Grace doesn’t know, but every night around 2 a.m. I go to her. It started when she was just a toddler, but still, so many years later, I creep into her room and roll back her duvet to check that her bony chest is still fluttering, her weak heart still doing its best. Tonight is one of those nights I try to be brave, stop myself. I stare at the ceiling, make my legs heavy.
Stay put, I tell them.
I try to think about something else. I plan what Grace should wear when we visit the new paediatric unit in Taunton in a couple of weeks; we might be
photographed. But even that won’t stick. I don’t see Grace smiling for the camera, a pretty clip in her short, spiky hair. I see her in bed, across the hall, her rosebud mouth gasping for air, her lips turning grey then blue. I see her green eyes, naked without their glasses, fearful, desperate, searching for me in the dusky light of her room, and then before I know it I’m out of bed, across the hall and by her side. My hand goes straight to her warm chest. It rises and falls, slow and dreamy, just like it should. But that’s not enough. I lean over her, my cheek an inch from her mouth. I feel the breeze of her, her little life puff warm and rhythmic against my skin. She’s OK. Only then does my own breath catch up with me.
I rearrange her hands under her favourite daisy-printed sheets and stroke my palm lightly over her body, the sweetest little mound. She’s out deep tonight. Dr
Parker said the antibiotics he prescribed after her operation will make her sleep heavier than normal. It’s nothing to worry about.
I pick Flopsy up from where she’s fallen on the floor, grey ears sticking out at angles, and sit her at the top of Grace’s pillow. It’s a habit, that’s all, this checking on her. Her windows are definitely locked. The nurses say it’s normal, totally natural. They touch my arm and say they’d be the same after everything we’ve been through. I plump the heart-shaped cushion in her wheelchair. They’re not only talking about Danny; they’re talking about the time Grace was rushed to hospital foaming at the mouth, the time we finally decided the only way to get nutrients into her body was through a tube in her stomach, the time he tried to take her like he took my Danny. I pause in the doorway, watch my little mouse sleep for a moment. I always leave her door open so I can hear her call for me if she wakes, or is woken.
My bed sighs under my weight, and as I turn off my bedside lamp I think how the nurses have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s not what’s already happened that keeps me rushing, terrified, into her room at night. It’s the invisible bomb I hear ticking over our heads, the precious seconds we have left together that are starting to run out, like water through cupped hands. It’s the horrific promise of what I know will come. That one day the locks will slide back, the handle will slowly start to turn, and then there will follow those practised, determined footsteps and no matter how fast I run to her, how much I plead, there is nothing I can to do to save us both.