By Margaret McGoverne
We snuggled in the dark, the two of us, breath held. We were waiting for Shadow Man to materialise again; when he did, we could breathe and whisper our wishes. Bella lay on her back, cold feet on my legs. Every few minutes the show would reset, and the window would light up, painting a fleeting portrait of a face, Shadow Man’s face, on the ceiling. We had another chance.
I was older than my sister, nearly nine, and I knew that Shadow man was just the lights from cars on the road outside the window. Our makeshift bedroom was in the front parlour on a sofa bed that we tucked away every morning. And yet, if I believed very hard, maybe Shadow Man could be real and could make things better for us. Maybe we could move back home where our bedroom overlooked the back garden, dark and calm, with no rushing pictures on the walls, no need for comforting night treats.
My sister often struggled to sleep; she cried for our mother, who lay in the hospital. The little squirt was an annoyance to me and often tried to bend my fingers back, but when she moulded into me in the dark-light of our bed, I felt the warm shapes of home. I was glad she was with me, even though she yanked my ponytail. But I was the eldest, and I felt the length and weight of the four years between us, so I tried to make things better for her.
“Will Shadow Man come out tonight, Maggie?” she asked every evening after my aunt turned off the lamp and wished us good night. “Will he make mummy better tomorrow?”
“Maybe”. But just in case he didn’t, I made provisions. Tucked under the bed would be a biscuit or two, maybe an apple filched from my aunt’s kitchen during the day.
“Maybe, but if he can’t do it just yet, I’m sure he’ll leave us a present…”
I produced my nightly booty with a flourish, and we would eat quietly, munching as we talked about home and how our mother would be well for summer. We would visit the beach again and make a camp in the sand dunes like last year, our mother sunning her legs and doling out sandwiches and bananas. It would be very light, and Shadow Man would drowse, unneeded.
Things that happened redrew us as adversaries; we never visited the beach with our mother again. But sometimes when I lay in bed with the lights off, Shadow Man appears to me again, and I fight back the urge to grab a self-sabotaging midnight snack, remembering instead those sunny bites of sustenance.
Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full-length novel while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.