A sleepless sleepover

A sleepless sleepover

“Aunty, could you please look after Gabriel tonight?” asked Gabriel’s mother. “Certainly!” I replied with alacrity, ignoring the timeless truth about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. Gabriel is our three-and-a-half-year-old grandnephew, immensely dear to my husband and me.

It would be wonderful to have him with us for a few hours, while his parents were at a late show. “He’ll be out like a light within minutes,” the movie-goers assured us, promising to return for their son next morning.

“Don’t worry!” I said airily. “We’ll take good care of the angel. After all, didn’t we regularly babysit Gabriel’s dad years ago?” Gabriel’s parents kindly forbore to mention that ‘years ago’ was the operative phrase.

More than three decades had passed since my husband and I spent quality time with our nephew, Gabriel’s father. We no longer possessed boundless energy, but age could not ‘wither’ us anymore than it could Shakespeare’s Cleopatra! Indeed, it was Gabriel himself who kept us youthful by addressing us endearingly as ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ rather than the staid-sounding, though depressingly accurate, ‘Granduncle’ and ‘Grandaunt’.

As my husband and I prepared to welcome Gabriel, we resolutely suppressed memories of his previous visit. Entering a linen closet, Gabriel had settled down comfortably on a shelf, dislodging what he regarded as extraneous elements such as towels, sheets and pillowcases.

“This is my house,” he had announced with proprietary pride, closing the doors and holding firmly to a latch within. Terrified that he would suffocate, we had dragged out the raucously resistant boy. We earnestly hoped that the forthcoming nocturnal session would prove less eventful.


Gabriel arrived, wearing the cherubic expression that never failed to beguile us. Submitting graciously to our cuddling, he clambered onto the bed we had readied for him, and curled up between us. My husband and I were delighted. This was going to be the proverbial cakewalk!

We expected Gabriel to doze off listening to Jack and the Beanstalk and that, long before we reached the castle in the clouds, he would be in the Land of Nod! While the little fellow slumbered sweetly, we would enjoy that purest of joy of beholding a cherished child in repose.

 

Sleep, however, did not figure on Gabriel’s agenda. Macbeth might have hailed it as ‘chief nourisher in life’s feast’ but Gabriel sought a more spirited source of sustenance. I was reading the bit about Jack exchanging his cow for magic beans, when Gabriel — with an agility worthy of his admired Spiderman — rolled over me, fell to the floor, rose in an instant and charged to my dressing table.

“STOP!” I screamed, as the giant of the fable must have yelled at Jack. Before I could intervene, Gabriel had put eye-drops in my powder. Grabbing a tail-comb, he vigorously stirred both ingredients.

“Shall I polish your mirror, Aunty?” he enquired politely. Recognising this as a purely rhetorical question, I refrained from response. Instead, I watched helplessly as Gabriel dipped a wad of cotton-wool in the messy mixture, and smeared the paste on the glass.

Days after Gabriel’s departure, unsightly patches still mar our mirror, and my husband and I struggle to view ourselves in the one remaining clear area. While we could easily scrub the surface, we consider cleaning a tiresome chore. Let’s be honest! We cannot bring ourselves to erase traces of the tryst with our Treasure!

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