It’s three o’clock in the morning. Really. When the muse wakes you and says get up and write this down, just know there will be no more sleep until you obey. She is a tyrant. I know this is my own mind sweeping cobwebs, working things out, telling myself something I apparently need my conscious to know.
It’s three o’clock in the morning. A sniffling little boy traverses two levels of sleeping kids in a large orphanage of about one hundred, creeping in the dark to my dormitory on the other side of the building. He finds me in my bed, hauls his three year old self up and under my covers, wraps his thumb-sucked little fist in my hair and tucks his nose into my neck. In seconds, he’s back to sleep. I throw an arm across his shoulders, snuggle against him beneath the thin counterpane, and nod off again. The air raid siren sounds in the recesses of my mind. It’s 1943. The boy pushes closer.
Having a brother is a revelation I’m still trying to believe. I’ve been in this place for more than a year before his arrival. He arrived on his birthday. My memory of his existence is nebulous, just this side of nonexistent. I’m not quite five. He’s newly three, and meets the requirements for residence, barely. Don’t wet your pants, be able to tie your shoes and feed yourself. Don’t pick your nose. Wipe your own bottom. Pretty basic.
He pees in his sleep, wetting my bed so we are both soggy when the bell clangs and the lights come on and we’re jolted awake. Matron knows without asking. We two are a problem. My bed will need changing and staff will have to figure out how to keep my brother in his own dormitory. A three year old with an immature bladder is much more concerned with the absence of his mother, with his new life in a place where crying consumes great blocks of time, and where he cannot decipher being left with a sister he doesn’t know.
Breakfast is a challenge we try to meet and often fail. Bobby won’t stay in his assigned seat, wanders around the dining room and doesn’t want his bowl of oatmeal. I don’t either. The thick round porcelain thing is filled with congealed snot, lumpy and cold, wearing a film of skin. We can’t get it down. I stare at the mess and try not to cry. Bobby dumps his on the floor. We’re escorted from the room, without breakfast. It will go like that for weeks, until staff capitulates and feeds us separately, in the shiny steel kitchen with the black and white tiles, one hard boiled egg each, with a glass of milk we share.