Every night, at 10:30, Abigail’s father closes the front door, climbs into his rusty Toyota and drives away.
Every night, before he goes, he strokes his daughter’s hair, reminds her not to open to door to anyone else and kisses her on the forehead.
It is dangerous to go out after dark.
The daylight keeps the gunmen pressed back in the shadows, but they come out at night.
During the day Oscar and Luis sometimes pretend to be gunmen. In their games Oscar and Luis are heroes, fighting the invader, defying death and striking dramatic poses with their plastic guns.
At night Oscar and Luis hide beneath their sheets.
Abigail watches her little clock.
At 10:25 Abigail’s father comes up the stairs. He goes into the boys’ bedroom. They are asleep. She hears him moving softly, pulling the sheets they’ve kicked off themselves back up over their shoulders to keep out the night’s chill. He speaks too softly for her to hear the words.
At 10:27 Abigail’s father comes into her room. She sits up in the bed and he gives her that look he always gives her – the mixture of mock surprise that she is still awake and happiness that they will get to share a few moments together. They go through their ritual.
“Hello Miss Floppy,” he says to her doll. “Why aren’t you fast asleep? How are you going to learn new things at school tomorrow if you stay up all night.”
He takes the doll and lays her flat on the bed, pulling the sheets around her.
“Dolls don’t go to school, daddy.” Abigail giggles.
She shakes her head.
“Then why aren’t you fast asleep?”
Abigail slips down into the bed, beneath the sheets, and closes her eyes.
“I am asleep!”
Now her father laughs. It is deep and soft and her favourite sound in the world.
He strokes the stray hairs from her forehead.
“Look after the boys,” he says. “And remember, don’t open the door to anyone but me and your mama. We’ll be back as quickly we can.”
He gives her a kiss.
Abigail pretends to sleep but she watches through part opened eyes as he leaves. She hears him go downstairs.
At 10:30 he opens the door and walks out to his rusty Toyota. The engine starts first time – her father is a good mechanic – and it rolls away towards the city. Abigail’s father goes out to collect their mother who works as a waitress in a hotel. The waitressing job pays well – the invaders tip generously – but it is too far and too dangerous for mother to walk home at night.
Abigail lies down again and waits. She will not sleep until she hears the familiar rumble of the Toyota, until its lights sweep across the house throwing swooping shadows into her room and she hears her parents’ key in the door.
At 10:48 Abigail is very tired. Her father usually comes home by 11:10.
It is midnight when Abigail wakes up.
The house is quiet.
She kneels on the bed, looks out the window.
The Toyota is not there.
She sits back down on her bed, drawing her knees up under her chin.
It is12:03 and Abigail is very awake.
She thinks about going to wake her brothers but something stops her. Some feeling that they should be allowed this last night of sleep. She looks down at her doll, still wrapped safely in the sheets and wishes she could change places.
For the first time in her life she feels alone.