The Night Shift


My eyes spring open in the quiet darkness. It’s 3 a.m. according to the glowing numbers on the antiquated clock radio on my nightstand. A high-intensity flashlight beam shines directly in my eyes. I slowly realize it’s the almost-full moon piercing through my skylight. Tonight it’s unusually bright. 

Waking up at 3 a.m. has become my new normal. It’s an every night occurrence. I’ve tried to figure out the reason – a glitch in my clock radio, a neighbor going out or coming home after a middle-of-the-night work shift, my cat deciding it’s playtime. None of these things seem to be the cause as far as I can tell.

I pull myself out of bed to travel down the dark staircase to use the bathroom. I gulp down a swig of water from the bottle I leave out on the kitchen counter specifically for this purpose.

I’ve noticed many curious things on my nocturnal walks through the rooms of my house. Why are the rooms pitch black some nights while other nights they seem bright as day? Most nights my surroundings are bathed in a black and white haze. Elongated shadows and odd patches of light appear where the moonlight falls through the windows onto the carpet. Most noticeable is the stillness. Whoever wrote the song “In the Still of the Night” must have had the same condition. 

I quietly walk to my back door. I pull the curtain to the side to look at the criss-cross shadows of the trees. Some nights I flick on the outside light to check things out. There are no raccoons or possums partying in my screen-house. No stray coyotes taking a shortcut to the Fells. No meth-heads trying to pry open the windows at the back of my house.  Hey, you never know. I turn off the outside light. I walk through the kitchen to the living room to my front door to make sure there are no shadowy figures stumbling down my deserted street.

Some nights my street is brightly lit from the porch lights of neighboring houses. Some nights all the porch lights are off and the street is in darkness. Most nights all is quiet. No one is in the driveway rifling through parked cars looking for forgotten lap-top computers or cup-holders full of loose change. I don’t leave parking meter quarters in my car since my money was stolen during a string of car break-ins a couple of years ago. It was only three dollars, but I still felt violated.

After securing the perimeter, I head back to bed. I might be able to get in a half-night’s sleep if I can find a way to doze off. On summer nights when the windows are open, I listen to the distant hum of Route 93 traffic drifting through the air. Occasionally I hear the sound of a faint siren, too far away to be in Stoneham. Once in a while, the sound of a descending airplane will get louder and louder until I am sure it’s going to rip the roof off my house. It never does. I’m very curious about the slow moving cars that stray down suburban streets in the middle of the night. Who is driving? Where are they coming from? Where are they going at such an ungodly hour? Enquiring minds like me want to know.

3 a.m. is not all darkness and shadows. Sometimes I wake up with ideas for upcoming cartoons. I don’t always write them down so I spend the next morning trying to retrieve the ideas from the ether. That’s like chasing a ghost through a fog (thank you Stevie Nicks). One recent night I woke up with a great title for a novel and the full breakdown of the story in my head. I voice-texted bullet points of the plot into my phone so I wouldn’t lose the outline when I fell back to sleep. Now all I have to do is write the book. Much easier said than done.

After all this activity, I turn on iHeart radio and try to fall asleep while listening to a talk show. My goal is to doze off before my 6 a.m. alarm wakes me up. Now that I realize how much goes on in my life in the wee hours of the morning, my afternoon nap makes a lot more sense. So if you see my house lights on in the middle of the night, that’s me typing at the kitchen table. You never know when inspiration may strike.

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