Three AM, still a swampy 87 degrees. A bayou night in Minnesota. I can't possibly sleep--my body in meltdown, my mind at its monkeyest. So I return to one of the windows yawning open in my sunroom, a place for watching and writing, for suspicion and salvation. In the muffled moonlight, sidewalks appear smudged in shadow, lampposts too standoffish to join in the job of illumination. I don't spot any children out there--not at this hour--but I cannot ignore the scattered strollers and bikes and trikes; neighboring yards wear them like body piercings.
My fixation on children and their wheeled toys is nothing new. Tonight however, my view of light and dark can be blamed on the movie I just watched on TV. One of those old black-and-white films where it's never daylight, murder is too commonplace to rattle anyone, and romance is nothing more than a whispery strap slipping off the shoulder of the REAL story: The Mystery, The Crime. On the case is a jaded detective who looks like he's as a much a stranger to sleep as I am (and could use an introduction to personal hygiene as well) and yet he is somehow irresistible to anything in a skirt. Sprawled on my living room couch in the wee small hours someone actually used to croon about, it seemed possible that film noir might lead me into my own writing style.
But now I can see that the other houses appear unthreatened. A single light in one upstairs window turns on, then off, like a lazy lightning bolt. Across the street, Mona's house is completely dark. My belly endures a familiar nudge; Mona lost one child--crushed under an old man's car--and she already has another one, the way a starfish effortlessly grows a replacement arm. Another child at risk? Maybe. Shaking my head to dislodge the notion of rescue, I force my mind back to that summer night not unlike this one, except my house still had a sleeping man in it, a second heart with a sturdier beat, the promise of touch and dumb jokes. Jake.
In my noirish revisiting of the scene, the bloodstain left on the street would appear black. And I can easily picture my handsome but sneering hero. He's ludicrously overdressed in trenchcoat and fedora, but nonetheless cool. Of course, I'd give this detective Jake's face--he was, after all, my own "private dick" for years.
No. Noir insists on distance and strictly off-camera copulation, and I've been marginal long enough. Erasing the fake sneer and all the clothing, I put Jake and me into bed instead, enduring the heat wave of last year. That awful night--a few hours before Tracy's funeral and ten years after my own little girl's death--Jake was still holding on, even as the stories began coming to me like lost children, taking my hand.