Bedtime Stories

Words by Lucy McLaughlin


I ask my mother to read to me because her voice is a dinghy on the shoreline and I am tired of the sand. Neverland is gratuitous up here because I am five years old 

     and each wave that laps at my feet is the first time 

                                                                               and the last time 

                                                                                                        and the only time.   


I am being cradled by a purple dressing gown. It wears a body that is large, dome-shaped and weather-beaten with love. 

    Where will we go tonight, mummy?

I ask her in a voice that is small and powerful and ready for the tide. 

I ask her even though it is my choice: it has always been my choice. I am the sailor. 

The vessel doesn’t choose its mast. 


In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.

It is an egg so small that you could fit the whole world in there. I touch it with my finger and it blinks. 


The small caterpillar is gulping down his dinner. The munches are soft and secret and I lap up their sound so that there is someone out there to hear it.  

On Tuesday, he eats through two pears, but he is still hungry. 

On Friday, he eats through five oranges     and I am panicking   even as my mother’s voice wicks away the fear with a soft tongue 

    because he is still hungry. 

He will eat himself to death mummy! He will eat himself to death before beauty eats him first! 

But my voice is drowned out by the steady drumming of a butterfly’s wings. 

I take my mother’s hand as we sail on into the night. 


I sit myself down for tea with Sophie and her mother. There are five chocolate muffins and a big white cake with red cherries. The tea is hot and steaming and I hold my cup out and smile to Sophie’s mother as she pours. We are just getting comfortable when suddenly there is a ring at the door. We look around, puzzled. Our brows furrow in lines that zig-zag like broken train tracks. 

I will Sophie to open the door first. I stay back, toes not quite curling into the frame, heart drowning in my stomach. 

She opens it, just a tad, and a huge beast curls around the slit in the door. It is a big, furry, stripy tiger. It wears a grin that is warm and sinister and coddled. I stare at its paws and imagine a great claw, sharp and pointed, stretching out beneath all that fur, tapping the doorbell with a tiny ding

   It is a thought that makes me shudder with delight. 

When Sophie’s daddy comes home to find a parched house, he is shrewd and calm and watchful and I wonder if my daddy would react the same way. I cross my fingers behind my mother’s back and will our doorbell to ring, just to know, just to know. 

I think of all that tiger food going to waste        

        putrefying in a kitchen that sits beckoning its guest. I want to stroke Sophie’s hair and tell her it’s okay. That sometimes you have to let the things you love go. 

  Why did the tiger never come back, mummy?

But my mother is all eyes and no mouth: 

   the bow is lurching in the wind and we must go on.  


A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.

A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.

I cower beneath purple cotton, grasping at the frays of the dressing gown for further shelter 

    because out there in the wood lives a terrible thing. 

         He has terrible tusks and terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws! 

The poor mouse is dwarfed by a monster eight times his size, and I open up the palm of my hand and press it towards him, willing those little whiskers to trail up my fingers and into the safety of my mother’s nest. 

But the mouse’s smile never wavers, and suddenly it is the monster fleeing, huge jaw contorted and wobbling, tail shaking in the wind whipped up by heavy footfall. 

    Is the mouse the real monster, mummy?

But I do not wait for her to answer. I know that next time I look in the mirror I will bare my fangs and howl to the wind because power is not limited by size. 

I nestle into the purple dressing gown. I sigh with drooping eyelids as my mother’s voice carries me back to shore. I am yet to understand her act of preservation. 

All is quiet in the deep dark wood. The girl found a book and the book was good.

Lucy McLaughlin

The author Lucy McLaughlin

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