She was awake. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the bedroom. She could make out every familiar feature. In recent months, this time had become too familiar to her. She no longer thought of it as the witching hour.
Her body felt broken, still healing. It had been four months but she had been slow to recover. There was a chill in the air. The draft from the window swirled around them. She clutched the baby closer to her breast as the gentle sounds of the child feeding pulsed through the darkness.
Turning, she saw the dog looking up at her. Eyes wide open, pink tongue flapping in the morning moonlight. Their eyes locked.
Then, for a moment, she thought she saw something in the dog’s eyes. She didn’t know if it was the severe lack of sleep or perhaps a post-partum hallucination but she was sure she saw something in those eyes that resembled pity. The four-legged companion, who she had only yesterday observed licking the arse of a French Bulldog, felt sorry for her.
But in that pity, she felt something – a sense of camaraderie. For, despite the fact that Toffee was a dog and she a human being, they had both been unnaturally domesticated. Toffee never ran free. She only acted on instinct when the squirrels taunted her path. Even then, she always turned to seek out her master for approval when she strayed too far. But the woman was domesticated too. Devoid of instinct. Society had beaten it out of her through years of conditioning in schools, universities, and the typically soul-crushing office jobs. Every last second of her life was conducted by an unknown maestro. When she made love, it was done with precision. She never allowed herself to be directed by passion. Instead, when the tasks of the day had come to an end and they were prepared for the next, they would reward themselves with the act of lovemaking.
Even the baby whom her body and heart had longed for, years before they started trying, was born at a time that was deemed appropriate. When they had been conditioned to believe that owning a home, living in the leafy suburbs of London, and the ability to afford a two-week holiday each year was the height of living.
Every aspect of her life was curated, planned, preset. Enjoyment was derived from the things society declared they should enjoy; wine, watching sports, and far too many surface-level friendships than were healthy. She willingly followed life’s invisible leash that gently tightened around her neck whenever she deviated, guiding her back to the well-trodden path.
The baby suckled on her breast a little deeper before pulling away and smiling satisfied. She looked at that sleepy face. Beautiful baby. What could she teach the child about living? She had no idea what living was. Although, if you looked at the platforms and the posts, there she was, seemingly perfect, free, and happy.
The darkness softened as birds began to chatter. Her back felt like fire as she held the baby over her left shoulder, alternating between lightly patting and rubbing the child’s tiny back. Everything she loved was in that room. They were all she truly desired yet the city had filled her with a sense of such painful dissatisfaction. Her mind chased things that would ultimately bring no happiness. She bruised her brain with grand plans that would never come to be.
Established norms told her how to feel, think, and desire. She doubted her motherly instincts because her world was dense with useless information that told her those instincts were wrong. She allowed herself to be handheld by a society that wanted her too busy to seek life in 3D.
They jumped. Her heart leapt into her throat as a sound came crashing through the silence. She didn’t see the fox clamber over the fence but knew that’s what it had been. Toffee let out several howls.
“No!” The woman commanded before looking down at the baby. The child hadn’t seemed to
notice. Turning back to Toffee, the woman smiled. Why should the dog not bark? Why shouldn’t they both howl?
Instincts. Why shouldn’t they give in to theirs?
Suddenly, her heart began to race. What was she doing? Allowing her mind to be dulled. Why was she living life through social feeds? Why was she not howling at the moon?
She craved freedom for her family, the heat of a gentle sun, the roaring unpredictability of nature. She should seek it for them, log out of the eternal humming, and stop walking dead. Her body couldn’t wait forever. She already had arthritis. What was next?
She should get up, wake him. They would take the baby, take the savings intended for a house they would never be able to afford, and live!
Toffee lifted her front paws onto the side of the bed. Eyes locked.
“I see you,” she thought the dog’s eyes were saying, “Do you see you?”
The phone vibrated.
A notification. 4:37 am, was it? Scroll. Updates. Scroll.
The baby would sleep for at least another hour. She should sleep too. She hauled herself from the bed and laid the child in her crib.
Back to the phone, the world came flooding in. Noise. Scroll. Opinions. Scroll. Too much. Scroll. Not enough. Comparison. Distraction. Satisfied.
She curled up in bed clutching the phone close to her chest, as the sounds of birds intensified. Satisfied.
Lying down, she began to close her eyes. She noticed Toffee was now doing the same. As she drifted off to sleep, she thought to herself, ‘It’s hard to tell the difference.’
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