Light bleeds around the sleep mask she put on in the dark, hoping to defy the light, hoping sleep would come in the darkness and she could trick it into staying. Sound bleeds around the ancient feather pillow she has molded around her ear in the dark, hoping to defy the birdsong, hoping sleep would come in the darkness.
All her tricks have failed. All the gentle seductions—the warm bath, the quiet book, the perfect sex, the cool sheets on the cool side of the bed, even the first unpanicked Benadryl and then the desperate second—have failed. She surrenders to it now, hoping only to live with it in peace, side by side, like an animal she has invited into the yard never expecting to tame. After a lifetime spent conjoined with sleep like a twin, like the truest friend, she is bereft, abandoned in the long night. So many hours in the night! She had no idea.
She will not think of the unworried man, the rebuke of his tranquil sleeping, or their children, grown now, the ones who first taught her how to sleep lightly, tuned to the slightest infant sound. She will not think of her parents, who welcomed her between them after a dream she was too young to know was a dream. She will not think of how she misunderstood her mother’s last fall, how she felt so sure it was a simple fall, a broken hip, perhaps a little stroke, wholly reversible in that early window after the ambulance arrived. She will not think of the way she sat in the front seat of the ambulance, obedient, when she ought to have insisted on a place in back, a place where she could hold a still but still-warm hand.
She will not think of the troubles of the ones she loves, or her own troubles. The night is long, but the days are rushing by, gone gone surely gone, and she thinks to remember what she might otherwise forget except for the gift of this endless night. She lists to herself the names of flowers that will bring butterflies to her yard come spring, and she tries to name the New World warblers, thirty-seven in all, that light in her honeysuckle tangles on their long journey twice each year, and she considers the miracle that happens when afternoon light in summer becomes the afternoon light of early fall.
At last, somewhere between the Magnolia Warbler and the Tennessee, she feels in the back of her neck the tiny click that sometimes signals the first moving gear in the great machine of sleep, and she turns on her side and settles the covers, just in case.