So MachineBoy wakes me up at 4 am, by grabbing my nose. (In the dead of night I am the preferred parent, as [redacted] will only wake if he pulls her hair, and he is not likely to get whatever it is he wanted from her by approaching her in that manner. Nor, for that matter, am I.)
I crack one sleep-gummed eye, and there he is, sucking on his nuk (squik-squik-squik), his little chubby face about four inches away from mine. He sees my eye open, and he smiles this big smile around his pacifier.
"Hello, Ryan-Ryan-bo-Byan," I croak. "Why are you awake?"
"Guh-weh," he replies, and pats my cheek.
"Oh," I say. Then he buries his face in my neck and squirms around until his back is against my chest and his head is on my pillow. I put an arm around his little waist and after a few minutes squick-squick-squick becomes squick…squick…silence.
I lay in the semi-dark, listening to the chuffing of the aircon, watching the slow rise and fall of [redacted] and MachineBoy's chests by the curtain-blurred light of the streetlamp. And I think of all the other fathers throughout the unimaginably long span of human history who have done some similar sentry duty. I think of mr brown, doing it for the third time. I think of my own father, and wonder if he ever did it for my sister or brother (he didn't stick around to do it for me), and I try to understand how a father could bear to give up that duty, to leave his loved ones defenseless in the dark, with no one to make sure that chests rise and fall, rise and fall.
And then I finally fall back to sleep, and I dream that it is the future, and MachineBoy has a MachineSister, and in my dream I worry that I will not be able to watch so many rising and falling chests, and I dream that I must go in search of the monster Argus, to hire it to watch over all of us, a thousand eyes open in the dark, because someone must watch… someone … worry …worry …silence.
And it occurs to me now that, maybe, my father also went off in search of Argus. Maybe four rising, falling chests were too many for one man with two eyes to guard properly. Maybe he got lost along the way. Maybe, for the past thirty-four years, he's been trying to make his way back from that distant place where myths and legends are retrenched to.
It's a pleasant fiction.