Saturday, April 23, 2011
I eyed my pillow like an enemy. It beckoned, white and smooth, the promise of oblivion. And yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, down by the canal, kept me from closing my eyes.
From my perch on the window seat, I turned to stare out into the fading day. Though it was well past eleven, the last threads of light lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. In Memphis, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. A restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.
Five nights of interrupted sleep. My head, heavy and leaden, dropped against the window and I rolled my forehead on the cool glass. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many books I nodded into or songs I blasted through my headphones, I couldn’t stay awake forever. I unfolded the massive wooden shutters across the window, struggling against hinges gummed up by centuries of paint.
The bed was cold, the sheets slightly clammy, when I crawled beneath the covers. The glow from my laptop screen lit my room, which still looked wrong and unfinished. I stretched out, lying rigid with my hands clenched, fighting. But exhaustion won in the end.
The sound of screaming woke me from a deep sleep. And then I realized I was the one making that terrible noise.
“Abby! What are you doing?” My father’s frantic voice cut through my screams.
“What?” I cast around, dizzy, disoriented. I was downstairs in the great room, standing next to the window by the fireplace. The room was still and eerie in the moonlight and shadows hid the high ceiling and distant corners.
The dusty blue velvet curtains were bunched in my hands and crumpled at my feet. Above me, the heavy wooden curtain rod dangled from one screw, the rest ripped out of the wall. My shirt and face were gritty with plaster and the taste of chalk was in my mouth.
“Daddy?” I pleaded for an explanation. My father stood in the half-light coming from the tall, bare window. I couldn’t see him very well but tension rolled off him in waves.
“I…I heard screaming,” he stammered. The waver in his words freaked me out because he was the calm one in our family. “I got down here and you just ripped the curtains out of the wall.”
“Why? What am I doing down here? Why does this keep happening?” My confusion gave way to hysteria.
“Abby, it’s just sleepwalking,” my father said, coming closer, attempting to soothe me away from the edge of panic. “You’re OK.”
A draft swirled dust and debris around my bare, icy toes. My jaw ached with the effort of stopping my teeth from chattering and tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. I had just ripped the curtains down in my sleep. I was most definitely not OK.
Tremors shook me. I breathed deeply, trying to get my heart to stop tripping in my chest. I let the curtains drop to the floor. With trembling hands, I brushed the dust from my shirt and shook out my hair. My father took me by the shoulders and blew some plaster out of my ear. My answering laugh was small and shaky.
“I think we need a drink,” he said, steering me through the massive oak door to the kitchen. He gently pushed me toward a chair and then went to the sink. The rush of water, the clink of glass, and the rasp of a cap unscrewing from a bottle all sounded loud in the silent room. He slid a tumbler of water toward me and then paced the kitchen floor. His own glass contained a pale, amber-tinted liquid and I knew there must be some whisky in his water, unusual for him.
Neither of us said anything for a moment. Dad was too busy pacing and I was too busy trying to get the bands of panic that had wrapped my chest to loosen.
“I guess I really freaked you out,” I finally said, nodding at his drink before cooling my raw throat with my own.
“You could say that.” Dad was giving me one of his scientific looks, usually reserved for crime scenes.
He’d been doing that a lot lately. After the third night of catching me wandering through the house, my father had slipped into his research mode, reporting back from a session on the Internet with “Did you know people eat, email, and even drive in their sleep? Apparently, 7% of female children and 3% of adult women walk in their sleep -- I didn’t know which group I should be including you in. The good news is that it’s not uncommon.”
Maybe sleepwalking wasn’t uncommon, but it certainly didn’t feel normal.
“Do you think I’m going crazy?” I asked now.
“No, of course not. You’re in a new house, a new country, you miss Mom. Stress makes people do odd things.”
Like ripping curtains out of the wall. “I suppose.”
He came to the table and sat across from me, skewering me with that look. “But I do think we should make an appointment with a doctor.”
That was the last thing I needed, being poked, prodded, analyzed. “I thought we agreed there was no point to going to a doctor. It’s just sleepwalking.”
“Well, not anymore,” he said, leaning forward. “You were talking in your sleep tonight.”
“I was? What did I say?”
“I came in to check on you—“
“You still check on me? Dad, I’m seventeen.”
“Parental privilege,” he said. “Anyway, you were talking about a painter named Giles Fielding. Is this a boyfriend I should know about?”
“I’m sure I’d remember if it was. You know I only date musicians anyway,”
I joked. My father tried to smile but his lips just went flat. “What else did I say?”
“According to you, he’s the younger son and lives at Ormidale. You sounded a bit strange, talking in full sentences.”
“OK, yeah, that’s weird.” Our eyes were locked on each other like we’d both forgotten how to blink.
Dad drained his drink and then yawned so wide his jaw cracked. He scrubbed a hand over his face as if he could wipe away the anxiety there. “It’s late,” he said. “Back to bed. But we’ll talk about the doctor in the morning.”
Even though I had no intention of talking about the doctor in the morning, I nodded and followed him up the stairs. When we got to my room, he turned and looked at me with concern and something else I didn’t quite understand. I was too tired to try to figure it out.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked, taking my arm and helping me to my bed like I was an invalid. Normally that would have annoyed me, but not tonight.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
He stared at me for a few more seconds before squeezing my hand and going back to the door. He kept it open a crack and left on the hall light, just as he had when I was a little girl. There was something about the gesture that made me want to cry. After he left, I lay in bed and couldn’t stop thinking about what my father had told me. Who the hell was Giles Fielding and why was I talking about him?
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