Sunday, August 22, 2010

Animal Kingdom

This is what it’s like to live in a house ruled by animals.

One warm night you are asleep next to your husband, your body cooled by a slight breeze through the open bedroom windows. The down comforter, truly useless in such circumstances, is heaped between your body and his. One cat is perched on your hip – it’s where he prefers to wait, if not actually sleep, during the night. You have already rolled to the side, forcing him off your hip, twenty times – but he keeps coming back. Somewhere in the darkness the other cat is also waiting. Your dog, meanwhile, is under the bed making the strange helpless yelps that indicate a go
od dream.

You are aware of all of these things sub-consciously, while lost in a dream that is a strange amalgam of seventh grade curriculum, lines from your revised novel and conspiracies from the book on your night stand.

And then, all feline hell breaks loose.

One of your cats has apparently tried to jump from one windowsill to the other, sending a lamp crashing and all three pets scuttling into frantic movement. One claws your arm as he makes his way over your body into the safety of the hallway. You sit up. In the dim glow from the backyard solar lighting, you locate the lamp, balancing precariously between a table and the wall. Thankfully a glass of water from earlier in the evening is undisturbed. Your husband, despite the tremendous crash three feet from his head and being trampled by at least four feet, is still asleep.

You feel it is your duty to alert him to the fact that you are awake. You nudge him. “Did you hear that? One of the cats knocked over a lamp.”

He begins speaking as if you are in the middle of a long conversation, which is confusing but familiar. In half-wakened states, he likes to take charge of situations. What he tells you now begins with, “What you don’t understand is how it started.”

“You’re sleeping. You’re not making any sense,” you argue. All you want is for him to lean over, pick up the lamp, and fall back asleep. The lamp is closer to him. It is only fair.

“You’re the one who doesn’t make any sense,” he says. While this might be true in a general way, it is not true now – but you decide to give up. The cats have abandoned the bedroom perhaps for the rest of the night, but the dog is back, leaning his wet nose into the palm of your hand, which dangles over the edge of the bed. “I’m going back to sleep,” you tell your husband, with great dignity. He gives a general snore in response.

You fumble for the alarm, pressing its Indiglo switch. 3:06. Your alarm will go off in less than three hours, and unfortunately, you realize you are now wide awake. The dog licks your hand idly.

You close your eyes. You will yourself back to sleep. No – you are too uncomfortable, and everything must be adjusted before sleep can resume: sheets, pillow, hair, which lies hot on your neck. Much better. Now: sleep.

Count sheep. Listen to the cats, still traumatized, prowl the hallway. Husband’s breath, dog’s sigh, a truck lumbering by, blocks away. Check the clock. 3:09. Is this even possible? Have you disturbed the space/time continuum?

Come on – you need this sleep. There’s so much to do tomorrow – walk the dog, fold laundry, grade poems, plan what in the world you’re teaching this trimester. Oh, damn. Nevermind. You are now officially wide awake.

You fumble for your book light, reach for your book. You have been on page 105 in
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest for the last three days, bogged down in the inner workings of the Swedish Secret Police. You sigh and read until 4:30, when your eyelids droop again.

The next thing you know, of course, your alarm clock has begun its maddening beeps – gentle, then insistent. Sunlight floods the room. The dog stretches, ready for breakfast. A cat has once again settled onto your hip, and the other cat once again sits in the windowsill, his fur pressed against the screen.

You stretch, then pick your way through strewn blankets and pillows to the other side of the room, where you right the toppled lamp.

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