By Lady Euphoria Deathwatch
My mother called them my nighttime rambling but my father called them my moonlight walking. I’m talking about getting up in the middle of the night and going to the out house.
I never got out of the habit since I was a child like everyone else I knew had. Grandpa, Papa’s father came to live with us, and he got up a few times in the night too when he was older before he died, but being infirmed made him get that way. I had never stopped.
Other people felt a fear of the night that I didn’t share. Grandpa knew about that also. He had grown up on a farm and they often did work by the moon light, and he would tell me that there was nothing that beat putting on a shingle roof in the night. “The shingles lasted longer and didn’t warp as fast.” he’d say. Papa worked in the saw mill. You needed good eyes and day light to see by for a job like that. I had what they called weak eyes. I had glasses to read by. I could see a rabbit at a good distance though, and was a fare shot so the other school children didn’t give me too much ribbing about it, but that was all when I was a child. I usually didn’t wear my glasses outside in the night until I needed to wear them most of the time.
I have a healthy respect of the dark. There are things that use the dark to hide in and do their mischief and I’m not leaving some people out of that group. But I always wondered why others found the night so very strange and frightening. If you were careful just like in the daylight there was nothing to be scared of.
I think that part of my love of that time of day was the difference of the world at night. It was so very different. It had sounds and things to see that just weren’t about in the daylight. As a kid one of the first thing I remember being different was the moon flower. It only bloomed at night. Like the morning glory only bloom in the mornings. Different things just have their own time and the night time was my time to explore.
Me, I liked the dead of night. It has a stillness that has nothing to do with the wind in the trees. On a still night you can hear for miles further then in the day. It has a rhythm and cadence unlike anything I’ve found in the daylight.
In the day there were cycles too. With the arch of the sun in the sky marking time and the seasons also. But at night there was a different meter, the moon. The sun didn’t have a new, quarter or full adding to the changes of the night. It got so I could tell the waxing and waning of the moon even when the weather got between the moon and me.
I had the habit of going to bed early with the younger children so I could have a bit of time to myself in the middle of the night. There wasn’t a place to call my own back then. I even had to share the bed I slept in with a big family in a small house. The house had been in my mother side of the family for generations so there was no moving to a larger one even if we had the money.
We all got up before the sun each day to be ready for work or school. Even before it was time to leave for school we needed time to get our morning chores done before we left. But the night of predawn was different. Critters and birds were on the move either finishing or starting their day and it was noisy by comparison to the middle of the night. I liked to practice being as quite as the night creatures as often as I could. I liked most everything I learned about the night.
But there was nothing so glorious as a full winter moon on a snow covered clear night. It has its own kind of lighting. Magical. I could stay up for hours and never tire of it despite the cold. I didn’t do it often. It left the next day on the poor side of working and the older I got the more I had to do in the daytime. Grandpa understood I think. He would ask me about talking to the creatures of the night. But I never talked to them. I only listened.
When I was a twelve years old, there had been a new snow and everything was blanketed in white. The wind had blown away the clouds and the deep bitter cold left everything frozen and still in a quick freeze. It was just as I liked it. You could hear so far that you could almost hear the Angles sigh in heaven. I was ready and raring to go. I had laid out my outerwear all ready. I didn’t even care that the snow had been disturbed by my brothers in an impromptu snowball fight while doing their evening chores.
When I woke in the middle of the night it was so very cold, even inside the house. The cold was pressing in and stealing the warmth that the furnace and daylight had collected inside. I used the privy pot so I didn’t have to get undressed in the out house to do my business in such cold. I had to add a layer or two before leaving the house. I had on three pairs of socks in my older brothers boots, long johns and two layers of clothing, a sweater, a long coat, two pairs of gloves with mittens over that and my wooly earflap hat with a shawl over my hatted head and neck with a scarf to hold it all down and cover my lower face. It was hard to move well, but I wasn’t going to miss this.
I took one last look out of the frosty window and the chimney smoke of the house across the street was still going straight up. I’d have to be careful not to stay out for too long. But it would be worth every second to be able to hear the sound of the snow squeak and crunch under foot.
The cold made it hard to breath. Not too much on the lungs. It was the frost collecting on the scarf over my mouth and nose that made breathing hard. I had to knock it off on a regular bases to keep on being able to breath at all. I was glad I didn’t have to wear my glasses or I’d have been blinded from the frost that would have coated them too.
I had walked out to the center of the back yard, but the snow didn’t sound right with it all tamped down already from my brothers, so I headed to the front yard. The crunch and squeak was so satisfying after some warmer winters of little sloshy snows. I remembered a story my grandfather told me about tiny, little, man like creatures making tunnels under the snow and screaming in anger as all their work was collapsed by our gigantic feet. I laughed out loud letting out a large puff of steam through my scarf.
It obscured my view for a few moments and I took the time to break up the fast forming frost layer on the outside of my scarf, but when I could finally breathe and see again what I did see confused me.
There was a cloud of steam moving slowly toward me coming up the street. The steam I had released was still hanging in the air in front of me and just off to my left now. Whoever let it out must have been panting hard. It was more solid looking then what I had expelled and it was moving faster and in a different direction then my steam was.
I watched this cloud barely blinking with the cold air making my eyes sting and the frost layer thickened on my scarf once again. When I could take another breath the cloud was close enough for me to see it more clearly. It took shape and became a woman in a long skirted dress with flowers in her hair and her parasol held high against the nonexistent sun. The moonlight made her glow and the brightness made it all clear as day.
For once I was glad for my far sightedness. I could see it all in detail. The buttons and lace, the print of the gown and the shine of her shoes as they peeked out from under the hem of her skirt with each step she took. She was plain and wore pair of glasses on a chain around her neck. She was squinting to see where she was going and stumbling a bit as she went. The woman’s vanity and fashion kept her from putting them on and seeing where she was going. She started to cross the street just before she got to me and was hit by something unseen and tossed out on the road back in the direction she had come from. She was killed by the impact and her parasol floated to the ground behind me.
I needed to breathe again and broke the frost once more. She was gone when I looked back, the snow undisturbed where she had landed. None of her footsteps had left tracks. Turning to go back inside I tripped on the parasol and fell to my knees in the snow. I scrambled back away from it and I ran into the house.
In the morning Mama asked me why I had taken Great Aunt Ellie’s parasol out of the trunk in the attic and left it out in the snow on such a cold night. She held it out in her hands, bent the ribs back into shape and Mama closed it. She wrapped it up in a clean cloth and tied up with string, but it was unmistakably the parasol I‘d seen last night. I didn’t want to touch it, but she said handed it to me and said, “Put it back in the trunk in the attic with Ellie’s glasses and sewing things. And please, don‘t take the family things out again if you are not going to care for them once you do.”
I didn’t tell her I hadn’t even remembered that they were up there or what I had seen in the night. I just asked her how Great Aunt Ellie had died and she said she didn’t remember ever knowing. “The family Bible only said she died young.” Mama told me.
On Saturday morning Mama and I checked the old records in the town hall basement and found out that Aunt Ellie was killed by a runaway horse and cart in the street out front of our house. She was coming home one summer day from a sewing circle meeting. There was a picture of her from a yellowed old newspaper article in the same dress. It was taken the day she died. It was of all the women at the sewing circle meeting and the only things missing from the woman in the picture and the one I saw that night, were her glasses, her basket of sewing on her arm and her parasol.