A big part of my duties around the house involves taking care of those things everyone else finds objectionable. Getting rid of any creepy-crawly beyond the size of a fly? My territory. Also most accidental discharges by the dog. I’m the Poop and Pee guy.
I am also, as it turns out, The One Who Gets The Clothes Off The Line When They’ve Been Forgotten And It’s Close To Midnight guy, which is what I’m doing now. It’s a new one for me, and one that never would have happened if my wife hadn’t gotten up a little bit ago and glanced through the window into the backyard.
Can’t leave the clothes on the line, she said. The dew would get them by morning; she’d have to wash them again.
Both of the kids were in bed, though I’ll add that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if they’d been awake. My daughter is thirteen and my son is eleven (going on twenty), but neither one of them do the dark. Nor, for that matter, does my wife. She said she would be happy to take the clothes off the line. All I had to do was stand guard at the backdoor.
She’s standing at the backdoor now. Keeping watch, I suppose. You’re asking what exactly my wife is keeping watch for? Well, I suppose it’s any number of things. Our neighborhood is large (too large, if you’d like my opinion), but our house abuts thirty thousand acres of woods and mountains that served as the inspiration for a place called Happy Hollow in my books. Talk to many around here, they’ll warn you away from those woods at night. There are stories. But aside from tales of ghosts and unknown beasts, there really are things around here that creep in the night and are best left alone. Our neighbors woke one morning not long ago to find a bear on their front porch. I’ve killed too many copperheads in our creek. So, yeah. Maybe that’s why my wife’s standing on the other side of the screen while I take down these clothes.
I told her there’s no need to watch. She knows that. She also knows the dark doesn’t bother me, that in fact I’ve come to find a feeling in it that, while not comfort, is something akin to it. I don’t mind the dark. That’s when I can see the stars.
They’re out here tonight, right over my head. Bits of light tossed into the sky like millions of tiny dice, planets and suns and a band of the Milky Way all keeping time to some celestial music that beats not in the ears but the heart.
Growing up, I learned to pray in the dark. I’d go outside every night and look up at the sky, and if there were stars I’d start talking. If there weren’t, I’d just listen. I learned a lot that way. It’s highly recommended.
Almost done. Half the clothes are off now. I pull the pins away and put the pins in the cloth sack hung on the line, fold each article of clothing and place it in the basket. I’m assuming my wife is telling me to hurry up. I don’t, even though there’s something in the bush nearby. Maybe a possum. Or a rabbit. Too small to be a bear. Could be one of those adolescent Bigfoots I heard about a few weeks ago. Seems a guy was fishing out in the woods and came across an entire family. Swears it, and never mind that he was drunk off his rocker at the time. Probably isn’t one of those in my bush, but I still catch myself wondering what I’d do if it was. Talk about a story.
Speaking of which, I had someone last week ask me why my stories had gotten darker as the years have trundled on. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I suppose they have (The Curse of Crow Hollow will be out in less than two months, and it’s both my best so far and a far, far cry from my first novel), but I can’t really speak as to why that’s the case. I suppose if I had to, I’d say it’s just me getting back to my roots. My kin have long told stories about those caught along the thin line that stretches between worlds, and the darkness that lurks both there and inside the human heart. Besides, it’s light that I really want to write about. Where better to see that light than in a bit of darkness?
And really, we’re all living in a kind of darkness, don’t you think? This great world we inhabit, all the fancy toys we carry with us and all the knowledge we possess, doesn’t change the fact that there are dangers everywhere, hungry things lurking about, and whether it’s cancer or terrorism or crime or simply the slow winding down of life, those things are always close. That’s what makes living such a hard thing, and what makes all of us so courageous.
There, done. The last pair of jeans, the final T shirt. My wife can go to bed now knowing there won’t be any clothes to wash again in the morning. I take the basket and make my way to the porch, casting one last look at all those stars. Pausing to say Thanks, for everything. At the door, I catch a glimpse of two glowing eyes from the bush. And you know what? I say thanks for that, too.