Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Tent

The baby woke up in the middle of the night crying.

A heavy wind was knocking branches against his window pane bumping and screeching with each gust.

"Should I make him another bottle?" asked my husband in a sleepy voice.

"Thanks." I mumbled back.

I could hear trees moving in the backyard, the wind was blowing westward down from the mountains over the foothills, across our backyard wall. I picked up my phone to check the time.


The baby was crying louder in the nursery next door.

When the baby's crying subsided I knew a bottle was calming him down. In a minute--after making certain all was well--my husband would come back to bed. I fell back into a peaceful sleep.

Suddenly, I woke up to a voice.

"Do you know who is in the backyard in a tent?"

I looked over at the window. I could see a dark silhouette of my husband, his body facing the glass.

"What did you just say?"

"There is someone in our backyard in a tent."

The very thought of this moment being real life--not a dream where I wake up chilled but relieved--caused a second's paralysis to come over my being. In beats of time I fought movement while staring at the paintings of biblical saints adorning my bedroom wall. There was Mary, Elizabeth, Rebekah and Mary Magdalene all caught in time too.

No one should be in our backyard at this hour. I thought back to recent conversations, did anyone mention anything about taking up camp on our back lawn? I knew there never had been that sort of conversation. Then who was in our backyard being bullied by the wind? The frost of fear began to thaw in my blood freeing my limbs. I went over to the window.

A full moon had been stuffed by an army of angry clouds. A dull, gray light dimly lit the side of our house. The pushing and pulling of tree limbs cast strange shadows around the courtyard area. Underneath our bedroom window I saw--as plain as day--a silver tent perfectly erected and standing firm in the cycling air.

"Oh no." I said to my husband, hands clasped to my mouth.

"After I gave the baby a bottle, I came back to bed and the tent caught my eye as I passed the window." He explained peering into the dark. "I have been standing here for awhile making sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing."

"Honey," I said looking again. "is that our tent from the storage room?" It looked like the pop-up tent we've used for backyard camping trips with nieces and nephews.

"I don't know."

"But you don't think someone got into our house and took the tent out to sleep in it?" The thought scared the voice out of me, and I started to whisper. "Do you think . . .?"

"I don't know. I'm going to check it out." He sounded bravely resolute while climbing into the pants that hung heavily over the laundry hamper. As I watched him search for a flashlight in the drawer of his nightstand I felt grateful for being the woman in our relationship. Though I was just as able to go out investigating, traditionally-speaking I wasn't required.

"Be back in a second." He said kissing me.

"Careful." I kissed back.

When his presence had left the room, I was taken over by an overwhelming sense of terror and panic. I didn't know if I should go into the nursery to be with the baby or stay vigilant at the window to see to my husband's safety. Normally, I consider myself a level-headed human, one who doesn't jump to mid-night, mysterious-tent induced conclusions. But in the few seconds it took for him to walk downstairs and out into the backyard I had thought of every possible tragedy that could occur.

He'd find a wasted vagabond waiting with drunken breath to beat him bloody.

He be attacked by desperate derelict obsessed with murder and rage.

He would unzip the tent to see a reckless fugitive bound by revenge to ruin happy homebound humans.

No matter what or who was inside the tent, I felt slightly better knowing my large husband was capable of handling most average sized humans. It was mostly the feeling of being violated, trespassed and void of security. Someone was out there, on my lawn. And if they were able to beat my husband, what would come next?

In the gray light I could see the dark figure of my husband appear out in the courtyard. He took strong steps against the wind towards the tent. With flashlight in hand, I watched him crouch down and unzip the door. The yellow flashlight was transparent through the walls of the silver tent. His head disappeared in the opening.

No one was there.

The tent was empty.

Wind again knocked at the window,as I kept my husband in sight. He took a turn about our large yard, around the trees and brick fencing, following the light of the flashlight. I knew he was thinking what I was thinking, someone set up that tent in our backyard, now where were they?

I thought about my once-homeless estranged uncle who--according to my mother--would set up camp in backyards of unexpected home owners. He'd stay there until being found out. I always thought there was something ultimately creepy about that, someone living in your backyard, watching you, living side-by-side with you, without your knowledge. He had passed away recently, I couldn't even begin to hope it was his tent in our quarters.

Downstairs I heared the door open and slam shut with the help of a gust. In walked my husband, the draft being brought with his body.

"No one is out there . . . and that is not our tent." He said sitting down on the bed taking off his boots.

Should we call the police? I wondered, but fell back into bed for the better word from my husband. I waited as he pulled off his pants, unzipped his jacket and returned to bed.

"Lets just see what happens in the morning." He said, rolling on his left side, not entirely calm.

"Ok." I said knowing I wasn't going to get much sleep with pools of adrenalin still accumulating in my veins. But some time between four-thirty and five o'clock I fell asleep.

And in the morning the tent was gone.

*true story
**the tent was not ours