daddy when he lost his temper.
‘Can you get to the bit where the huntsman kills the wolf Mummy? I like that part.’
She tapped Laura on the nose and relayed the last page of the book like a lead actress in a play. “The axe fell with a thud – the wolf was dead.”
‘Yay, naughty old wolf is dead.’ Laura shouted.
‘Shh, you have to be quiet it’s getting late.’
Laura raised her arms, and silently cheered.
As the book was closed, Laura clung on to her mum’s arms. ‘I’m not tired yet Mummy. Can you read it again?’
‘Mummy has to go down and make Daddy’s dinner, but I’ll look in on you later.’
‘Okay, but can I have my night light on?’
‘I thought we decided you can sleep without it on now.’ Her mum said.
‘Please, Tufty doesn’t like the dark.’
‘Okay, just for tonight.’
The light was switched on, but the music was turned low. The ceiling soon sparkled with stars. Laura watched them spin around the room. With drooped eyelids, and a tired smile, she wriggled to get comfortable.
‘Tufty, or Buddy tonight?’ Her mum said.
‘Both of them – when one is asleep, the other keeps their eyes wide open.’
Laura reached out for Tufty first, before Buddy was put under the bed.
‘Why is Buddy underneath the bed tonight?’
‘Because of the monsters – he makes sure they stay quiet so I can sleep.’
Laura watched as the glow obliterated the shadows. It was better that way. Especially in the dead of night. Sometimes echoes bounced around her bedroom like a thunderstorm at sea. She had to cover her ears, but nothing drowned out the night terrors.