Alice stops the car in a quiet spot, a service road behind the Multiplex. The last film ended an hour ago and there won’t be any deliveries to the catering franchises on a Sunday morning. She switches off the lights but leaves the engine ticking over, to keep the heating going for a little longer.
She nudges the sleeping girl.
‘We’re there, babe,’ she says, soft tones cloaking her anxiety. The girl scrunches her eyes and snuggles the one-eared teddy.
‘I’m tired. Can’t I stay in the front?’
Alice wants to say yes, stretch out on the back seat herself and sink into the dreamless sleep she distantly remembers from a better time, but knows she must stay alert. She checks each door, making sure it is locked and opens a small gap at the top of each window, into which she wedges one edge of a towel, letting the rest hang down. Then she closes the window tight.
‘Put your pyjamas on, sweetheart,’ she whispers.
The girl pulls her fleecy unicorn print pyjamas over her underwear, squeezes between the front seats and lays down under the blanket along the back. Alice sings to her gently, a lullaby her mother sang when she was a little girl, until sure that her daughter is asleep. Then, propping her pillow against the steering wheel, she turns off the engine, closes her eyes and prays that tonight no one passing by will notice that they are home.
First published by Janus Literary
Image by Lucent Designs on Pixabay