Kage Baker slept. Not a very world-shaking statement, that, unless you are one of those people who do not sleep. But she did. At the end of every day, she sought her bed – carefully put together to give the maximum comfort, with a feather mattress and a down comforter and feather pillows; with a coverlet in a bold black and white racing check, and cotton throws of dolphins and sea shells, and pirate pillow cases. There was a Jolly Roger on the wall above it, and lamps whose glass bases were full of coral and sea shells. And the sound and scent of the sea breathed in the windows all night long, and she slept sound.
It had a high wooden frame of tropical wood, tall enough to need a step to get into it. She had put it together to be a refuge, and it was.
I have never slept well, or much. Since earliest childhood, I have remained awake in the hours of the night. I remember playing on the bedroom floor in a swath of moonlight, building sleeping villages in the dark; in the crib above me, Kimberly -a year younger than I – slept behind the wooden bars of safety. (Even when it was my crib, I climbed out and played on the shadowed bedroom floor.) I remember climbing out of my narrow little bed and watching her sleep. Our parents would find me in the morning, finally asleep on the floor beside or under someone else’s bed.
The last weeks of Kage’s life, I sat beside her bed half the nights, listening to her breathe. I had to listen very closely to hear it. Sometimes the sea was louder than her breath. Sometimes I fell asleep on the floor, and woke up in the dawn under the edge of the bed, as I had used to wake up under Kimberly’s crib.
Tonight, all the household is asleep around me. It often is. This has happened all my life; everyone else is sleeping. I listen for their breathing from all the other rooms, to know they are all right. Mt family continues to breath. The black cat is in the laundry basket, and she snores delicately. The grey cat is a wreath on my unused pillow. The corgi is snoring, too, a sturdy man-at-arms sort of snuffle, as if every few breaths he snorts awake to check on the possibility of encroaching raccoons and goblins. Harry stirs in his cage from time to time, with a sound like heavy silk as he ruffles out his wings.
Sometimes a train wails out in the night. In the summer, the helicopters race back and forth all night; tonight they are resting on the tops of buildings 5 miles away in Downtown, dreaming of flight.
These nights a year ago … I got out of the habit of sleeping in my bed. When I got too tired, I slept on the floor, or the couch, or the edge of Kage’s bed so I could tell she was still warm. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in my own bed – there was too much to watch, too much to do, to waste time lying so far away and with my eyes shut. I kept a monitor with me all the time, though, so if I did doze off somewhere, Kage’s smallest sound would waken me.
But now there is nothing to listen for. Not really. The house is filled with the sweet sound of strong breath and ticking domestic clocks. The clocks are measuring out nothing more sinister than the hours until morning – the sun will rise in 3 hours or so.
I should sleep. If I cannot, I should at least lie down. It’s just hard to get out of the habit of the nocturnal vigil. I never did sleep much, and it was in the last year of Kage’s life that I finally found out why … so I would be used to it. So I could stand the watch all night, guarding the sleep of those who need to rest. So I could get used to being awake in the dark.
I don’t know how to stop. But I guess I can try it from under the covers for a while.