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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Sleepless in Whitehorse

May 15, 2003

I was a teenager once.† Bright. Active.† Full of pee and vinegar but still able to sleep 16 hours straight without stopping for feed nor water.† But that was a long time ago.† Now I lie, night after night, tossing and turning, unable to attain a full complement of rightful repose.

Some of it, of course, is all that pee catching up with me and demanding to be dealt with. But most of the blame I lay squarely at the† battered green door of the lodge at Johnsonís Crossing , sleeping there fitfully, as I did, plugged into the old building with one eye and the corner of an ear open, the better to track restless guests, crying babies and sneaking teenagers.

One whiff of smoke from a downdraft or a damper too tightly closed could catapult me from bed to stove side without so much as touching foot to floor, sniffing and muttering as I made the necessary investigations and adjustments. Nail heads popping at Ė40 or the groaning and complaining of the old building, as it sagged and settled, brought me into full wide-eyed wakefulness, consciously pumping adrenaline to all my working parts should it be required I brace a shoulder under a beam that had just thrown in the towel, Supersleuth to the rescue.

Itís been a long time since Iíve felt compelled to listen for bumpy night things in my own house but sound of wild geese calling or a neighbour walking through his yard after midnight or a siren wailing down on the Boulevard, all conspire to bring me from restless sleep to window.† Phil used to say that I was just plain nosy.† And maybe I am.† All I know is that I donít even have to think about it; a footstep in the gravel when itís dark and still, is like a magnet and Iím just a chubby little metal filing.

How fortunate, therefore, that I donít seem to require a lot of down time.† As little as five or six hours, scattered here and there, now and then, throughout the night, seem to be enough and it is only when I look in the mirror and see those red-rimmed, rumpled blue eyes peering back that I am truly cognoscente of my nocturnal restlessness.† But that problem is easily solved by not looking into the mirror any more than is essential.† And by taking a sleep aid from time to time.

Usually one tablet cut in two suffices, which makes me think the whole situation is psycho-somatic: I could sleep if I really wanted to.†

Anyway, what I was getting around to telling you was that on Easter Saturday night, with a big family gathering planned for the next day and a chance peek at the bathroom mirror revealing bigger bags than usual, I decided drug my subconscious into oblivion.† At 10 oíclock I took a multi-vitamin for my general well-being, an aspirin for whatever it is Iím supposed to take an aspirin for, a hit of calcium with added vitamin D so that my frame will continue to carry me into daily battle, and a Sleep-eze tablet with 25mgs of Diphenhydramine HCI.† Of course, since I only took half a tab, I guess it was only 12.5 mgs.† (Or slightly fewer, there always seems to be a lot of dust and crumbs on the counter after Iíve sawed one of those things in two with my bread knife.)† But whatever it was, it worked like a charm and Iíd barely had time to make my nest before plummeting into oblivion.

And so it was, when an horrific crash brought me hurtling out of bed, wild-eyed and in fear for life and limb, at 4:40 on Easter Sunday morning, I could be excused for† thinking that the Easter Bunny had driven his mauve delivery van right through a kitchen wall.† As I stood poised for fight or flight at the bedroom door, a few more shards of glass tinkled down. There goes some of the window, I thought, as the Sleep-eze induced fog cleared from my mind, no match for the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed alertness that comes from being scared into the middle of next week.

†Heart going sixty to the dozen, I walked gingerly down the hall and into the living room, turning on lights as I progressed and peering ahead into the kitchen, fully expecting to see the front end of a vehicle parked under the philodendron that frames our view of Grey Mountain.† A large round object lay on the rug near the entrance to the kitchen.† A hubcap, I wondered?† Nope, too flat, and had, what?† Flowers?† Yeah, flowers.† Oh, it was the big plastic platter that Jo had given me for Christmas.† How on earthÖ..?

Two steps more and I saw how on earth.†

In front of my china cabinet was a pile of glass and crystal and ceramic, nearly a foot high.† As I stood looking down at it, a small Chinese dish slid the last few inches on a tilted plate glass shelf, and before I could catch it, fell onto the heap, miraculously landing intact.† Cautiously, I leaned forward and picked it up, cradling gently it in my hands as I struggled to understand what had just transpired.†

Both doors to the china cabinet were open wide.† The leading edges of the two heavy glass shelves sloped floorward, a beautiful clear glass gravy boat caught between and jamming them against the wooden upright that divided the front of the cabinet, thereby preventing their further descent.† Later, I discovered that the pins supporting the front of the shelves had broken off, probably the top one first, its added weight shearing the second set.† As the shelves dropped, everything upon then slide forward, bursting open the doors and crashing to floor.

The doors themselves were unharmed, except for a few small gouges in the wood, the shelves were intact and the bowls and platters and casserole dishes on the bottom shelf had been spared thanks to the gravy boat, but the loss was grievous.†

A dozen each Cross-and-Olive crystal water goblets and wine glasses, the gift of a dear friend some thirty years ago. Another dozen green wine glasses, the everyday ones used for Sunday supper or any other occasion that didnít require Rossí crystal.† The ďgoodĒ mugs, about six or eight of them, a large Chinese dish, companion to my survivor, a dozen etched glass dessert dishes, crystal cream-and-sugars, pickle dishes, two blue glass dishes that weíd received as a wedding present, and many other familiar and well-loved glass and china dishes that I only realize are gone when I go to get one of them.† I didnít cry until I found out that the gravy boat that had thrown its shoulder to the rescue, was badly damaged under the handle and would not survive to serve gravy at another Christmas dinner.†

I did not return to my bed and try for another hour or so; by the time my heart rate had returned to normal and Iíd cleaned up the mess, it was time to get started on preparations for Easter dinner. The half-tablet of Sleep-eze had long since worn off, anyway.

In retrospect, I guess it could have been worse.† The shelves could have come all the way down and smashed the bowls and platters.† The glass doors on the cabinet could have been shattered.† It could really have been Peter Cottontailís pastel delivery van obliterating my view of Big Grey.† And if it had been in the daytime and I or a friend or a grandchild had been walking by as the pins let goÖ..

†I canít help but think, however, that it might have been prevented.†

If I hadnít taken that peek in the mirror, if I hadnít decided that the zip was decidedly lacking from my doo-dah, if I hadnít ingested that 25 mgs of whatever, I would have been lying there awake and alert.† Modesty prevents me from saying that I might have heard the first faint stirrings of abdication from the china cabinet.† Experience assures me that if I had, I probably could have

been there in time.† Reality convinces me to admit that had I indeed heard those wee noises in the middle of the night, I would not have prowled the house looking for discord, I would have been at the window, nose to the pane, checking to see if that faint vibration was neighbour Bruce sneaking in at 4:38 on a Sunday morning.† And finally, honesty compels me to admit that my sharply honed reactionary skills have dulled with time and disuse, that I no longer recognized trouble within my own home and have gone instead to peering myopically at the world outside my sphere of influence: Supersleuth gone Supersnoop.

I guess Phil was right all along.

Gee, I hate when that happens

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