I watched the spider crawling across the ceiling, needing a distraction from the empty top bunk bed. How strange that he had decided to make his home in this room. My wife was always immaculate with her cleaning in here. Still, she had other things on her mind right now.
Lewis had settled down again. His breathing was soft and across his face was that angelic expression that only young children have. It was hard for me, a first time father, to stop staring at him. Leaving him to his dreams, I half closed the door behind me and went back to my own room. My wife curled up in bed, had left the lamps on. The soft light circled her face and I could make the worry lines on her forehead.
‘He’s a sleep again now,’ I whispered.
She moaned softly and muttered, ‘Thanks.’
I got under the duvet as she rolled over and sighed deeply.
She shook her head, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever feel ‘okay’ again.’
‘I’m a bad mother.’
‘No. No, you’re not.’
She squeezed my hand, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. I couldn’t think. My throat had closed and there were only echoes of images in my head. I put my arms around her. She put her head to my chest. We held each other, listening to our breathing and heartbeats.
‘I don’t want any more children,’ she whispered.
I kissed her head, ‘Alright.’
‘I mean it, Neil. It’s just heartbreaking all the time….’ she faded, chocking on a sob.
I hugged her. It made no sense to argue, it would only make us both worse. She started to cry softly, her hands clung to my shoulders and her body shook against mine. I rubbed her back and told her it was going to be okay. Though I knew it never would be again.
It was early in the morning as I padded down the hallway to check on Lewis. There was urgency in my chest to complete my task, but it was taking me forever to there. The dark was pressing, but I could still make out the cream walls and the cluster of framed photographs.
There was a dim light shining from under Lewis’ bedroom door. It was only the nightlight, I thought, though I don’t remember it being so bright. I turned the door handle and poked my head inside.
Strands of cobwebs met my eyes. The whole room had been taken over by the thick, white strands, making it look like someone had decorated the room for Halloween, but had gone overboard. I pushed through the nearest webs and began searching the room.
‘Lewis? Where are you?’ I cried.
There was no reply and the panic rose in my stomach. I fought my way through the webs, feeling their stickiness brush against my skin. I began to tear them down, but they stuck on my clothes.
I reached the bunk bed and found it empty.
‘Lewis?’ I shouted.
I tore webs from my face and looked around the room. I could see nothing, but a slight dint in the cobwebs where I had entered the room from. I turned and fought my way to the bookcase, but Lewis wasn’t there. Fighting back a scream, I ran out of the room, the cobwebs trailing out behind me and falling into the hallway. I went back into my bedroom, my breathing deep in my panic tight chest. The bed was made and my wife was sitting in the middle of it. My mouth dropped as her head turned towards me.
She was wearing a massive black dress; with frills of delicate lace falling around her white skin and a matching veil over her face. In her left hand was a bouquet of black roses and in the other was a teddy bear. She looked like a gothic bride.
‘What happened?’ I asked, snapping out of my shock, ‘Where is Lewis?’
‘He’s gone….they are both gone now…’ she replied sadly.
‘It was the best thing really….a half life is not a full one.’
‘Half life? What are you talking about, Beth?’
She shook her head causing the black dress to scratch against her skin. ‘They were beautiful, my boys and exactly the same. It wasn’t fair….how can one survive without the other?’
‘They can do!’ I yelled, ‘Where is he? What did you do to my son, Beth?’
She shook her head again and then dabbed at her eyes with a black lacy hanky.
I grabbed the bed railing hard and screamed.
I awoke in a tangle of sheets. The sweat was bubbling on my forehead and my lungs gasping for breath. I threw the covers back and raced for Lewis’ room in a blind panic, fearful of what I’d find behind the door and praying that the nightmare was left behind me.
Opening the door, I found the room tidy. The night lamp beside the bunk bed showed me that Lewis was still there. Sound asleep in his bed. I went to him, wanting to touch his soft blond hair, to make sure he was real.
‘Neil? What’s wrong?’ Beth whispered from the doorway.
I didn’t reply, but knelt down beside Lewis and touched him. He stirred a little and turned his face towards my hand.
‘He’s okay, isn’t he?’
Lewis opened his eyes against my hand and pulled a face.
‘Hi,’ I breathed.
My wife came to my side and put her hand on my shoulder.
‘Leo’s gone now,’ Lewis whispered.
‘Yes, he is, but he’s not really gone,’ I answered him.
‘I miss him, daddy.’
‘We do too, sweetheart,’ Beth replied.
‘It’ll be all right. Go back to sleep now,’ I said and kissed his forehead.
Then I took Beth’s hand and led her out of the room.
‘I believe you,’ she said, ‘It’ll be all right.’