I hear a slow shuffle down the hall, the footsteps loud above my head. Heavy footfalls upon the steps.

Stiff upon my sagging mattress, I hold my breath. Listening. Listening. Perhaps it’s not too late? Perhaps… perhaps she’ll make it in before the clicks?

She doesn’t.

Click, click, click. Three clicks, three locks, and the door is bolted for the night. A slow shuffle up the stairway, down the hall, the creak of a door opening and shutting, and then all is quiet.

The quiet is a window of time in which the world stands still, tense, helpless in its waiting.

Above my head, I hear the groan of another sagging mattress in the house. The occupant is my father, and if I listen really closely, I almost hear my father moan louder than the mattress.

I wish to stuff my ears with cotton, deafen them to the creaks and sighs that come after midnight. Perhaps that cotton can help me pretend that nothing happens after midnight in our home. That all remains as it was in daylight. That we all sleep in calm serenity and peace, gearing up for another day of life we love living.

I tell myself that I should be sleeping, willing myself to follow the logical injunctions that dictate sleep at this time of night. I tell myself to count sheep, though I never did so in my life. I tell myself to think pleasant thoughts, though I can think of one thing only. I tell myself to sleep, sleep, sleep — though I know that the stronger I try, the greater the resistance.

It happens; somehow, between dreadful ruminations and wishful thinking, I am asleep. I know this, because a sound awakens me.

The sound is a tap upon my window and a whispered shout of my name.

Pulling covers above my head, I squeeze my eyes tight, as if that act alone will return me to the coveted land of blissful sleep.

I know it won’t. I know I’ll have to start the process of falling asleep all over again. But I want to pretend that I’m asleep. So that my older sister, tapping at the window, begging for entry to a home she has been locked out of, will not know that I defy her pleas.

The tap is louder now, a persistent knock, knock, knock by strong knuckles against a glass pane. All the cotton in my ears and the covers pulled above my ears will not silence the sickening sound of that knock — but I still pretend. Pretend not to hear. Pretend that I’m blissfully unaware of the drama at my window. Pretend that sleep ensconces me in her wrap.

The knock is now a bang, and my name is a shout ricocheting around my room, and out to the black, asphalt driveway beneath my window.

Anxiety and sorrow and self-pity drain away, and I’m filled with anger. I am angry at my sister. Could she not get home before midnight? Is that curfew not late enough? Must she consistently get home after twelve? Must she try her luck each night? She knows that the door gets locked when Abba goes to bed. Why does she not make it her business to be home before that?

Anger continues to burn within my chest, and now targets my parents. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 574)