Growing up, my mom was very consistent with my bedtime ritual: bath, book, bed. Bath — warm water, bubbles. By seven or eight months old, this first step was so necessary that my dad, left alone with me for an evening, had to call my mom away from a coffee (a military-wives get-together) because I would not sleep. She came home, gave me a bath, I went to sleep, and she went back to her coffee. Later, books were added. Over the years, these central ‘bath, book, bed’ tenets have remained. It’s been consistent through break ups with bad boyfriends and shitty days at work. Maybe I’ll wear a nightgown, maybe sweatpants, maybe nothing. Always brush my teeth and put on lip balm, falling into dreams with the taste of peppermint and Carmex. Sometimes at bath time I’ll shave my legs, slather them with coconut-scented lotion, then slide that bare skin between soft cotton sheets. I’ll leave a nightlight on in the bathroom. Somewhere there will be a box fan, its white noise cutting out the clutter of street sounds, neighboring dogs, and windchimes that don’t belong to me. I pick up a book and read until I drift away, sometimes remembering to turn off the lights. I am allowed to sleep through thunderstorms. I am allowed to sleep through sirens. I am allowed to sleep uninterrupted by a pounding on the door.
I imagine Breonna Taylor’s ritual, her pattern before bedtime. Maybe warm tea. Maybe a favorite nightgown. Maybe she put on thick, cozy socks because she didn’t like the feel of cold air on her bare feet. Maybe we had the exact same ritual: bath, book, bed. Whatever it was, she made it through that ritual, tucked herself into bed beside her boyfriend’s warm body. Maybe they whispered “Good-night” and started drifting off to wherever we go when we sleep. After completing whatever her sleep ritual was, she was not allowed to sleep. The breaking of a doorframe. Unfamiliar baritone voices – voices foreign to her space. Unknown. Just enough time to register the warm body which had been resting beside her just a moment before is now moving across the now-rumpled bed. Just enough time to kick the sheets tangling around her legs. Her thick, cozy socks staticky from the friction with the sheets. She makes it to the hallway, streetlamp light leaking in from somewhere, the nightlight glowing blue in the bathroom, and sharp, laser-like flashlight beams which make no sense. Then an explosion. Yelling. More explosions rattle her teeth – she still tastes peppermint. Somewhere glass shatters. Just an hour earlier maybe she took a bath. Maybe she read a book. And the difference between her and me on the night of Friday, March 13, 2020: I will always be allowed to sleep and she will not.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.