Shawn can fall asleep anywhere. He can fall asleep on the school bus to and from school even when all the other kids are screaming and giggling about nothing in particular. He can fall asleep on the train ride to and from his grandma’s house in Braintree, where she bakes him cookies and smokes her cigarettes outside even though the entire house smells like an ashtray and the walls are an unintended yellow. He can fall asleep with his dress shoes on, still wearing his Sunday suit that’s gotten too small for him too fast and makes his mother wince whenever she tugs the jacket onto him. He can’t fall asleep in his own bed though, with his mother right down the hall so that when he shrieks and pretends it was a bad dream which is impossible because he hasn’t fallen asleep in that bed in the months since his father stopped coming home, she can be next to him, kneeling as in prayer, repeating, I’m here. I’m here.
Sometimes it takes her eight seconds, sometimes ten. Tonight it has taken her eleven seconds, which still did not give her time to put her left house shoe on, the toe of the right one toe sticking into his carpet like a tree stump or one of those cars being swallowed up by the desert.