I can’t sleep. Again. I’ve tried all of the techniques that I’ve been collecting in the semi-lucid delirium that has become the day in between my wakeful nights.
“Relax. Feel your body sinking into the floor. Take a deep breath. Think of your lungs as a vast interconnected root structure that fills you with life force at each inhalation. Inhale. Feel your diaphragm expanding to make space for the life-giving breath that you have just taken….”
I do this, having listened to it a thousand times. I am even reciting it to myself in a calm Hindi accented voice. I start to think about an Aloo Gobi Matar. Hot potatoes. I listen for Stacy’s breath. I hear the neighbour’s idiot dog yapping at a passerby. Then another sound. Imperceptible but like an audible Rorschach, the more intently I listen to it the more difficult it is to ignore. Drip. Drip. Drip.
It’s coming from the attic. It sounds like the beginning of a burst waterpipe, directly over my head. I turn to face Stacy. In the half light, cast through our bedroom window, I can see her chest rising and falling rhythmically. I envy the irreverent tranquility of her effortless sleep. In a few hours this nymph-like creature will arise, rested, imperious, and will seize control of our morning and by reference the rest of our day. I try to ignore the sound. My mouth is dry, a consequence of the whisky that I generously helped myself to before bed. I slide out of our bed, careful to avoid tripping over any of the several scatter cushions that litter the floor, like an obstacle course. I retrieved my flashlight from the cupboard and walk into the hall, feeling for the strap in the hallway ceiling that will release the ladder to the attic. I climb slowly heavenward, not quite knowing whether the source of my delirium is my insomnia, resultant paranoia or just the latent effects of the whisky.
Greeting the hesitant yellow beam of torchlight is a macabre scene that causes me to stifle a scream. The neighbor’s tortoise-shell cat, the one with the impossibly pretentious name, “Sir Wandsworth” I believe, is hanging limp from a rafter. Its fur is matted with blood, that has begun to cascade down its body and collect beneath its lifeless corpse. The ligature wound continues to drip, adding to the growing pool beneath its lifeless body.
The placement is interesting. The cat has been lynched and hung above my side of the bed. It was intended to wake me. As though the perpetrator knew that I rarely slept for more than a few hours at a time. Wandsworth had been strung up with thin wire that had been anchored to the rafter. Part of me wanted to leave. Go downstairs and refill my now empty tumbler with whatever remained of the bottle that I had opened earlier that evening. I didn’t. I had three sons, at least two of whom would be forever traumatized by the sight of the bloodied cat. It was the third, Lucas, that I now focused my attention on.
I summoned all of my crime scene investigative prowess. There was only one way into the attic. Whoever did this was strong enough to pull down the steps and also tall enough to reach the rafter. I examined the knot. It was a poacher’s knot. This told me that whoever tied it knew a thing or two about knots. It would also likely snag if I tried to remove the body of the cat before I cut it down. Why would Lucas hang Sir Wandsworth? I was not fond of cats. This one was a menace and in truth would probably not be missed by anyone other than its owner. She would print “lost” posters and pass them out around the neighbourhood. The fool would probably end up getting assaulted by some roving gang of miscreants while looking for this equally daft creature.
To cut the cat down I had to go back to the cupboard in my bedroom to retrieve a multitool that I kept upstairs for such an emergency. I would bag the cat and leave the rest of the unpleasantness for the morning. Sunlight has a comforting way of making sense of the fog of midnight. As I reached the landing in the hallway my torchlight captured a mop of sandy yellow hair. Lucas. Standing outside his bedroom. Staring at me. Through me. His hallow gaze finally focusing on me.
“What are you doing up?” I ask.
“Waiting for you” he says.
“So, you know what’s up there?” I hazard a guess and disguise it as a question.
“Yep”, is all I get in response.
“So why did you do it?” I ask.
Lucas pauses. He looks at me thoughtfully. I can see that he wants to take a step toward me, but something is stopping him. There are tears, streaked down his cheeks. He is clutching the ridiculous green penguin that I won for him at the carnival a few months ago. He speaks, slowly, like you would to a foreigner.
“Are you in heaven?” he asks, tentatively.
What an odd thing to ask! Perhaps he is dreaming?
“There is a dead cat in the attic son, so I am in no mood for games.”
He looks at me earnestly. He is an emotional child. We have a strange connection that often feels like he is inside my head. I start to notice other things, now that I am standing facing him in the hallway. He is taller than I remember. His face is more rugged. Other than the stuffed penguin that he is clinging to, he is adult-like in his deportment. He finally speaks:
“I miss you Dad. I didn’t know if it would work. The witch said that I needed to call you and so I had to do it. I’m sorry. I just wanted to tell you that I love you, before you have to go”.