Sleepless Nights

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Sleepless nights affect everybody in different ways.

Submitted: August 03, 2014

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Submitted: August 03, 2014

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SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

 Chantelle Knight, a first-time mother, was fed up with her infant daughter Martina’s crying. It never stopped during the day or night. The only way Chantelle knew how to keep her daughter quiet was, to pick her up and walk round with her in her arms till she eventually fell asleep. Chantelle’s mother and mother-in-law said that she was spoiling the baby and making a rod for her own back. Whatever they said to Chantelle about her method of bringing up her daughter fell on deaf ears, the problem was now, not in the far distant future, she would cross that bridge when she came to it. Meanwhile the summer nights were hotter than usual and the baby was fretful. The garden was very shady during the day with the tall trees, and at night was extremely dark. The nights were rather chilly, in contrast with the daytime temperatures which were higher than they had ever known.

 Chantelle and her neighbours lived on an exclusive estate, high up near the moor, and were used to strong, cold winds. The winters were freezing cold but dry, it was said to be the kind of country that creates hardy people. Chantelle was the youngest adult living up there, and that was because her husband had already bought the house before marrying her.

In the house next door to Chantelle, there lived a retired banker, Lionel, and his wife Polly. On hot nights they left the French windows open, to get some fresh air into the house. From her viewpoint in the garden, Chantelle was able to see them sitting in front of the television: Lionel drinking beer, and Polly drinking iced water. From time to time, one of them would get up out of their armchairs and go into the garden where they would take deep breaths. After a few minutes of this easing up, they went back indoors. If they ever saw Chantelle with her baby, nothing was ever said, no greeting ever made.

In the next house, on the other side of Lionel and Polly’s, lived Jonas, who after a lifetime of business,  gloried in his single-man solitude of old age. He had recently had both knees operated on, and had been ordered by the surgeon to walk as much as possible. Jonas spent all day walking around his house tidying it up, and doing any washing if he had any to do, then the ironing. The garden was his main supplier of joy. It was while he was outside tending it, that he didn’t take any notice of any pains in his legs. He asked himself many times, why he had consented to having both knees operated on at the same time. Then he remembered the surgeon had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The motive that the surgeon had for operating on both knees at the same time, meant that he was able to go away on holiday and forget about Jonas, who was what he called ‘an arch complainer’. Jonas got a discount from having the two operations at once, as the theatre didn’t have to be opened especially for him. He spent more time in his garden than his neighbours did, a fact he wasn’t aware of. In fact, he wasn’t aware of anything or anyone - except himself. If Jonas had lived next door to Chantelle, he would have complained about the baby’s crying.

The summer was getting hotter by the day, pushing the temperatures up and up. Chantelle was so flaked out, that she got up late every morning when the sun was high in the sky. The nights were worse, and she spent them in the garden with a wailing Martina, who decided to be at her most obnoxious. Sometimes, when on her nightly stroll around the garden, Chantelle espied Jonas sitting outside on his terrace, drinking something with ice-cubes in it. He never saw her watching him. Chantelle wondered what other people did when they couldn’t sleep.

When Martina was so worn out and had cried herself to sleep, Chantelle slipped into the kitchen and got an ice-cream and an ice-cold fizzy drink from the giant fridge that her husband had bought when he knew Martina was on the way. His excuse had been that with three of them the extra space would come in handy. Chantelle often thought about her husband’s way of thinking, and whether he ever did anything that made any common sense. The ice-cream in one hand and the drink in the other, Chantelle went into the living-room and switched on the plasma television, also bought by her husband who lived by the rule ‘the bigger the better’. She was always careful to switch on any subtitles so that the neighbours could have no reason to complain.

Lionel and Polly were neither of them in the best of health. They never shared any information about themselves, and so both Chantelle and Jonas naturally assumed that everything was OK, when in fact it was far from being so. Lionel had had his prostate operated on, then a month later Polly had fallen ill with painfully swollen legs, that the doctor had diagnosed as varicose veins, and had ordered an operation to avoid deep vein thrombosis. So there they were, the aged pair enclosed in their home, and neither of them willing to ask for help from their neighbours.

The desirable homes on the residential estate where Chantelle, Lionel and Polly, and Jonas lived, were very isolated. The only people they ever saw, apart from each other (and those encounters were brief), were the daily-helps, who had no other means of getting up to the moor than by car. The arrival of those ladies, who were willing to drive up there, broke the monotony of dull days. The main subject of conversation that hot summer was the night time.

“How do you manage living up here in this heat with a small baby?” Chantelle’s help asked her.

“I try not to let it get me down too much. I can’t go home to my mother, and my husband is away on a cruise.”

“What a nice job he’s got!” the help said, sighing with envy.

“Yes, that’s why he bought this house, to be as far away from the sea as possible. He never spends any money while on board, only when he’s home, and then it’s all on the house.”

“That’s good, better for you he’s like that. You wouldn’t want a man who goes down the pub every night, or goes out with his mates to watch football, would you?”

“No, I suppose I wouldn’t.” Chantelle always felt more in contact with the rest of humanity after speaking with the help.

Lionel and Polly were semi-invalids after all their ill health, and did their best not to let anyone know. They hid all their medication from the help, and put it all back in the bathroom after she had left. Their help was a lady called Mimi, who was used by them to get their shopping, making any excuse under the sun for not getting it themselves, and never revealing what was really wrong with them. The reason for Mimi to get their shopping was that there were no shops anywhere near the estate, and even the smallest thing like light bulbs, necessitated taking the car to the village, which was a quarter of an hour journey downhill. The lack of shops, not only meant having to make a giant upheaval just for shopping for the basic needs, but made for never meeting anyone else other than the neighbours and the helps. High up there on the edge of the moor, everyone was encapsulated in their own four walls. Jonas was the only one who, when his knees had been in better shape, had managed to walk down to the shops. That was made easy because he bought very little food and saved on the petrol.

 

Now the summer was at its hottest. The nights became even more unbearable for sleeping. Seen from above, the estate was dark and velvety, with pinpricks of blue light coming from flickering television screens. If an alien had got closer, he might have just made out the shadowy forms of humans walking in their gardens trying to get some benefit from the cool air which turned to an infernal heat once indoors. Every night saw the quartet stepping outside into their gardens carefully avoiding any contact with each other. The whole estate, which numbered about a hundred houses, was the same. The houses were expensive, and their owners thought that their personal belongings were superior to anyone else’s. That would have been true, but for the fact that they had never stepped inside each other’s homes.

Lionel and Polly were at their wits end because the after-effects of the operations were exacerbated by the heat. The walks around the garden didn’t bring the respite they so desired, and forced themselves to stay up until they were with their eyes almost shut, and could just about make their way up to bed. Lionel wasn’t at all happy with his prostate operation, and eased the soreness with bags of ice-cubes on his groin. At least for a short time he felt some relief. Polly slept with her legs raised on pillows, following the doctor’s orders, to lighten the pressure on her veins. The miserable couple hoped for a miracle that would bring them alleviation from the heat, meanwhile they struggled through the hot nights.

Jonas put bags of frozen peas on his knees in place of ice-cubes, arguing that there was no need to spend money where it wasn’t needed. Nevertheless, the frozen peas worked, and he felt a lot better after sitting with them on his knees while watching television and having dinner. Jonas walked around his garden in the dark, happily knowing that nobody could see him limping. He hadn’t slept well for some years, but now with such a strong heat, his sleep pattern was more or less completely broken. He had booked a cruise for September, when he hoped the summer would be over. Meanwhile, he practiced walking on his new knees, which the surgeon had reassured him would not rust and would not let him down.

Some nights, the four were all outside at the same time but, as if by some secret code, made it very clear that their nocturnal walk was not to be disturbed by any inane chatter. The summer continued with the sun’s rays burning everything they touched. The lawns were no longer green but dusty with earth, the bushes and flowers were struggling to maintain a minimum of life inside them. There was a hose ban, which meant that the gardens all over the country were condemned to suffer. Nothing made any sense after the rainy winters the country endured year after year. The question everyone asked was ‘where has all the water gone?’

 

That summer lasted too long in the minds of the majority of the population, and when the first drops of rain fell and the temperatures had fallen day and night, and everyone slept at night, there were no more open French windows, only the shine of shut glass window panes. Chantelle was now sleeping all night through, thanks to the cooler nights, which kept Martina quiet too. The baby was seen in her large baby buggy being walked down the hill to the village. Lionel and Polly felt better too, and the few times they met up with Chantelle, the most they could bring themselves to say was, “Hello,” before moving away. Jonas was, of course, by that time packing his suitcase in preparation for his cruise. The neighbours were the last thing on his mind.

 

Chantelle loved shopping centres and went as often as she could. On the rare occasions she saw Lionel and Polly, they made it clear they didn’t want to know. What did it matter? The sleepless nights were over. Chantelle had told her husband she would like to move nearer to his mother or hers, due to feeling so alone when Martina had been so fractious. Chantelle’s husband, Paul, had said that as far as he was concerned that was OK. Chantelle was happy that the next summer, however hot the nights were, she would not be alone.

 

Lionel and Polly, seeing Chantelle’s house was up for sale, were worried about what kind of new neighbours they might have, and decided to sell up too. The couple preferred to spend sleepless nights nearer the sea than up on the moor.

 

Jonas returned from his cruise blooming with health, which soon changed when he saw that Lionel’s house was now occupied by a noisy family of boys.

Chantelle’s house was eventually acquired by a large family.

Jonas realized that unless he sold up too, the sleepless nights wouldn’t just be due to the heat but to the new noisy families.

 

So, being Jonas, he did absolutely nothing.

 


© Copyright 2019 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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