During the night, I woke up. I fumbled for my glasses on the nightstand, and then peered over at the red digital numbers of my alarm clock. It was three o'clock in the morning. The whole house was quiet. Through the window I could see the outside world, a dark, dim, pale blue place. A car raced passed on the street at the bottom of the hill.
I took my glasses off again, and rolled back over. But I could not get back to sleep. I shifted and twisted in my blankets, trying to find the most comfortable position, and then, when I was comfy and all was quiet, I tried to drift back into slumberland. But sleep eluded me.
"I'm hungry," I said aloud to myself.
So I got up, slipped on my bathrobe, and slipped out my room.
It's a tricky thing being up in the middle of the night. I had to be careful not to do anything that would disturb my sleeping housemates. I moved very slowly in the darkened hallway, fearing to step on something I couldn't see but never daring to turn on the light. At last I got to the top of the stairway, but then, just when I was past the other 2 bedrooms and thought myself home free, the wood of the stairs creaked loudly. I froze. I stood still in the darkness, listening, waiting to hear the sounds of someone else waking up. But the sounds didn't come. And soon I was able to continue creeping quietly down the stairs, through the shadowy darkness of the living room, and on into the kitchen.
Once I finally reached the kitchen, I turned on a light. But rather than flood the room in bright a fluorescent glare, I instead turned on only the little lamp above the table, with the yellow shade that bathed the room in a soft, warm glow.
Sigh. But what to eat? I nosed around in the fridge, looking for leftovers. These uneaten pancakes from Sunday's brunch would probably be good in the microwave, but... they don't really sound good. Soup? Nah. Hey, some of that roast beef is still left! Unfortunately, all the rolls are gone.
As I stood there in front of the opened refrigerator door, I happened to glance out the kitchen window. The window was a solid black sheet, the subtle shades of nighttime darkness obscured by the interior lighting. But suddenly, a square beacon of light appeared in the night. A light had come on in the kitchen of the house next door.
I walked to the window and peered out. Across the way, I could see a woman in a bathrobe stooping to peer into an open refrigerator. I tapped on the glass of my window, hoping perhaps she would hear me, but she didn't. Then I decided to simply keep watching her until she glanced in this direction, and then wave to attract her attention.
It took a while. I watched as she closed the fridge and began inspecting the various cabinets. Then she got out a teakettle and filled it with water and set it on the burner. And then finally, she looked in my direction, and I waved, casually, yet deliberately. She noticed, and drew near to her own window.
I made motions for her to open her window, and I did the same. A warm night breeze swept in upon me.
"Hi!" I said, in the loudest whisper I could muster.
"Do you get hungry in the middle of the night too?"
I nodded vigorously. I could see she was smiling. But then she shrugged. "Well, good night!"
My one thought at this moment was to keep her from leaving. Why dine alone in the middle of the night, when you can share the meal with someone else?
She was starting to turn away from the window, so I gestured frantically to get her attention, and then motioned towards the front of the house and walked purposefully out of the kitchen. I had to slow down once I reached the living room; darkness is even more dark when you arrive in it suddenly from a place that has light. When I reached the front door, I groped about for my sandals, and slipped outside as quietly as possible.
I took a deep breath of the wonderful warm night air. I could see the moon high over head, and I could hear the rustling of tree branches and the chirping of crickets. I looked across at my neighbor's house; only one light was on, the one in the kitchen. But presently I became aware of a shadowy shape moving around near the front door, and I walked across the lawn in that direction.
"Hi again," I said when I got closer to her.
My neighbor held her arms high above her head, and stretched. "What a gorgeous night!"
"Yeah, isn't it great?" I glanced over at the street, thinking I'd seen something move. A rabbit, perhaps?
"The air smells so nice, like wildflowers and... and something else, I don't know what."
"Hey, you know what I was just thinking? Here we both are, hungry and awake in the middle of the night, and it's such a beautiful night, too. So why don't we pack up some food and have a midnight picnic?"
Excited intake of air. "Oh, that sounds great! Yes, let do it! We can walk down to the playground on Integer Avenue!"
"Do you have any bread or rolls? I have some roast beef..."
"Um, I think so. And I have some watermelon I can bring."
"OK, great! Let's go get our stuff, and meet back here in 5 minutes. OK?"
"I'll be here!"
It took us both longer than 5 minutes to get ready, but before long we were on our way. During the walk down to the park, we didn't talk much. We just strolled along, smelling the night air and thinking our own private thoughts.
When we got to the park, we went directly over to the little cluster of picnic tables, and unpacked our collective assortment of food. As it turned out, we'd brought far more than we could eat.
"So tell me, how often do you get up at 3 AM to raid the icebox?"
I shrugged. "Not too often. How about you?"
"It depends. Sometimes I do almost every night of the week. Usually in the winter time I don't, because I don't like getting out of bed when the room is cold and the bed is toasty warm. But in the summer I get hungry and restless. I dream about food and then I wake up with cravings."
"Hey, you know, I think that may be what made me wake up hungry. I remember... I remember I was dreaming about being trapped in a bakery. And they were making angel food cakes and devil's food cakes... and the angel food cakes had little wings and were flying all around, and the devil's food cakes had little pitchforks they could throw, and they were attacking the angel food cakes, and when a devil's food cake hit one of the angel food cakes with a pitchfork, the angel food cake would come crashing down to the ground in flames. And then I woke up."
"Wow, that's a pretty cool dream!"
A car drove by on Integer Avenue.
"Hey, you know, I think this park is supposed to be closed at dusk. We should probably go home before the cops arrest us."
"Closed? How do you close a park? There aren't any gates."
'Yeah, I guess that's true. But even so, I think I'm ready to go back to bed."
"Yeah, I guess I am too."
We packed up the leftovers and started walking back.
"Hey, how's your boyfriend doing?"
Pause. "Um, we broke up."
"Yeah." She shrugged.
I pondered the implications of this as we turned onto our street and approached our houses. When we finally reached the point at which we'd split up and go our separate ways, I said "Hey, this was a lot of fun. Maybe we can do it again some time."
"Yeah, I'd like that. Definitely let me know the next time you're up in the middle of the night and feel like going on a picnic."
"OK! I will!"
"And don't let those devil's food cakes get you!"
I watched her walk towards her front porch, and then I quietly went back into my house, to put the food away as silently as possible, and then to go back to bed, to dream about being on a submarine with my next-door neighbor and a crew of owls.