Driving through Manning Park last Sunday afternoon, I’m one of the first dozen or so vehicles to arrive on the scene of a fatal highway accident. No emergency vehicles have arrived yet. There is a silver thermal blanket, the kind that comes in roadside emergency kits, that is shrouding a dead body. There is a man walking around zombie-like in a state of shock. He steps out in front of a slowly moving tractor-trailer, very nearly getting knocked over. There is a long bloodstain smeared along the black asphalt paving.
At one o’clock on the following morning I’m sitting in my attic giving in to insomnia. Having an important appointment at eight o’clock in the morning, I had gone to bed fairly early for once in the hope of getting an increasingly rare solid night’s sleep. (Insomnia is something I’ve battled with all my life, but lately I’ve begun to feel a bit like Lady Macbeth with a cola addiction.) My wife and daughter are over on the island, visiting relatives, so the house is creepily quiet. I had tried drifting off by setting the sleep feature on my clock radio, but the news was filled with disturbing reports of suicide bombings, missing persons, missing boats, missing nuclear material: I’m missing the snoring and farting (the night sounds of my sleeping family). Even the cat seems to have decided to stay away on some kind of feral feline all-night bender.
Up in the creaky sanctuary of the attic, I’ve got a water glass filled with Glenfiddich and a nicely burning hash joint. I’m going through soggy, mildewed cardboard boxes filled with long-playing record albums. The best way to spend my sleepless hours and to shake the day’s scene of horror is to make a good old-fashioned mixed tape. I used to spend hours making these tapes before the ability to download thousands of songs on-line screwed up all the fun of sharing a personal mix of music with people.
I put my weight on the top step of the rickety ladder and suddenly there’s a knock at the front door that scares the shit out of me. The frightening sound nearly causes me to lose my balance. I narrowly avoid becoming a broken heap on the floor below by miraculously still managing to balance the pile of records in the crook of my arm. The knocking at the door comes again, gentle but insistent, like the tapping of a gloved hand. For some inexplicable reason, the sound of it fills me with a completely irrational sense of dread. I have this wild feeling that there’s something awful waiting for me on the other side of the door. At the same time, I’m ashamed by my feeling of groundless fear, so I force myself to pull the door open without bothering to first look through the peep-hole to see who’s out there.
When I open the door, the ugliest and most enormous flying beetle that I’ve ever seen comes winging in through the open doorway. Its wings make a whirring sound as it starts clacking and banging against the paper shade of a table lamp.
Have you ever had a nightmare in which a seemingly simple and harmless object — a spoon or a box of matches — takes on, for no apparent reason, a dimension of inexplicable dread? Has that dread ever overtaken you in your waking life? Somehow, the stupid, insensate lumbering beetle, now scorching its wings against the light bulb, seems like a malevolent omen. I feel it is a harbinger of something dreadful. Leaving my record albums lying on the couch, I walk into my bedroom, close the door, and fall into a troubled sleep.
The next morning, amazingly, I wake up feeling completely refreshed! The cat is scratching at the screen door, so I let it in and pour it a dollop of cream. There’s a Ferron song playing on the radio and a shaft of sunlight falling on the floor. My wife phones to remind me to pay the gas bill. The beetle of my dread is nowhere to be seen.