From the book
I woke up hot that morning. Came out of a sound sleep with my face tingling and my nightgown stuck to my body. Third time that week. The clock on the dresser on the other side of the bedroom glowed 4:45, and I could hear the hiss of the air conditioner and feel its breeze across my face. I had set the temperature to sixty before going to sleep. So common sense said that it had to be chilly in the room. Well, common sense and the fact that my husband, James, who lay snoring beside me, was outfitted for winter even though it was mid-July. He slept like a child--a six-foot, bald-headed, middle-aged child--wrapped in a cocoon he had fashioned for himself out of the sheet and blanket I had kicked off during the night. Just the top of his brown head was visible above the floral pattern of the linens. Still, every inch of me was screaming that the room was a hundred degrees.
I lifted my nightgown and let it fall, trying to fan cool air onto my skin. That accomplished nothing. My friend Clarice claimed that meditation and positive thinking eased her path through menopause, and she was forever after me to try it. So I lay still in the predawn darkness and thought cool thoughts. I summoned up an old summer memory of hopping with the kids through the cold water jetting from the clicking yellow sprinkler in our backyard. I pictured the ice that formed every winter on the creek that ran behind Mama and Daddy's house in Leaning Tree, making it look like it was wrapped up in cellophane.
I thought of my father, Wilbur Jackson. My earliest recollection of him is the delicious chill I got as a little girl whenever Daddy scooped me up in his arms after walking home on winter evenings from the carpentry shop he owned. I recalled how cold radiated from Daddy's coveralls and the way it felt to run my hands over the frost--coated hair of his beard.
But Daddy's shop had been gone for ages. The Leaning Tree property, creek and all, had been the domain of various renters for half a decade. And my children were each at least twenty years beyond dancing in the spray of a sprinkler.
No thoughts, at least not the ones I came up with, proved capable of icing down my burning skin. So I cussed Clarice for her bad advice and for making me think of the old days--a certain recipe for sleeplessness--and I decided to head for the kitchen. There was a pitcher of water in the Frigidaire and butter pecan ice cream in the freezer. I figured a treat would set me right.
I sat up in the bed, careful not to wake James. Normally, he was as easygoing a man as you'd ever meet. But if I woke him before dawn on a Sunday, he would look at me sideways all through morning service and right up until dinner. So, in order not to disturb him, I moved in slow motion as I stood, slipped my feet into my house shoes, and made my way to the bedroom door in the dark.
Even though I had made the trip from our bed to the kitchen thousands of times in pitch blackness, what with sick children and countless other nighttime emergencies during the decades of our marriage, and even though not a stick of furniture in our bedroom had been moved in twenty years, I rammed the little toe of my right foot into the corner of our old mahogany dresser not five steps into my journey. I cussed again, out loud this time. I looked over my shoulder to see if I had awakened James, but he was still snoring away in his linen wrappings. Hot and tired, my toe throbbing in my green terrycloth slip-ons, I had to fight the urge to run and wake James and insist that he sit up and suffer along with me. But I was good and continued to creep out of the room.
Other than the faint...