My wife and I have been married happily for as long as my receding memory stretches. I do recall, though, when she first met me, I owned a head of hair like the heavy-duty house-mop she has used ever since to attack our semi-carpeted floors … except its colour had travelled in the opposite direction to mine. You see, although being overbearingly house proud, she actually forgot to clean the tools themselves which had always served to clean our rooms.

Now, in the quiet evening of our years, she has taken to strange doings. They are obviously harder to explain than merely to describe, so I shall only attempt the latter in the hope of finding a key to the mystery in the fullness of time.

Recently, with us both fast asleep following the customary early nights, she has woken up and extended her housework through the small hours, only to tell me in the mornings that daylight can only reveal the normal jobs. At night, she maintains, different dust emerges, slops and moulds gone unnoticed during standard waking hours.

“But, my dear, you’re being absurd. I’ve heard of housewives spending all their days making everything spick and span, but disturbing your valuable beauty sleep ….!”

“You think I’m mad, I know, George.”

“No, of course I don’t. But there’s not nearly enough to be done in this house to keep you busy, anyway. It’s only a two-up-two-down, after all. There’s no need at all to get up in the dark when all godfearing people are asleep.”

Then she would repeat her claims about the night being more suitable for seeking out the otherwise unseen corners where real dirt worth its salt collected . . . not your mealy-mouthed daytime muck which masqueraded as encrusted food or merely as motes stirred by sunbeams.

So, I have decided to see for myself.

Often, she has been up and about without
me having even broken the rhythm of my snores. Tonight, though, I tried to prop up my eyelids with the matchsticks of will-power, listening to her breaths becoming heavier and with longer gaps between. I heard the church clock striking ten which was more often than not the hour that acted as alarm for Mistress Sleep to spread her wings upon us both.

I pinched my lips between the teeth, almost to the gums … also attached a length of thread between one of her big toes and one of mine. She tossed fitfully, making the job harder than it would otherwise have been. Eventually, we were tethered in dreams…

It was no dream, however, when she awoke within the death-lull that night creates between both margins of nothing. My toe almost parted company with the bone which held it out like a stringless puppet. I followed her on the tips of my feet, wincing away the anguish in them.
Firstly, she proceeded to the broom cupboard under the stairs, whilst I remained on the landing looking down at her black felt house-cap. Several jointed broom-handles came out like giant spider-legs kicking.

Abruptly, I had the crazy notion that she must always spend the small hours crazily hoping to earn pin-money as a chimney-sweep in the neighbouring back-to-backs. That would explain everything, except the craziness itself.

Before I returned desultorily to our bed, she had bustled into the front parlour, cooing with delight at the layers of minced shadow she was expected to sweep up.

I now lie cross-limbed, unmercifully awake. I can discern the still dented pillow next my own, for there is a dimness thrown by the street light feebly flashing outside the bedroom window in makeshift pleas for repair.

Almost without thinking, I lift up my own pillow and retrieve the old toothbrush I keep under there for lost fairies. I poke this into one of my ears and out the other, thus scattering dust in the air like dirty talcum powder.

There is nothing I would not do for my dear wife, in these her days of crazy old age. So I must at least keep my own brain bright as a button.

Published ‘Night Owl Network’ 1993