A few midnights ago when the cold rain was black and the trees outside my window scratched against the house from the wind and the dim glow of the streetlight on the corner bled into my bedroom like liquid, I realized I was in that familiar, lovely state between dreaming and consciousness. The realization came gradually - then immediately - and I smiled a grateful smile, knowing that sleep was soon to take me, and that, in the meantime, I was free to enjoy the knowing of it, the delicious, absolute surety of it, a true blessing for insomniacs, a society to which we Thills have unwillingly belonged for generations.
"What're you doing?"
"Then why are you wriggling?"
"If you're asleep, go to sleep and quit moving around."
"...I love this bed."
"Me too. Now, shush."
"I know, but I love just lying here... warm and awesome...freezing rain outside and everyone here safe and warm and well-fed and healthy and happy...pretty good stuff..."
"Honey, it's the middle of the night..."
"I know, just go back to sleep."
"I'm trying. ...You're talking."
"...I'll be quiet."
Outside, from toward the river, the sound of a train crescendos to a lonely roar and bellows its monosyllabic tone, more announcement than warning, and visions of my childhood fill my closed-eyed head: playing baseball on Mrs. Thompson's team with Tony and Billy and Carl and Dennis, down at Bankfield, next to the tracks, my dad putt-putting down the outfield hill on his Honda Trail 90, Cuddles on the back, my mom smoking Pall Malls in the bleachers with a dozen other chatting moms in their summer pedal pushers and blouses. Blue sky and sunburn. Gibson's on Doddridge and Spies Disco Foods and Sandy's across the parking lot... And on the radio in our long, blue station wagon Paul McCartney singing "...Solider boy, kiss his girl (smooch) leaves behind a tragic world..." as me and my sister hang our legs out the cranked-down rear window, the idea of seat belts as foreign as an ipad...
"Why are you still awake?"
"I'm just lying here."
"I know, but why are you awake?"
"Why are you?"
"Cuz you are."
"I can't sleep with you lying there not sleeping, you know that."
"Well what do you want me to do - I'm just lying here being quiet."
"I know, but you're lying there being awake and it keeps me awake."
"...just enjoy it."
"But I'm tired, Honey, it's the middle of the night!"
"I know! It's awesome. I love it. ...but, just go to sleep if you're so tired. I'm not talking or anything."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"Well, if I am, it's because I'm replying to you."
"So are you - we are now talking, we are now engaged in a conversation. We, not me."
For a while, she can feel me smiling, feel my heaven-heaped thankfulness that she's next to me. Warm and slightly annoyed and safe-and-sound as if she were resting in God's pocket. Within seconds, she sleeps and her shoulders rise and fall with gentle breathing. I stare at her and then at the ceiling, smiling. Satisfied as the day I was born, the spell and promise of immanent slumber having passed, usurped by a larger, better thing I can't say but only know.
Outside, the rain drives and splats, pulls leaves off the trees. The cold smell of it drifts in the air and the night deepens and softens like wet, purple cotton toward morning.
Cloquet resident Parnell Thill, former Pine Knot author of "Notes From the Small Pond" column for nearly a decade, is resurrecting the column on a limited basis as he works on a collection of short stories by the same title, along with other writing projects.