The Bit.

A bedtime story

by Josh Vince

A blazing white heat drags me out of my sleep and I wake up with a ferocity unimaginable three weeks ago. This only happens when my son is crying.

It's 10:30pm. I've been asleep for just over an hour.

Stood now, holding him, swaying slowly, eyes drooping as his cries wash over me. His unhappiness is my unhappiness. My only reply is a long shush, a constant white noise failing to soothe either of us into sleep.

In almost two weeks we've exhausted the usual he's-got-yours: her eyes, my chin, her jaw, my hair. Looking down into his little maw, screaming up at me, I recognise something more unusual. There, behind where his front teeth will eventually be. Unfortunately, I recognise "The Bit."

Ever since I can remember, I've cut, sliced and burnt a specific part of the roof of my mouth on innocuous things - crusty breads, pizzas, crisps. I call this "The Bit".

How best to describe The Bit? Run your tongue over the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Slap bang in the middle, where the two halves of your body meet, there might be a small bump. A fleshy stalactite. Completely, utterly pointless. No evolutionary purpose other than to punish you for eating anything hard.

When I eat something that is too sharp - and some bread counts as too sharp - I will invariably cut this specific Bit of my mouth. As soon as I've irritated it, I spend the next 48 hours with the compulsion to prod at it. It's a low-level, almost constant annoyance - traffic noise for my mouth.

Soothing him with a bottle I automatically run my tongue over the roof of my mouth. The Bit is sore and tender after a rogue tortilla chip yesterday. Invisible to everyone, only you know if you have it. But I do, and I can see that my son does too.

Stick with nipples and teats, I think, as he drifts toward sleep, they won't cut or burn The Bit. Enjoy this. As soon you encounter solid food you're in for it.

He's crying again.

It's been 106 minutes since I last looked at the clock.

He's not hungry and wriggles free when I try and soothe him. Must be the nappy.

I look down at his toes and there's another uneasy recognition. They look like my own. The two middle ones stick up above the rest like a tuning fork. Unmistakeable.

He has my toes.

Unfortunately, both of my big toes accumulate a bunion-esque welt of dead skin to the side. This grey lump eventually grows so large it has to be regularly chopped, sanded and destroyed. But it always comes back.

Left long enough, the skin is so tough and large that I can lop it off with nail scissors and be left with a what I jokingly call a "Tuile". It looks like some giant rank grain of rice. It disgusts my wife.

My mum has to do this too. I imagine her fruitlessly, joylessly chopping and sanding her big toes every couple of months. My son has my toes, so I imagine him doing the same when he is fully grown. Decades and decades of harvest. Another useless gift to him. I'm sorry you have my toes. Your mothers' are perfectly fine.

I notice the callous on the side of my own left big toe. That needs to go. As I stash his effluent in a worryingly thin plastic bag I mentally schedule in another Tuile removal tomorrow. The skin on his feet is still supple, perfect, flawless.

For now.

But the boy has my toes.

It's 1:45am. He's finally asleep again and I've finished googling "how fast should baby breathe".

I fed him with a bottle straight from the fridge without warming it up. I just forgot. His little digestive system, only 13 days old, experienced its first ice-cold liquid.

Feelings of guilt wash over me, terrified that I have given him shock, or hypothermia. Mostly I feel exhausted.

Putting my phone down, I count his breathing, checking it is within the 40-to-60 breaths per minute range. This is a terrifyingly fast normal range.

I open my eyes. It's 2:03am.

2:45am. He is crying again. I am still awake.

This part of the night at least is familiar to me. I wake up at around this time most nights. Not quite insomnia, just a short liminal window of semi-consciousness splitting each night's sleep in two. Maybe he will inherit this from me as well.

During this window, he'll occasionally be struck with the echo of half-inspiration. He'll learn that Keith Richards wrote the guitar riff to Satisfaction from inside this state where conscious meets unconscious. Thoughts and ideas here will seem half-formed. Incredibly important. But they never seem to make it through to morning. In time he'll learn that they disappear if he gets up.

Keith Richards supposedly recorded the guitar part to himself before he went back to sleep, so eventually, my son might try writing down what makes it through the boundary as notes to himself to try and capture them.

But they'll end up sounding like comedy pitches from boring ghosts:

Angry Birds but the birds are ancient Atlantis settlers finding new homes Are Neighbourhood whatsapp groups secret comedy bits? Squash my beefs using ChatGPT Buy boxes from China and sell them as Marie Kondo boxes He has my toes

He might struggle for a long time about whether this is delirium or insight. Maybe one day he'll understand that the song is actually called (I can't get no) Satisfaction. And maybe one day he'll be OK with that.

I put him back in his cot, he seems to be asleep. Now it's my turn. I Close my eyes.

My son cries out, a blazing white heat drags me out of my sleep and I wake up with a ferocity unimaginable three weeks ago.


Lying there frozen, I listen, waiting for him to make another noise.

It must be nearly morning. The boiler has sprung into life and the pipes in the radiator have started singing. I'm struck with the feeling that I've forgotten something. I grab my phone to check the time. The Notes app is open. Bafflingly, a prayer is written there. I've never said a prayer in my life. I decide to mutter it, just in case.

May the Lord have mercy on my son in his encounters with crusty breads.

It's timestamped 3:48am. I assume this made a lot of sense to me snagged inside that liminal window half asleep. But then, these ideas always seem to disappear on their own. They may not mean to, but they do.

Right now, at 5:56am, sadly, I have no fucking idea what the prayer means.

I hear him stir and get up to see if he is nearly awake. As I walk over to his crib, my tongue reaches into the roof of my mouth. The Bit feels better this morning. To my surprise his eyes glisten up from his crib. He's awake, and peaceful. For the first time in his life, he smiles at me. It's neither my smile, nor my wife's. It's all his own.