It is dark, but in the light from the kitchen I can see the cat doing a mad sort of tightrope walk on the metal stair rail that frames the steps leading from the kitchen into the den. His shadow is enormous, looming, but not at all creepy. It’s quite amusing, actually; he is too large for such a balancing act according to the laws of physics, but he manages the length of the rail with amazing grace. The dishwasher is whooshing and clicking at the top of the steps, and for this reason I have left the light on there. The dishwasher’s noises startle me. Just when I think they are over, another round begins, and I am always unnerved by them, even though I know their origin. The hot water heater has the same effect, and just now I jumped a little when it hissed on, a direct result of the dishwasher. Perhaps they conspire against me.
Beyond the kitchen the house appears to be dark. Someone looking in from the street would say we’ve turned off the lights and called it a day. But in the dining room the bench seat is eerily illuminated by a weird blue glow emanating from a night light that glows yellow in the morning, like the sun, and by night looks nothing like the moon, even though that is the idea. “Mr. Moon” and “Mr. Sun,” as they are referred to around here, are supposed to signal the appropriate times to go to sleep and wake up every day, but the moon has been blue for almost two hours, and I can still hear my girl chattering to the eleven stuffed animals in her bed over the static of the baby monitor.
And is it any wonder? Eleven stuffed animals! This is no exaggeration. They are accompanied by two person-shaped night lights (The Light Men), three pillows, and a kids’ sports bottle. On Saturday when two were added to their number (and then there were thirteen!), I asked her if two others might go to the playroom to sleep, and she shook her head vigorously, her eyes wide and serious, as if I had suggested she go for a ride with a stranger in a car full of candy. And her room is not dark, really. Ironically it seems to be at its darkest during the day, but this is probably just an illusion, borne of the sudden absence of light and the eyes’ need for adjustment to it. There are giant flower-shaped lights on her wall that are rarely off, and the “Light Men” cast a colorful aura about her bed, and a small plastic mirrored arc manufactured by National Geographic projects a perfect rainbow onto her ceiling. Even her CD player, which contains a disc of “Mommy’s music,” by request, boasts a small blue lighted face. Everywhere, light. In the dead of night when I am pulled from sleep by some unseen force, and I cannot rest, or even breathe, until I have crept quietly into her room to place my hand on her tiny chest and smooth her damp hair away from her cheeks, her little face seems to glow in all that light. Or maybe it is the source of it. I have my suspicions.
In my own room the only light comes from the television. An episode of Friends is on, one I have watched before and will watch again, like a sleeping pill for my brain. The sound is barely audible, but I can hear well enough to be soothed by the cadence of the actors’ voices. When I hear no more conversation in the room next door, and when the rainbow has automatically shut off with no protests or demands to revive it, and when the music has stopped playing, I will lie down and fall asleep, finally, bathed in the light of some familiar scene, always with the same balm: friends, laughing.
Meanwhile, in the minutes after I have convinced her to stay put there in her little nest of light and plush, I move from room to room, and I am drawn again and again to the light of the kitchen. From there I can see almost every part of my seemingly dark house. The playroom window lets in a slice of moonlight. The streetlight shimmers through the curtains that separate my living room from the outside world. The wood floor in the hall outside the bedrooms glows pink and white and blue with reflections of flowers and Friends, and in the kitchen itself I am surrounded by warm yellow and orange light that seems to come from the very walls. Here in the den, where I sit in near-darkness with only the computer for light, listening to the dishwasher and the water heater, and the baby monitor’s on-the-scene coverage of Bedtime (Piggie is not tired, apparently, and the Light Men are holding hands, and Neko Case is singing, quite appropriately, “don’t let this fading summer pass you by”), I find myself returning to the light of my kitchen for this or that: a glass of water, a post-it from the fridge, a treat for the dog. I start my day in the kitchen every morning with my cup of black coffee and a bowl of kibble for the dog, and I end my day there each night, after everyone is fed and the dishes are clean and lunches are packed for the next day, with the dimming of the final switch, just before, like the neighbors surely think I have done hours ago, I turn off the light and call it a day.
*With regards to Mr. Sendak, whose other really famous book has recently become the favorite in this house.