On the Wakeful’s Watch

Posted: July 24, 2011 in Life, storytelling, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

We slip out the back door, Doc and me, into the dead of night. The sidewalk glows in the moonlight and we follow the golden path through the yard to the street. We walk softly like we’ll be caught but we won’t; the neighbor houses are dark and the cars at the curb are asleep.

From the big pine tree in the front yard, something white rushes through the branches and shoots into the sky above our heads. It whooshes as it goes by but is otherwise silent, as are we. We’re startled but don’t scream or bark. That’s the rule when you walk in the wee hours.

We follow it down the street but lose it by the streetlight when it soars into the glare and vanishes. But we’re still not tired and there is more to see so we keep going.

Up the street and around the corner, an ambulance sits at the brick house where the old woman lives with her son, the old man. The flowers there bloom year-round because they’re cheap plastic stuck in dirt but the old woman likes them and her son buys new ones every year when the old ones fade and crack from the sun. The ambulance is quiet (not a good sign) and hugging the garage wall by the back steps is a gurney, empty except for the white sheet flapping in the breeze.

The back door is open and we can see the son, sitting in a chair in the kitchen talking to a paramedic who has one hand on the man’s shoulder and is speaking to him softly. The son nods and the paramedic claps his shoulder before walking further into the house.

I stand by the ambulance while Doc sniffs the tires and the son, perhaps sensing a watcher, turns and sees us. I nod once and he returns the same. Then the paramedic comes back and glares at us as he grabs the gurney and we move along because it’s the right thing to do. We head around the corner but I can hear the metal clack as they collapse the gurney to get it up the back steps.

The street is dark ahead of us and I think about the white thing in the tree and I wonder aloud, “Maybe it was the old woman coming to tell us she was leaving .” Doc looks over his shoulder up the length of leash at me and snorts. Always the practical one.

We reach the four-lane at the end of the hill in time to see the train coming, the engineer blowing the whistle as they cross the road as if to announce the old woman’s passing. “We already know,” I say as I wave to him, framed in the cab window of the locomotive. He waves back and disappears down the track.

We turn up our street and as we near the house, blue shadows dance on the curtains of the front window from the television in the living room. He’s up, wondering how long we’ve been gone and how close we are to coming back. He’ll ask me how the walk was and I’ll tell him fine but no more than that. Because what happens on our watch is best kept among the wakeful.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve been an insomniac since I was a kid and over the years have found many things to keep me busy in the hours when others sleep, among them taking walks. This story recounts an actual incident that happened some years back on an early morning walk with our old Chocolate Lab, Doc. I was reminded of it after reading a post by a friend about her recent night among the wakeful. Thanks for the memory…

  1. Kay Vallery Young says:

    I am glad there are still places where it is safe to entertain the midnight muse and take walks with canine companions whilst others sleep.

    • Although I won’t always admit it, I am pretty lucky to live in the kind of place I do. Where people really will help if they hear a scream in the middle of the night. There are some places in town where I used to walk in the middle of the night that I won’t go to now but overall, pretty safe.

  2. You do an excellent job of recreating a mood with your words. As I am reading this, I get a sense of being there with you, feeling the sadness of loss even if not your own, the lonliness of being plagued with insomnia, and my heart quickens as the white “thing” flutters in the trees. Last night I couldn’t sleep and I was so tempted to go out walking, but didn’t. Maybe I’ll do that next time as we are fortunate to live where that is reasonably safe.

  3. That was great, Kel! Full of mood and connection. Insomnia may suck, but most of us are sleeping through the best hours for imagination and imagery, so there is your silver lining. Love!

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