For just a moment, perhaps less than a minute, I have no idea where I am.
Have you ever had that fractional minute of complete confusion just as you wake?
I have no idea where I am physically, or how I have arrived...where ever I am. I have no idea what the time is, or the day, or the date.
And for just that tiny time-period, I am seized by an overwhelming panic.
What is happening? Am I in danger? Where am I, and why don't I know where I am?
And just as suddenly I know exactly where I am, and when, and my fears seem immensely silly.
I am in the little house in North Portland, it is Monday, and - since I had set the alarm that is beeping on the nightstand in a very nastily superior way as if it has seen and sneered at my panicked waking - I know it is 5:10am.
I stop the clock with a vengeful slap and lay for a moment inventorying the silent insults of age. Grinding in the shoulders, ache inside the hip, sore knee. The overall sensation that my body lacks the suppleness and strength it once had, that they have been replaced by a sort of surly stiffness.
I swing my feet over onto the floor and rub the stiff bristles the still barb the back of my skull, thinning remnants of the primeval forest that once grew there. Before I can pad halfway across the kitchen in my strange rolling short-right-legged gait Nitty the cat is following-me-in-front-of-me, weaving across my bare feet meowing as if she was last fed halfway through kittenhood rather than the previous day.
I don't worry about the noise; half my family are heavy sleepers and I know that the third is already out on the couch, ghost-footed little shadow in the early morning fleeing who knows what from her bed to the safety of the cluttered front room.
Given the cat's frantic noise I can't do anything else until I find her food. I get a can out of the cupboard and open it.
The meatlike substance commercially sold as food for cats may well be the most revolting thing ever placed in a can. Seriously. I am not particularly delicate about smells; my Bride insists that I would be unable to find a camel six months dead hidden under the bed if all I had to rely on was my olfactory sense. But the pong that bursts from the little metal can is vile, even to me. How the hell can any creature, even one that cleans its anus with its tongue, find this goop appealing?
Why would I even want to know that?
The cat meowls again, an odd little mashup of cry, rumble, and purr. I dump the ghastly offal into Miss Nitty's sparkling bowl. My inamorata insists that the cat's dishes need to be scoured regularly. I point out that this is an animal that cleans its anus with its tongue.
My bride claims that makes no nevermind, and washes the cat's bowl until it shines.
Prey provided to the domestic predator I turn my hand to making coffee.
With a hefty dollop of cream I carry my cup full of earthy, rich savor into the darkened room where my daughter curls on the couch, a crumple of polka-dotted robe with a tousle of midnight hair peeping out from the end.
The Girl was fitted with braces just last week, and one of the caveats she received was that she must not suck her thumb or she could damage all the expensive fretwork.
Little Miss has sucked her thumb since she was tiny. Nature provided her with a perfect socket in her upper jaw where her cleft had taken one of her incisors away, and the quintessential Missy was a pair of bright eyes behind a fist and a raggedy scrap of terrycloth that is her beloved "stripey wubbie".
That thumb, and the fit of it and the gentle osculation on it is comfort, and surety, and peace, and she has never been without them until now.
Suddenly the world is a less comforting and peaceful place for our little traveler. She has been fretful, and as evening draws on to night and bedtime has been fearful. She has taken to wrapping herself in her mother's garish pink-and-white-polka-dotted robe to sleep, drawing comfort from my Bride's smell infused into the fabric. Now she makes small mewing noises as she skootches around to put her head down on my lap for our morning cuddle.
That, too, is essential to Little Miss; whenever she finds that I have left the house without taking a moment to sit with her she cries. We don't actually do anything. There is no talking, or singing, or storytelling. She does not hold me or curl against me and my only contact with her is to gently stroke her hair or down her back as she sleeps.
Together we sit, silent, in the darkened house, the only movement the slow petting of my hand and the steam rising invisibly from my cup. Her head, heavy with dreams and warm with sleep, weighs down on my hip.
Eventually I have to get up and dress.
From over the square bulk of Astor School the eastern sky is lightening, the pale sky outlining the branches of the magnolia in the front corner of the yard already heavy in bud and filters through the red flowering currant, its candy-pink blooms no more than a lighter gray in the grayness around them.
I move as silently as I can. Pulling my right sock on is a trial; the stiff hip won't bend and I contort and skew my leg to fit the end of the damn cotton mitten over my toes and then bend the knee to reach and pull it on. Finally I have socks and boots on, pocket my phone, shrug on fleece and cap, pour the dregs of the coffee into the red-and-silver container from the little coffeehouse in Port Angeles.
Before I go I must return to the couch for a drowsy spastic hug from The Girl, another ritual that cannot be skipped.
The door locks behind me with a dry click.
The morning has brightened to full day, but still with the cool pastel colors of the immediate post-dawn. Urban birds - chickadee, robin, junco - are all voicing their morning complaints over the obbligato of city noise; a dog barks, distant traffic-sough from the arterial six blocks north, car door slams, a faint siren in the distance.
Traffic on North Columbia is light, so it isn't very long before I'm standing in a muddy empty yard looking down at a pile of rusting, oily metal. My workday is beginning, and this is where it begins; with some sort of jerry-rigged underground storage tank that has been discovered during the grading of what is to be a drive-through Starbucks.
I sip my coffee. It's still smooth as a lie, as hot as hidden lust.
"These damn things were buried all plumbed together, hunh?" I ask. "This was what they used for an underground tank?"
The contractor nods, not taking his eyes off the pile of metal as if it might leap up to attack him if he did.
"Wow. You gotta wonder who thought that was a good idea. That's some sort of fucked-up hillbilly shit."
The man nods again, turns slowly, looking for the enviro guy who's supposed to be here to haul the congeries away.
I stand motionless, enjoying the rising heat of the morning sun, and sip my coffee, and wait.