Oh, Toby, stop, I think hazily. He’s waked me again with his crying. Seems like he’s been crying since he was born, six months already. I’m so tired. I cover my ears with my pillow.
Then something shocks through my body; my eyes shoot open and I’m half sitting up. The scream shivers in my bones.
It wasn’t Toby. It wasn’t a dream. I know it was my mother.
I sit trembling as the screams subside to shrieking sobs. I creep out of bed, my legs trembling, my bare feet slipping on the cold wood. I get to the door between my room and my parents’ and try to stay quiet as I open it. White light slashes across the floor from the room beyond, Toby’s room. The door is wide open.
I see my mother next to Toby’s crib. She’s bent over against my father, who’s holding her up, his hands pressed into her back. A shocked, frightened hiccuping noise comes from my throat. My father looks back. Claire, go back to bed. His voice cracks. What’s the matter, Daddy? Just go back to your room, he says. I run back and curl up under the covers, shaking.
I’m still in my pajamas, sitting in Mrs. Lamontagne’s kitchen on the other side of the wall from our house. She gave me some warm milk and chocolate chip cookies, but I’m not hungry, and the chips look like they’re moving. Mrs. Lamontagne is chattering, as she always does, but tonight she sounds chittery, like a bird, nervous. Sounds are coming through the wall; I do and don’t want to hear them. Red lights are flashing in the street outside.
There’s a knock on the door. It’s Aunt Lucie. Why is she here in the middle of the night?
She and Mrs. Lamontagne whisper to each other, then she kneels and puts her arms around me. You’re coming to my house tonight, sweetheart. You can sleep with Delphine, OK? I don’t answer but let her take my hand, lead me out the back door, across the small yard and the one behind, through the chain-link gate, down a gravelly driveway to the next street and another block to Aunt Lucie’s house.
I’m lying in bed next to my cousin Delphine, who’s wide awake. What happened? Delphine asks. She is eight, two years older than me. I don’t know, I whisper, and I know my voice is shaky. I heard my mother saying your brother died, Delphine says. I lie sleepless, tears pooling in my eyes, trickling down my face into my mouth and my ears.