*crinkle crinkle crinkle*
My eyes pried themselves open from a deeply satisfying and much needed sleep. The bedroom was pitch black, save for a ghostly blue hue in the windows that my groggy brain recognized as the harbinger of an autumn sunrise. “Late morning”, I half-grumbled, half-thought to myself as I listened in the darkness, wanting to determine if the noise was a part of the waking world, and not the dreaming one.
*crinkle crinkle crinkle*
There it was again, cutting through the silence of the wee hours of rural New Hampshire like a knife forged from raw obnoxiousness; even managing to slice its way through the series of running fans I’d set up as a deterrent before Jess and I crawled into bed that night.
*crinkle crinkle crinkle*
It was our cat Charlie, of course. I almost wished it was a four-hundred-pound serial killer holding a machete in one hand, and trying to open a foil Pop Tarts pouch with the other, because at least in that scenario there would be some kind of release from Charlie’s incessant nocturnal carousing after I’d been dismembered. But no, it was just Charlie. Again. Waking me up in the middle of the night for the third week straight. I checked my watch. 4:03 am.
*crinkle crinkle crinkle*
Charlie was suffering through his annual bout of frustrated depression that comes around every fall, when we have to finally close his favorite sitting windows in the house at night to keep the cold out. This was the fourth year we’ve had Charlie, and the fourth fall we’ve scrambled for ways to keep him from waking us up, including our poor dog Rodney, who is more often than not the victim of Charlie’s spiteful taunting once the lights go out this time of year.
Extended play time at night to tire him out? Nope. Melatonin laced treats before bed? Those only worked until he built up a tolerance to them. Not letting him in the bedroom? That would probably work, if we were willing to go to sleep with ear plugs in to keep the scratching from bothering us, and settle for a having bedroom door that looked like a family of panthers had been trying to make love to it, but that wasn’t reasonable. Nothing worked, really. In the end, we just suffered with dignity for a month or two, until Charlie settled into an agreeable lethargic winter mode. The end, however, was still weeks away.
I propped myself up on my elbows, and tried to make out what Charlie was chewing on. Something plastic, for sure. A wrapper? My eyes began to adjust to the darkness as I scanned it for movement, a hint of light glittering in a yellow eye, or off a discarded body soap package. Anything to help triangulate where the crinkling was coming from.
“Maybe I woke up at the tail end of it this time”, I thought as I waited for the noise again; silence once again flooding the bedroom, so total that I could hear my heart beating faintly in my ears, and the gentle breathing of my wife sleeping next to me.
I lay back down, allowed my eyes to close, and exhaled. The cat must have given up, and gone back to sleep. He —
*CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE*
I rifled the sheets off of myself as if the house were on fire, and made a beeline for the back of the bedroom. No cat, nothing. I managed to stub my toe on the FitBit bath scale I’d left back there, because I demanded it was too fancy to keep in the bathroom, like a normal, well-adjusted person would have insisted on. Not wanting to wake Jess up, I let out a pained groan through teeth clenched around a dental night guard, and tip-toed out of the bedroom.
*crinkle crinkle crinkle*
As soon as I was in the hallway, I could make out the outline of Charlie’s body in the darkness. I stalked toward the cat until I was a few feet away from him. He’d pulled the crinkly plastic packaging from Jess’s Halloween costume out of the bathroom trash, and had decided two hours before our alarm was due to go off was a great time to start gnawing on it. I ripped it away from him, and almost threw back into the trash, before realizing that he would most likely just fish it out once I’d gotten warm and comfortable in bed again, so I threw the packaging into the stand-up shower, where he couldn’t reach it.
I crawled back into bed, threw the blessedly still-warm sheets over my body, allowed my head to sink heavily into my pillow, closed my eyes, and listened to my breathing get slower, and slower, and slower.
The noise reached me, even in my drifting fugue state of consciousness, but I refused it. Like a wilfully ignorant adult unwilling to watch a news source that refuses to confirm their inherent biases, I decided the noise wasn’t a noise at all. It did not exist. It was only the ghost of a noise I’d killed just minutes prior, and it was just echoing through my mind a few more times before it went to its final resting place. That’s all.
My bloodshot eyes flickered open once more, this time stinging with sleeplessness. I checked my watch again. 4:28 am. I turned over to look at my wife for confirmation that the noise I was hearing was real, but she was sleeping as soundly as Grandpa on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. Sleeping easily and through anything is her mutant ability. If the X-Men were real, Professor X would recruit her, make her a pajama uniform, and rename her “Sleepy Jean Grey”. The responsibility of battle with our spiteful, defiant cat was going to be mine, and mine alone.
*CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOUR SLEEP CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE*
The sheets were cast off again, my feet hit the floor, and I was off to hunt for Charlie and his demonic instruments of torture. The hunt only lasted several seconds, as he was sitting right where I found him the first time; in the upstairs hallway. This time he had the crinkly cap wrapper for a bottle of Market Basket brand mouthwash I’d bought earlier that day between his paws. Again, it came from the bathroom trash. Again, I stole his toy from him, and threw it into the stand-up shower, along with the costume packaging. Charlie just stared at me, as if I was the meanest human being in the world. It was a stare that, if it had been delivered by a human boy, would have said “You’re not my real dad!”, and was almost always followed by the child scrambling up a set of stairs and slamming a door.
I plopped back into bed a little too hard, which was enough to jostle Jess out of cryogenic storage.
“What’s going on?”
“Why are you playing with your phone?”
“I can’t sleep, babe. I’ve been trying to get Charlie to cut the shit for half an hour now.”
“You have a problem with that phone.”
“The phone isn’t the problem. The cat pulling things out of the trash and playing Blue Man Group with them at 4:00 am is the problem.”
“Ugh. Why don’t you just kick Rodney out? The dog was sleeping soundly on his bed on the floor of our bedroom.
“I’m not doing that.”
“Why not? The cat is only playing up here because the dog is up here. If you kick him out and shut the door, problem solved.”
This made all the sense in the world, and it was absolutely true. Charlie is obsessed with Rodney, and would not just follow him downstairs, but to the ends of the earth, to hell, and probably even to a Vietnamese cat meat processing facility. I could finally go back to sleep, and wake up refreshed. Jess’s logic was, as usual, infallible. It did not, however, trump the absurd sense of moral responsibility I project onto my pets.
“The dog didn’t do anything wrong. I’d feel bad kicking him out just because his brother is being an asshole.”
“You are ridiculous.”
With that, Jess turned around, and fell back to sleep almost instantly.
I put my phone back on the nightstand, crossed my hands over my chest, and stared through the skylight above my head at the rapidly lightening sky. Sunrise was imminent, and I was nowhere near being able to fall back asleep. After a few minutes, I checked my phone again. 5:03 am. I debated giving up on sleep altogether, crawling out of bed, and starting my work day an hour early, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. That would mean Charlie won; that I was powerless to thwart my own cat’s bad behavior, and I couldn’t look people in the eye if I let a ten pound bag of furry hate get the best of a [redacted] pound bag of adult male human being.
No, I was going to stay in my bed until our respective alarms went off. That’s how you show Charlie his efforts were futile. That’s how you show Charlie you don’t negotiate with terrorists.
My eyes closed of their own volition. The rhythm of my breathing lulled my overactive brain into a state of serenity. My consciousness floated out of my skylight, and out through the trees, into the pre-dawn sky, and past the blackout curtains of reality.
Rodney suddenly shot up, as if somebody lit a firecracker under his rear end. I bolted awake, my heart pounding. The dog panted and paced around in a circle, revealing a suddenly sleepy eyed Charlie, purring like a Harley Davidson, wanting to snuggle up to his unwilling brother after an exhausting night of wanton feline fuckery.
Without warning, Rodney jumped up on the bed, circled several times, and plopped down in the protection of my leg nook, shaking the entire bed with enough force to make Jess shift in her sleep. The cat remained on the floor out of sight, but circled around the footprint of the bed over and over again, like some kind of purring shark. Rodney looked nervously over the lip of the bed, keeping an eye on the pint sized bully below. I let loose a litany of whispered curse words that have no business being strung together in that particular order. My watch read 5:57 am.
I stared back up through the skylight once more, defeated. I was broken. The corpse of hope lay splayed in front of me. Charlie won. Charlie was always going to win.
The next thing I knew, overcast morning light was streaming through the bedroom windows, and I could hear Jess brushing her teeth in the bathroom. I picked up my phone, and realized it was 7:00 am. Despite Charlie’s best efforts, I’d accidentally managed to steal an hour of sleep for myself, which could hardly be construed as a victory, but at least it meant they day might be salvageable with some extra coffee and a well-placed power nap.
“Morning!” Jess walked into the bedroom in her pink bathrobe.
“How are you feeling?”
“That cat is no longer allowed to sleep during the day”, I grumbled as I flicked through my news feeds for the morning headlines. “If I’m awake, he’s awake. If I catch him sleeping during the day, I’m dumping a glass of water on his head. I will Abu Ghraib the fuck out of him. Charlie will sleep through the night if it kills me…or him.”
Jess laughed, and continued getting ready for the day. I stumbled downstairs, and brought a cup of coffee into my office, ready to stitch together words as best as my sleep deprived brain would allow. After a while, I kissed Jess goodbye, and she whisked herself off to work.
I drank a second cup of coffee, and contemplated a third, before deciding a long shower would wake me up more efficiently, and without the hassle of heart palpitations. I walked upstairs, turned the shower on, and let it run for a while so it would get nice and hot. I then disrobed, opened the shower door, and stepped inside.[This is the part of the story where the reader remembers that Mike used the stand-up shower as a cat-proof crinkly trash receptacle at 4:00 am; a fact Mike somehow managed to forget in the four hours between when he was originally awaken, and when he turned the shower on.]
My foot made contact with the wet, slippery costume packaging, instantly sending me sprawling backwards in the shower. The shower handle slammed into my shoulder blade like a baseball bat (if you’re curious about what kind of noise that forces out of a person, it sounds a lot like “FUUUUNNHHHHGGHHHHH!!!”).
With the wind freshly knocked out of me, I crumpled to my knees on the shower floor, which managed to twist the shower handle all the way over to the “boil a potato” setting (if you’re curious about what kind of noise that forces out of a person, it sounds a lot like “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEFFFFFFFFFF!!!”).
I scrambled to turn the water off, and then spent the next minute panting for breath with my back aching; water dripping off of my scalded pink skin, and pattering onto the crinkly costume packaging beneath me.
I laughed; not the laugh of a good-natured man letting a bad experience wash off of him. It was the maniacal laugh of man on the verge of sleep deprived, pain amplified temporary insanity. It was the tortured cackle of a man who just internalized the futility of his existence.
Charlie won again. Charlie was always going to win.