Not Enough Sheep

By Amy Marques

My son tiptoes into my room in the middle of the night like he used to as a little boy.

“Mommy?” He never mastered a whisper and his gravelly new voice bounces off the silent walls. “I need a hug.”

It has been a while since he asked me to hold him to make the monsters that hide in closets and creep under beds go away, but my body has not forgotten. I scoot over in reflex forgetting, for a minute, that this six-foot child no longer fits in my bed or on my lap. I slide out from under the covers and follow him back to his room. I sit on his bed and tuck him in and hug the cocoon we’ve created. I smooth the hair away from his forehead and trace a finger over each eyebrow like I did when he was a colicky baby fighting sleep. He closes his eyes for an instant—a long blink—then opens them again and looks at me earnestly.

“What’s up, kid?”

“I think I need more pants with zippered pockets.”

He explains. He always does. His explanations are long-winded and, even after fourteen years of parenting him, I’m surprised by his thoroughness.

He’s been thinking about school shootings of all things. They have drills, you know? And my boy can’t quite wrap his head around the inadequacy of the school’s contingency plans.

I wish he were young enough to pull onto my lap, to promise that I’ll keep him safe and such things never happened—will never happen. But even when he was so young that his tears were more eloquent than his words, he’d not have believed me.

His soul is older than his years. He’s long understood that there is much beyond our control, and that sometimes all we can do is hold those we love and sit with them in the darkness.

“I know our phones aren’t allowed in our hands during school, but if my pants have zippers, I can keep the phone with me at all times, so if I can run away, I can call you and you can pick me up.”

I wrap myself around the boy who just this afternoon towered over me and said he was strong enough to lift me. He was right. He lifted my feet clear off the ground and grinned. Then, as if the thought of being fully grown scared him, he curved himself into a fetal position and said it was my turn to hold him. Now, I stretch out next to him, trying to make myself big enough to pull him into me, grateful that I still have this to give him: my presence.

He explains that you should always have at least two ways out and that running is better than sitting still. It hurts my heart to listen to him describe routes that lead out of school and onto his usual path home. No child should spend recess preparing to escape.

I swallow reassurances that nothing will ever hurt him. I don’t promise he’ll be okay, but I remind him that the odds are in his favor. He tells me he knows it’s unlikely, but not impossible, so he thinks it’s best to have a plan. A better plan than the ones drilled into him at school.

He goes quiet, but I see his lips moving.

“I’m counting sheep,” he says.

I wonder if there are enough sheep to usher him into a restful sleep.

The next morning, I watch him carefully zip his phone into his pocket and head out into the world. He turns back.

“Mom, will you order more pants that have zippers?”

Of course I already have.

Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in anthologies and journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, Flying South, Litbreak Magazine, Streetcake: Experimental Writing Magazine, and Bright Flash Literary Review. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 or read more of her words at

Artwork by Lesley C. Weston (Digital Pastel, Pen, and Watercolor)

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