Surprises in the Night

By Kate Wilde

The rolling train soothes her senses as the last scheduled Metro carries her back to the city. It has been a long day that started at six a.m. She is grateful the catering job in Connecticut ended earlier than expected and in enough time to allow her to sleep the night in her own bed. She didn’t want to stay again with her friend in Westport . Her head leans back. She lets her eyelids fall. She lets her mind close down. Rest. Just a bit of rest.

She finds herself again in arrival into Grand Central. The white tile walls click past in countdown. She can hardly move she is so tired, yet somewhere she finds the strength to make the walk through the vast station.

Nice tip for the day’s job. Enough to treat herself to a cab ride home to the upper west side apartment. She thanks the gods for small favors.

She lets herself into the dark and funky top floor apartment in the pre-war building. She loves this magical little home. As she clicks on the light of her drawing table she lets her vision adjust and looks around. She and Rob are masterful at junking. He will often walk home from work in the late night hours, carefully checking the curbs for discarded treasures. Tuesday nights are the best pickings.

The building they live in overlooks Lincoln Center and is populated by retired musicians who have called it home for 40 or more years. One by one the elders pass along. To retirement homes in the Poconos, or to the great heavenly orchestra pit. The leftovers of their lives find a magnificent home in her little home. Junking in the hallways is lucrative for the alert. Especially the alert who are wandering late in the night.

And she and Rob both have a good eye when it comes to the neighborhood thrift stores. From the dishes and silverware to the vases and art. All cost mere dollars in the Council Thrift Shop, all worth a lot more to the keen-eyed collector.

Her weary gaze roams from the Saltillo Serape she found for $25, to the vintage Japanese woodblock prints, to the multi-hued Fiesta dishes stacked in the cupboard with the doors removed. A welcoming colorful explosion to off-set a dingy city and comfort her artist’s heart.

The one bedroom is small but has a rooftop terrace garden where she has a straight line shot of the World Trade Towers . She steps outside to check her wildly blooming plants. Rob has remembered to water before he went to work. She sits for a moment to feel the night. She smokes a cig.

She climbs into the shower before she climbs into bed. She will be sound asleep before Rob gets home from work. As she drifts off she thinks a minute about her mate. She smiles a wistful smile. She likes the independence their partnership allows. She likes the late night shared glasses of wine. She likes the two a.m. Mary Tyler Moore reruns that end the days of the night owls – the restaurant crowd. Yet, something is amiss. She can’t put her finger on it. She is too tired to think. She lets it go for tonight.

It is a soft click, but brings her awake just the same. Ah. Rob. He has come home. He will be surprised to see her as he assumes she will stay in Connecticut . She looks at the digital clock shining a red 2:17 . She brings herself awake. She will share a joint she got from her friend in Connecticut . Rob will be pleased to not have to visit the street dealer in Needle Park to buy a ten dollar bit.

Pulling on her kimono, running a hand through her dark curls, she opens the door to the living room.

There stands Rob with his arms around a woman. His new employee. She had recently met Anna at the restaurant, and again another night when a group had gone to an after hours club. The alarm had gone off when she watched this attractive young woman flirting with Rob. That most often reliable yet unexplainable intuitive alarm.

Just days before Rob had berated her for questioning him about the red headed coquette.

“She’s a friend I work with!” he yelled. “Dammit, she’s married. What’s with this jealousy? Are you so bored that you are making up shit now? I tell you… this does bore the hell out of me. Get over yourself!”

She did. She did get over herself. She did feel inadequate suddenly in the face of his disdain. Small and inadequate. And questioned herself as to why she chose to see sparks of attraction between them. Yes, that was just days ago.

And now. Here they are. Standing in her living room. Wrapped together in a posture that is obviously not new to them. She stares. She is paralyzed. Her knees lock. She cannot take her eyes off of them. Time has stopped. Suddenly she spins. She’s back in the bedroom before they have seen her. Blindly moving she finds herself sitting on the terrace.

Unseeing eyes look over the lights of the city. Millions of lights. Millions of lives.

“Oh God, what about me? What about my life?”

The plea spirals skyward. And the pain travels deep.

She is wide awake as her eyes close. She reluctantly travels through the depths of her soul. Down. Down. Blackness. Deep blackness. Her mind’s eye drifts from dark chambers to dark crooks. Her heart suffocates, her limbs disappear. She wanders and wonders.

As she watches the dark dozens of little men come marching in perfect synchrony. Their rhythmic steps match the beat of her pulse.  As they draw closer a slight glow surrounding them reveals they wear pointed hats and curled-toe shoes. Each carries a small broom over his shoulder like a rifle. Each carries in the other hand a long handled dust pan. They line up at attention, heads held high, faces straight ahead. The tiny army waits in expectation.

Curiosity brings a smile to her heart, granting their presence. With that breath the army starts in earnest action. The small men scurry from dark corner to dark corner. They move quickly and sweep into their dust pans a hard black glistening substance. Some large jagged stones, some fine particles of the mysterious matter. Some fragments are sitting in plain sight; some hidden deep in the blackest cranny.

“What is that?” she asks the night.

“It is your pain. It is all your pain. It is the pain you have carried and buried and hoarded as if gold.”


She watches still. As certain of the soldiers sweep diligently, others construct a mighty conveyor belt reaching far into the heavens. The contraption appears to be of ancient design, and most efficient in its simplicity. Each small man brings his full dustpan to the belt. He empties the contents onto a beautiful square of the finest cloth. Silk damask, plush velvet, rich brocade. The bundle is then tied with cords of pure gold and silver. The conveyor carries each exquisite package up and out. She watches as they are ceremoniously flung to the cosmos.

“But, if it is the ugly anguish that is leaving me, why is it wrapped so elaborately? Why is something so frightful given back to a troubled world?”

The soft night replies, “The pain has been given to you as a gift. You must give it back to the Universe as a gift.”


The tears stream down her cheeks. She knows her life is changing. Again.

The End