There was no hiding from sleep. Hushed, it crept through doors or windows, with all the familiarity of a cat too comfortable in its own domain to announce itself at the door. On padded feet, it might climb the stairs, ease itself into a room. On the space of a blink, it slipped in a shadow, then seated itself boldly in the corner. Not there, and then there all at once, calm and unsurprising. It was always there, prepared.
But Nesha could run from sleep. She drank her hot drinks, kept her hands busy, kept her feet moving. There were always small stacks of things to do and always thoughts to chase around her head. It didn’t matter that sleep was a quick-sand thing, gripping her all the firmer for how hard she kicked against it. Tugging her down more forcefully after each attempt to push it away. She tipped her head back to drag in waking air and ignored the way it pulled at her ankles.
She opened her bags for the nineteenth time. Reaching down the side, she felt for the folded edges of her clothes, the corners of her books, the leather and laces of her boots. She checked for the bulge of her grandmother’s necklace, carefully padded into a handkerchief. She counted each item as she drew her hand back out, and scanned the room for anything she might have forgotten. In the dim candlelight, the shadows dragged her attention from one thing to another, unhelpful.
Her father watched her from the corner, knitting needles clicking as he mended Nesha’s good sweater. She would wear it tomorrow, in the cool burst of sunrise. There was no need to leave room for it in her bag.
There was something else she was missing. It was more feeling than thought, and she turned a circle in her room, looking for something she couldn’t name.
The papers for the captain were laid out on the desk, signed and ready for her to board. Everything she couldn’t take with her was packed into a little trunk at the end of the bed, open because the room was too bare with it closed, but ready for her father to move up to the attic tomorrow. The floor was swept, the windows and walls dusted and scrubbed. She would sleep in her blankets one more time, then fold those up, too, and leave them in the closet for someone else to use.
She tried not to wish she could take one of the blankets, softened with age and use, with her. There was no room for them. She considered folding them up now, just for one more thing to do before she had to sit still.
“You should get some rest,” her father murmured. It was close to midnight and the dark had gentled his voice hours ago. The rest of the house, the street, the city had gone quiet with it. “Everything will seem easier in daylight.”
She didn’t look at him, carefully pulling the drawstring of her bag shut.
“In daylight,” she said. “I’ll be gone.”
Kindly, he didn’t respond, didn’t soothe it away.
And Sleep watched her from the shadow right in front of her. Nesha ignored it. She reached for her mug with its little bit of warm coffee, and took another long sip.
In the morning, she might be ready to go, but she was not ready for it to be morning.