At 3 a.m. I jolted awake, realizing why nightmares of fireballs were taunting my subconscious. It was my first night without my husband in our new home in Craryville, and he had warned me to turn off the gas after I grilled dinner for my kids, mom, and aunt. I had forgotten to do it.
It seems silly now that I felt nervous without Greg around. I wasn’t even the only adult in the house. But after years in Brooklyn, with ambulances howling down the cobblestone street below our apartment, I felt lonely surrounded by rustling trees instead of noisy neighbors.
Unbolting the kitchen door, I stumbled barefoot outside. With the lights off inside, the deck was illuminated by the stars and moon — the kind of full August sky that makes you marvel at how the ancient Greeks could find patterns in the infinite.
I twisted the valve on the gas can and padded back to the door, satisfied I didn’t cause an explosion and confident my mom would handle my daughter’s inevitable sunrise wake-up while I slept off the night’s restlessness.
But when I turned the doorknob, it stuck. I jiggled it again, slowly understanding: When my mother locked up after dinner, she hadn’t merely deadbolted the doors, she’d flipped the extra latches to ensure they’d lock behind her.
The night noise swelled. If the quiet of the country was unnerving, the crescendo of croaks, chirps, and hisses keening from the woods was positively freaky. I assessed my options: I couldn’t reach the second-floor bedroom where my mom lay sleeping. My aunt was snoring in the basement, but a 3 a.m. window-knock carried a risk of startling any 69-year-old into a heart attack, and that didn’t seem fair to Aunt Arlene.
I resigned myself to sleeping on the deck, at the mercy of lurking critters like the tenacious raccoon who had repeatedly laid waste to our garbage cans, leaving a paw-print calling card. As I imagined my imminent face-off with the trash bandit, I remembered one possible way out of my predicament: the lockbox.
The builders weren’t quite done with our new-construction house, so we had left a key in a lockbox attached to the front door to let workers in and out. If I could stomach a barefoot walk around the side of the house, if I could remember the code, I could get inside.
The night sky offered enough light to remind me that we hadn’t yet mowed our grass; calf-high shoots provided safe harbor to ticks, snakes, skunks, raccoons and, I don’t know, do we get coyotes in Craryville? The ground squished between my toes. The sound of my heartbeat joined the animals’ orchestra echoing through the yard.
In the darkness, I made my way to the front door, felt the cold lockbox hanging off the knob. Using moonlight as my lamp, I could barely make out the buttons on the box. I punched each number deliberately, praying I’d entered them in the right order.
Click. The key slipped out of the lockbox, and I pushed it into the lock. The door opened, civilization beckoning from my bedroom. When my mother and daughter woke with the sun, both were perplexed to find a trail of muddy footprints leading up the stairs.
Jaime Levy Pessin is a writer who splits her time between Craryville and Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Charlotte Observer, among other publications.
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