“Would you read something to me before we turn out the light,” asks my sleepy niece, Amy, as I tuck her into bed. “Please.”
With her parents off on a well-deserved long weekend, Amy’s pulling an all-nighter at our house, something which doesn’t happen often, but which she loves because it means she can help out with the horses in the morning. She seems to love this more than anything in the world. Possibly even more than her devotion to all things chocolate.
Having no children of my own, I love to spend these impossibly rare moments with her. The somnolent tête à tête before lights out, when the dying embers of the day’s thoughts finally extinguish and we are left to our individual restorative peace. For some reason Amy, even though she is 12, still likes to be read to before I leave her to slumber. Perhaps it’s the special occasion of it. Our special occasion. It is a moment I am all too willing to share.
“Of course, sweetie.” I whisper with a slight yawn while setting myself down on the edge of the bed beside her. “What would you like?”
“A Shakespeare sonnet,” she yawns, drowsily in response.
“Really …” I tease and smile. She is a young woman who already demonstrates exquisite literary taste, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the William Shakespeare of old she has in mind. “And, pray, which Shakespeare is it to whom you refer?” I ask, while reaching for a small self-published chapbook that lives on the bedside table for the pleasure of anyone who might be interested in a moment’s distraction.
“You know which one, Aunt Ella,” she mumbles with sleepy agitation.
“Old Bill?” I ask.
“Old Bear,” she insists, her bleary eyes brightening slightly with anticipation. “Read me the one about love.”
“That one again?”
“It’s my favourite. He’s such a romantic.”
He’s such a romantic. She’s such a romantic. The he to whom she refers is my horse Shakespeare who fancies himself a poet. No, perhaps I am the romantic. I can’t help myself. When you’re a writer and a horse named Shakespeare trots into your life you have to do something with it.
“Do you remember what number it is in our little book here?” I ask while thumbing through the pages.
“I think it’s XIX,” she mumbles, being literal with her Roman numerals.
I continue to flip. “Ah, here it is. It’s actually XXI. Do you remember what that is in real numbers?” I ask, since the only numbers she considers real are the ones we use day to day.
“Twenty-one?” she murmurs, a little unsure.
“Geez, you’re a smart cookie.”
“I try.” Amy hunkers down under the covers as I flatten out the pages and hold the chapbook up where I can see it in the dimness of the bedside light. My fading eyes fight for the clarity of form and function. Removing my glasses helps.
“Okay then … here goes …” I clear my throat and begin in my best poetry reading voice ~ slow, methodical, lyrical.
As in the dark of night a thief doth steal,
New love my heart hath seizéd in a trice.
And should I share with you just how I feel:
It’s thumpity-thumpy-thump is rather nice.
A feisty filly brightens this ol’ bay,
And so profoundly fills my Soul with bliss
I scarce believe, this cold Feb’rary day,
A shift from old to new hath brought me this.
I did not look for love; no, it found me.
And in my heart-home set most perfect peace.
Where once twas blind I now more clearly see,
For ‘pon this life love’s joy hath wrought new lease.
And to my heart hath whispered pure and true
With lovely presence of someone like you.
We both wait for a moment before breathing a word.
“He is such a clever horse,” Amy says, dreamily.
“Yes, he is rather.” I smile. Amy knows that I am the pen behind these words. Still, Shakespeare, or Bear as we like to call him, is the Muse.
“Read it to me again, please?” My sleepy niece asks as she moves onto her side to face me. The draw bridges of her eyes close in as she buries her head deeper into the duck down pillow.
“Of course, darling.” I pull the covers up around her shoulders as Indy the black cat curls up in a ball behind her bent knees.
I repeat the sonnet ~ even slower this time, wrapping my tongue around every word so as to heighten its feeling until I am, again, without words.
“Again.” Amy demands, sleepily. She’ll be gone soon.
I repeat the sonnet, now at a snail’s pace as if it becomes a meditation, slowing the day to emptiness. (Gosh, now I’m sleepy.) And soon she is gone, into a netherworld I shall never know. Soundly breathing; her long, dark hair tucked in a pony tail; the collar of her flannel pony pyjamas poking out from the top of the covers.
With great care I ease myself off the bed and bend to kiss her soft cheek. I place the chapbook back upon the bedside table where I found it and turn out the light. But for the glow of the Full Pink Moon through the dormer window and a dim light in the hall way the room is in complete shadow.
“Goodnight, my sweet,” I whisper, as I creep toward the door.
“G’nmibh …” She mutters in her sleep.