The rose dies on the windowsill. For all the water that I give to it, for all that I tenderly push it into the anemic winter sun, its sallow leaves freckle and yellow, the hands of an old woman. Even its buds do not open, but shrivel into papery, rustling wads, like failed attempts at origami. I try not to take this as a personal affront -- sleep deprivation makes me overly sensitive.
2:34 am. Sleep evades me (I cannot even catch sight of it). After church, I made myself a plate of Bethany's dolmades for dinner- brown rice swaddled in grape leaves and bathed in crushed tomatoes. Take them cold from the refrigerator. Eat them standing up. Do yoga in my church clothes in the living room, while Honeydew watches, wondering why I cannot appreciate stillness.
Sometimes I cannot sleep in an empty house. Every room shines bright and cold with the wattage of Edison's inventions. The tinny voices on the radio share witty repartee, or Judy Garland sings on the television, a Technicolor ballad of unrequited love. Their noise is the worst kind of silence.
But out of doors I trust the night, the star-strewn cavern of sky, rich with cricket song. Alone under some bower of limbs tipped in silver by a timid moon (she shows but half her face), I cannot imagine feeling fear or loneliness. I never sleep so well or so soundly as I do in a forest glade. It is on the inside, where electricity makes an enemy of shadow, where the refrigerator is full of food to eat alone and the latch is on the door --yes, on the inside, that solitude is a periodic desolation.
When I was perhaps four or five, our house in Alamo was under construction. One morning, I came downstairs in a set of pink fleece footsie pajamas. There was a sheriff in the living room. It cannot be that I remember him well, but my imagination is happy to embellish the shards of memory. I see him as an armchair officer of the peace. His hair was thin and combed pitifully over the shiny pink dome of his head; his gut strained against the light brown of his neatly-creased shirt (it was just after the holidays, now that I think of it). He must have cruised the tree-lined boulevards of our white-collar, white-skinned suburbia, stopping too often for a donut hole and a cup of thin, scalding coffee, if only to have something to do. But that morning he was there to write a report.
During the night, some men had come into the house, prowled around, and stolen a video camera. Fortunately for us, the thieves were idiots. Because the property looked like a construction site, they assumed that no one lived there (though three little blonde girls were asleep just above their heads) and came looking for some power tools to steal. Later, they were caught with the video camera and cassette of Thoner family home movies. The bumbling crooks had actually taped themselves in the act and then kept the evidence within easy reach of the police, courteously supplying the key evidence necessary to convict them. The greatest loss of the evening, when all was said and done, was a piece of cinematic gold starring my oldest cousin in the bathtub. It was taped over (to the relief of at least one person).
Since then, I have not liked the night indoors, even in the ultra-safe neighborhood where I grew up. I compulsively closed blinds, drew bolts, and tried to make the dog sleep on my bed (The woman on "60 Minutes" said that a fierce dog is the best deterrent to a predator.) And still I would like awake, wishing that there was a lock on my bedrom door, wondering if anyone could sneak through my window by climbing up the geranium planter. I siezed upon reasons to fear. My sister once told me about two little girls playing in their front room at night (just as we were then), who looked up to see a peeping Tom crouched at the window. To this day I am chilled by the mental image I have conjured of those mad eyes, open to impossible widths past the iris, protruding like hard-boiled eggs, watching me with foul intent in a clouded mind. Then Polly Klaas, who lived perhaps thirty miles away, was abducted from a sleepover in her parents' home, and never again seen by the living. Tense as the mattress springs on which I lay, I prayed for legions of ten-foot warrior angels, with swords of steel and wings of bronze, to encamp around our property. I fought to talk my fear down to size and at last fell asleep.
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