The house is silent. It seems like it's never silent for long, middle of the night is when everyone finally hunkers down for the night. Even the dogs are quiet. Well, as quiet as they can be, snuffling in their sleep.
I should be used to the constant chaos, but I'm not. Sadly, it's the nights on my own during travel circuits that I cherish. I feel like Goldilocks each night, hoping to find the hotel bed that is "just right" for a good night's sleep. Even when I find one that's too soft or too hard it's the simple fact that I can enjoy a precious hour of quiet solitude that means the most.
She tries, but her contented slumber is an irritant. Insomnia rears its ugly head most often when she and I share a bed.
I have to stifle the grunt of pain as I roll from the bed, stand for a moment regaining my equilibrium before picking my way through the maze of dog toys and dirty laundry. My primary goal after getting home from Birmingham was getting to the point where I can dress myself, a daunting task when only one arm works properly, and one leg has what feels like a persistent knife stuck in it.
Fortunately my sweats are where I left them, folded neatly on the counter in the bathroom. I manage to pull them on, and carefully get myself into the worn matching jacket. After a deep breath I inch the zipper up and slip my feet into slippers. Warm milk and the darkened family room should do the trick.
I find it comforting to heat the milk in the battered old pan I've had since childhood. I know my mother cast a look askance at me when I retrieved it from her, but for some reason the milk tastes better when it's heated in that particular pan. Call me a sentimental fool remembering all those late nights when she used to heat it up for me. Comfort food comes from the heart after all.
When the milk is warmed, I carry it to the family room and my favorite chair. Might as well complete the paint by number picture of all things comfortable. Sweats, milk from "the pan", and my chair. The feeling is hard to describe, the warmth that begins to seep through me as half the milk disappears.
This isn't the first time my body has betrayed me this way, broken down when I least wanted it too. Pain is a constant companion. I set the mug aside and return the recliner to an upright position and lean forward, my good arm resting on my good knee. Visualization. Maybe I am Superman because in my mind's eye I can see the healing muscles beneath the fabric of the jacket, the covering of dragon on skin.
In the darkest hour before dawn is when I push myself, make the muscle work just the smallest amount. Grit my teeth against the pain. Tighten and release, each small step feeling like a mile. How long before it's finally well?
The cell in my pocket startles me, causes me to flex harder than I'd wanted. I gasp in pain, unearth the phone and bark into the receiver, "What?"
His voice removes all the pain and frustration in a flash, like the effect of the milk intensified by a thousand.
"I love you too," he says and I can see the smirk on his face, smell the scent that is uniquely him, feel the warmth his presence usually imparts. He continues before I can respond. "I knew you'd be awake, sitting in your chair, pushing yourself beyond your limits."
I settle back in the chair, flip it to recline again, cradle the phone against my cheek. "But that begs the question, why are you awake? I seem to recall your proclivity for burrowing beneath the covers until something the size of a ten point earthquake jars you awake." My voice is hoarse in the early morning, filled with asthma's wheeze.
His own voice is hoarse with sleep when he responds. "You and your big words old man," he says. "I don't have a fuck of an idea what you just said."
He always makes me smile. "I'm glad you called."
"I was," he pauses. In my mind's eye again I see him chewing his lip, forming the thought before he says it even though I already know what he's going to say. "Worried about you."
"Chris," I say softly, "You don't have to worry."
"Maybe I want to," he says. Before the argument can start in earnest, he changes the tack. "Did you get my package?"
I rack up the score in his column, and say, "It was just sticks Chris. What the fuck am I supposed to do with a bundle of sticks?"
"Let's see," he says, clearing the sleep from his throat. "You're downstairs in your favorite chair, and you've just finished a mug of warm milk. You've been awake and frustrated for probably a few hours, and you're hoping to catch a few winks before chaos descends again and the crew begins fretting over you, catering to your every whim when you'd rather do it all yourself. Am I right?"
"Spot on," I say, not surprised that he knows me this well.
"They aren't sticks," he says in a softer voice. "It's sage, an ancient Indian remedy for healing. Take them outside and put them in your chimenea."
"Sage?" It's uncanny how his voice carries this presence of command. I always follow his quiet suggestion because he's never steered me wrong. The sticks are tied with a piece of raffia and a few small beads. I find them on the shelf where I put them, up out of harm's way, knowing that eventually he'd call and explain this unusual gift.
"Are you outside yet?"
"Hang on, I'm not as speedy as I used to be." I retrieve the sticks, disable the alarm and slide the patio door open. There's a chill in the early morning air.
"Burn the whole bundle," he says softly, "Let the smoke surround you and breathe just enough in that you don't start wheezing."
As he talks I light the sage, blow the flame out and let them smolder in the small chimenea.
"When it's done," he continues, "Find a bed somewhere. A bed by yourself, preferably in a room with a door that has a lock, and let yourself sleep."
"Easier said than done around here," I murmur. The smoke has the same soporific effect on me as the milk. I close my eyes and let it surround me.
"Just do it. Call me to thank me when you wake up."
"Chris," I say, struggling to form the words, knowing if it were summer I'd just fall asleep outside. "I do love you know."
In the silence that follows I see his face as clearly as if he's standing right above me, that cherubic smile on his face. I'm past trying to understand the dynamic between us. The phone slips from my ear as I let the healing powers of the sage infuse me.
The last thought in my mind as the sage burns down is that I'm not ready to cry uncle. Not just yet.
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Farewell from the Bookshelf!
Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.
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