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Christopher Woods

Today, Quite Early

I cannot sleep tonight, this much is true. And though you may not be interested in this, in the reason for my insomnia, I say you should be. Do not roll over and pretend to be asleep, in your bed, somewhere in the world. Stay awake. Listen to what I say. Then you will not be able to sleep, the same as I. That done, we can sit here through the night of this vigil. Listen to the cries from the pool. When we have done that, when those cries are so familiar that we will no longer be aware of them, then we will talk. You and me. I will tell you this and that, some surface things, and you will do the same.

But that will not be the end of it. After an hourís time, our talk will deepen. I will tell you about my husband, Marcello, and you will trade a story or two. About unhappiness, perhaps, but it neednít be. It could be about anything. We will do this because, wherever you are, night is long. Some nights have lives all their own. This night, for instance. But first, this morning.

To tell you about this morning I must first tell you of yesterday morning. Or the day before that. No, Iím certain it was this morning that it happened, but you know how things are continually being set in motion. This was one of those things. For it to have happened this morning, it had to begin a day or so ago.

My insomnia is a direct result of what happened today, quite early, by the pool. Downstairs, in the lobby of this hotel. So early, in fact, that I was still asleep. Dreaming, yes, of a better Marcello, of a world still able to change, or be changed. Oh yes. Sleeping and dreaming, so that I was not aware what was happening. The drowning, that is. A death by drowning.

Still awake with me? I hope so. You wonít surrender so easily to that sleep with talk of death and drowning going on around you. Stay with me, through the night. Help me to forget those watery cries from the pool.

They arrived two days ago, the young American and his wife. Just married, and come to stay in this town on the Bay of Banderas. It was only two days ago that I watched them register so sheepishly in the hotel lobby. They were much the same as all newlyweds. And they were from St. Louis. That is somewhere to the north of here, and maybe you are closer to it than I am.

I was not near them in the lobby and could not hear the music that was certainly in their voices. But I could feel the bliss that enclosed them, and the good health that seemed to radiate from them. I envied them for what they were, what they had together, whatever they possessed, however naively, however briefly it lasted.

Of course I was drawn to them and their apparent happiness. You would have been drawn to them too. Donít deny it. It goes for us all, these things we are continually being drawn towards.

Yesterday, or the day before, I canít recall which, I went to their room on the sixth floor of this hotel. I went not to visit, but to clean. I am the best maid in the Posada Bougainvillea, if you must know. I have never stolen a thing from a guest. Not money, not jewelry, not a camera, not anything. I am trusted here. Completely. So I was in their room when they had gone downstairs for their breakfast.

I take special care in the rooms of newlyweds. There is a special feeling in the air in those rooms. Of an awkward delicacy, I think. Of unsure feelings, of things becoming. In those rooms young men and women are going through changes, many of them all at once. Who can be prepared for so much?

Carefully I gathered their used towels in the bathroom. I pulled the sheets from the bed where love had left its marks. I straightened things on the dresser. Opened the drapes. I opened the shutters so that the entire Bay of Banderas filled the long field of vision.

I make a room new again. No matter how many people come and go, the room remains. This same room that I must make new over and over again. It is why I am the best maid in the Posada Bougainvillea.

Honesty makes a good maid, yes, but a kind of magic makes the best. And, it goes without saying, I always hope for magic.

I passed them in the hall and lowered my eyes until they were behind me once again. Did they see me? Yes, and no. They passed, and even said good morning. But there are different ways of seeing, as you know.

They were in a world all by themselves. Which is how it should be. Except for one thing that disturbed me greatly. No matter how I tried, this day, yesterday I am almost certain, I could not make their room new.

This was something that had not happened before, ever. I sat on the edge of their bed in that room and could not see anything good in the future of the couple from St. Louis.

There was a sadness in that room. About their things all scattered here and there. The way their clothes touched in the closet. And, opening the shutters to let in fresh morning air did not change the fact of the sadness. In the large mirror above the bed I saw a gathering of ghosts. A group of them was standing in a circle, talking. Planning, I knew.

You might want to know why I said nothing about this to the couple as I passed them in the hall. Why I didnít try to warn them. No one would have listened. Besides, my magic is small compared to the magic that truly controls things. And, from experience, I know that I see things that others do not. It is a gift I have. The ghosts in that mirror would not have been noticed by many others, Iím sure of it. No one would have believed me, least of all the couple from St. Louis.

Then too, I am unsure about myself and my powers now. I have been weakened, in my own house. My Marcello, so kind when he was younger, has grown nasty with time. He hurts me often. I wear bruises from him. And inside I feel somehow broken. I know it is my spirit that is damaged.

However things are in my house with my husband, I am weakened. Had I spoken to those ghosts, they would have laughed at my protests. Or simply ignored me. So I had no choice but to let things alone. Let them proceed, wherever they were going.

Last night, I did not go home. There are rooms available. Sometimes, if the hotel is very busy, they ask us to stay over. But last night, I stayed because of Marcello. I thought, if I go home, I may not live. He has been brutal lately, and he seems to be getting worse still.

I was in a narrow bed in a small and simple room. I imagined the love being shared in the many rooms above me. But I did not feel sorry for myself. In fact, I felt rather safe. Then, sometime in the night, I heard the cries from the swimming pool.

Later still, I must have fallen asleep. It was a good sleep, better than in weeks, because I did not have to fear Marcello waking me. But because I was enjoying my rest, I slept later than usual. If I had awakened earlier, I might have seen the couple from St. Louis leaving their hotel room before dawn. How they moved so quietly, half asleep themselves, through the white halls, riding the elevator down to the pool off the lobby. To their appointment, you see. I would have seen them throw off their clothes and slip into the still water. For half an hour, until something went wrong.

As it happened, I was awakened by the young womanís cries that ricocheted off the tile in the pool area. By the time I arrived there, dressed only in my robe, I saw the young man from St. Louis. It was so very strange. He floated face down in the water. Bobbing, his arms and legs fell free in the grey blue light of underwater. It was too late to save him.

Yes, it would be difficult for you to sleep now, hearing all this. The image is not one you would want lingering in your mind when trying to sleep, I know. but stay with me, for now. I promise, it will get better. I will leave you with a nicer image of the man from St. Louis, one better to remember him by.

Soon, his body was pulled from the water. We came to understand that his heart was bad. Outwardly, he couldnít have seemed more healthy. But he had problems, we were told, from a very early age. His wife said this to someone, but not to me. I learned about it second or third hand, I canít remember now.

I stood at the edge of the pool, looking down into the water, when the body was removed. I was looking down into the water, where more cries were coming from.

No one else could hear those cries. They heard only the young woman sobbing. I knew that the cries I heard were ones of mourning, songs of grief, deep and inconsolable. Cries of small souls that had been waiting for so long to be born, that had hoped this union, the new couple from St. Louis, might set them free to live.

Now, after what had happened, they would be made to wait some more. Some of those small souls, the truly unfortunate ones, would be waiting always.

They laid the body in a corner of the patio and covered it with a sheet. It could not be removed until the police and the coroner arrived. In this sleepy town on the Bay of Banderas, one waits a long time for the police. They take their time. And on a Sunday morning, after a late Saturday night, I knew the wait would be extremely long.

Marcello always sleeps late on Sundays. Saturday nights, he comes home late, shaking the house, smashing this and that, scaring the children.

The body remained in its white shroud for hours, until the brunch buffet began. Other guests wandered in, selecting their breakfasts from shiny platters laden with sweet breads and fresh fruit. No one seemed to notice the body hidden so close to the tables. The murmur of guestsí voices became an insect cloud that hummed in the air above them. And no, they did not hear the long, unbroken song of souls in the pool. It was a song for me alone.

Here, where I am now, Marcello seems far away. So far that I surprise myself, thinking about him. I am safe here. I am sitting in a room full of candles, where the body is. I am keeping a night vigil beside the young man from St. Louis.

When the investigation took place, the bride was taken to her room and sedated. She is in a deep sleep now, I know. But here, her new husband is beyond sleep. He lies in this room, beyond wakefulness.

I am attentive to him. Every so often I get up to look at him. I pretend I am an angel, watching over him. His face glows in the soft candlelight. He hasnít a care in the world.

He doesnít hear the cries from the pool. For him, those cries, those souls, do not exist. He is not thinking of being closed in a coffin for the flight back home. How many people will attend his funeral in St. Louis. Or how many flowers will be strewn across his grave.

He does not even consider the fact of his misfortune. And this is how it gets better. He is like a photograph. He will be forever young, and naive. He cannot hear me when I tell him that, in a way, he is lucky. To have gone when he was so happy, I mean. Why, if he had waited, if he had gone later...

I put my hand beneath the sheet. I touch him. He will not awaken. And I believe he trusts me. After all, it is I who have cleaned him, readied him for his long journey home.

And I have worked magic. He no longer looks like someone who has drowned. He looks like an innocent, for this night, for all the nights to come.

I take his hand, the one that wore the shiny new gold ring. I talk to him about Marcello and my lot. I tell him about myself. If you are still awake, if you are listening, you can talk to him too. About your Marcello, about anything you like.

I hold his hand and do not let go. I will hold his hand in mine until the dawn, when they come to take him away. And, even when he has gone flying across the sky, I will not let go.

©1992 by Christopher Woods

Christopher Woods lives in Houston. He is the author of Under a Riverbed Sky, a prose poem and brief fiction collection. "Today, Quite Early" is from an unpublished collection, The Bee Harp. His play, Moonbirds, was produced in the fall of 2003 in New York City. A Moonbirds production is planned in Belgium.

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