Not So Alone in the Dark

Coming out of a complicated dream involving a large cast of friends, group dynamics and a logistical problem (I left my car parked miles away and forgot—now how will I get back?), I wake to a clear morning, fresh, cool air coming in the window, the sound of birds. I lift my head to look through the doorway and out the picture window, see a pale blush on the horizon over silver-blue water. I’m filled with relief—it was only a dream, I’m not up the creek without a ride, after all. It’s only then that I remember the dragonfly.

***

In bed reading the night before, night had fallen, dark solidified while I lay propped on the pillows. A Walk in the Woods—I’d finished the chapter where Bill Bryson thinks he’s staring down a bear, in the dark. Is it any wonder I jumped when something thudded against the glass of the living-room window?

But I’ve heard this sound before—at night, with the lights on, moths start to gather around the cottage, some of them large. If you’re quiet as I was, reading, their soft bodies bumping the glass can be quite loud, and if not ghostly, at least, atmospheric.

I read on. Suddenly there was a clatter and scuffle at the screen right beside me, behind the lamp. Sally’s always telling me not to leave that window open with the light on because sometimes tiny gnats get through the screen. This came to me as the scrambling, banging sound repeated, so loud that I half wondered if a crazed chipmunk was launching itself at the window.

I got up, pulled aside the curtain and saw in the lamplight near the lower edge of the screen a greenish-looking, faceted head, on a long body, like some kind of cartoon alien—then it vanished. A dragonfly.

I shut the window to the smallest of cracks and got back in bed, resumed reading. As Bryson and Katz made their way through Shenandoah and on, the dragonfly returned at intervals, attacking the screen with a ferocity befitting its name, feeding on the tiny bugs attracted by my light. Eventually, despite the noise, I got drowsy. The next chapter could wait—this was, after all, my second time through the book. I closed it, put it on the dresser and turned out the light.

But as I prepared to row off to dreamland I looked out the doorway through the front window and even without my glasses I could see sparks, like diamonds glittering up high in the trees. The sky having finally cleared, the stars were out. I had to go look.

I slipped on my fleece shirt and in hiking boots and pajamas I made my way down to the beach. Switching off my headlamp I looked up, and around. The stars were most definitely, gloriously, out. The Big Dipper shone in the black sky brighter than a neon sign over a parking lot. In fact I could see all of Ursa Major, and everywhere I looked there were stars—except at the western horizon where I guessed there must be a low bank of cloud. I spotted Cassiopeia, just over the treetops behind me, and a group of brilliant stars to the south looked like part of some constellation I don’t know, I can only identify a few. Looking way up overhead, bending slightly backwards, I saw the hazy stream of the Milky Way, a sinuous cloud, a river of stars.

The breeze was strong on the beach, and after a bit I felt cool and ready to sleep. I switched on my headlamp and went back up the stairs. I was already at the back door when I thought of the dragonfly who’d been pounding at my window. I stepped over to look, and there it was, resting on the screen: nearly four inches long, gleaming iridescent green and turquoise under my headlamp like it was encrusted with jewels. I touched its body ever so gently and it shifted slightly but remained planted, feet holding firmly to the screen.

I left it there, surrounded by midges. With the light out it was quiet and I fell to sleep, attended by a flying dragon, a huge bear plodding through the sky, and fires beyond number sparkling overhead. Sometimes I think it is too bad, that summer nights come so late and pass while I’m asleep.

Nancy Squires, August 2016

 

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