I'm exploring some flash fiction that I forgot I wrote. Working on stitching them into something more comprehensive. Until then, enjoy.
Now that I am the kind of insomniac that daydreams about sleep, I sometimes wonder what was so terrible about bedtime when I was little. At the appointed hour, my mother would walk into the den with a flourish, clap her hands three times as though she were summoning the palace guards and that was it. Bedtime. There was no such thing as arguing or tantrums or any of the time-honored tactics that proved themselves effective in other households. She simply wasn't that kind of a mother. I resisted with the empassioned fervor of an unjustly incarcerated inmate awating a twelfth hour pardon, feverishly watching the clock, holding out, hope against hope, only to be sent to my room, to my bed, to sleep. I resented it, of course. Each night found me wide awake, staring at the ceiling and stewing in my five year old rage. Later, I could hear my mother's high pitched squeal of a laugh, promptly followed by my father heh-heh-hehing over the din of applause on the TV set: they were watching The Johnny Carson Show -- and I hated them for it. Obviously, the good life began after bedtime.
Summers in Charleston with my grandparents were basically more of the same, thanks to my grandmother's uncanny sense of timing. My brothers and I were usually bathed, pajama-ed, prayed up and tucked in before we realized what hit us. As everyone sat on the porch and ate boiled peanuts and crablegs, their lively conversation would ebb and flow through my open window. I would watch their words fall and crash against the ceiling. Sometimes I would sit up and lean against the headboard of my bed to look out the window, in an effort to steady myself amidst this sea of verbal chaos. Within the confines of this strange and powerful lullaby, I fell asleep with wide open eyes, eyes that saw so many ideas unfold within me that I would often wonder, for days on end, how they would emerge. In my world, dreams were for the sleepless. I was quite young, but old enough to realize that no dreamlike state could compare to the world I inhabited when my imagination unleashed itself. This was the time to be awake, I thought to myself each time I fell asleep at that windowsill, while so much in me was alive. I knew that I couldn't go on like this. I had to think of something. I had a lot of living to do.
Strong reading material seemed to be the only available remedy.until adulthood offered other more suitable options, so an innocuous little scheme was hatched: I sandwiched books inbetween the mattress and the box spring of my bed and read them when everyone assumed that I was asleep. The wee hours of the morning would find me writing little vignettes by the light of a huge industrial sized flashlight that I had "found" underneath the kitchen sink. The light was so powerful, I would attempt to conceal it by playing "tent", a precarious undertaking which involved propping up pillows against the sheets to create a secret cubbyhole, lined with comic books, typing paper and hardbacks galore. I couldn't have been happier. From the doorway, it looked as though the bed was attempting to digest a sunbeam. I lay there quietly in the light and the darkness, wallowing in a wordy undertow that spun about the room and into my head, languishing there.
I should have known that nothing that good could last for very long. It took her awhile, but my grandmother caught me one night, sitting amidst a pile of Jet magazines, reading an encyclopedia. This incident, like so many others I starred in, became something else to sit on the porch and laugh about, but for me it confirmed what I already knew: being a child meant having to endure the necessary indignity of constantly being told what I could and could not do, where I could and could not go, what I could and could not have, what I was and was not capable of.
Nowadays I can watch my dreams come true but bedtime happens whenever it happens. I have my days, days when I wake up in my loftbed fully dressed and surrounded by paperwork, my laptop still on and running and resting in my lap, the TV going, the phone ringing me into a semi-conscious state. I also have days when I go through the ritual of bathing and putting on my bedclothes and calling it a night, even if it is noon and I have to pull the shades to do it. As I lie there, wide awake and dreaming, somewhere in the netherregions of my subsconscious thoughts I can still lean against that windowsill to see bright stars in a blue-black sky. I realize, as I begin to fade that in all the years since childhood, there are moments when I have found myself wishing that someone would walk into the room and clap their hands and say that word. More often than not, I am left to clap my own hands as I fall asleep to the lull of the cityscape and it's mourning tide.