Gilbert sipped on his mug of strong, black coffee as he gazed out of his front room picture window, the only window n the house where the shades were not drawn. That was the first thing that Gilbert did every morning after he woke up, go around the house and draw all of the shades. When it got dark, he would open them, especially tonight, when the moon would be full. Gilbert would have a perfect view of the full moon when his picture window shades were open. This morning, however, as Gilbert was drawing the last shade, something caught his eye. It was the little girl next door. She was alone in her backyard. In her hand she held a crystal. The little girl was using the crystal to capture rays of sunshine. Mesmerized, she turned the crystal in all different directions, studying it carefully from each angle. As Gilbert stood at his window, drinking his hot, black coffee with one hand on the pull cord, he flashed back to his own childhood.
Gilbert had not been interested in the sun since childhood. He was trying to remember when he lost interest in it, when that loss of interest turned to distaste and finally to avoidance. Even thinking as far back as he remember, he did not recall ever studying the sun with as much intent and purpose as the child before him on the lawn. “Coming!” she yelled suddenly, shaking Gilbert from his memories as she tore across the lawn-a flash of blue and white-the crystal, dropped on the grass, continued to catch the suns light. Gilbert pulled the cord on the blind to shut out the glare.
Taking his memories with him, Gilbert sat down to his computer, trying to get some work done. The last five years had been heaven for Gilbert. His position as an independent web-page designer meant that he never had to leave his house during the day and he hadn’t left his house even once that he could remember during daytime hours in five years. Sometimes he had to meet with clients in person. Gilbert made them come to his house, to his home office, if you could call it that. Always they found a way around ever having to come for a second in person meeting. Maybe it was the dust or the dark. Gilbert looked at his front room/office, it was piled high with books, banker boxes, and files, Gilbert had a hard time throwing anything away. After a client heard about his reputation and insisted on meeting him in person, Gilbert would oblige, warmly seating them on his chair, worn thin by his cat Oscar or his small couch, made homey by his mutt dog, Ralph. The client would drink Gilbert’s bitter coffee and ask to see samples of his work. Gilbert would show them, give them options, and remind them that they could do all of this via e-mail or his web page. Gilbert’s lack of social graces and inhospitable living environment soon drove even the most persistent clients away from future personal interactions.
Gilbert liked the night. Through the years he had learned how to structure his life so that everything that needed doing or any meager entertainment that he desired could be done just as easily after the sun set. A few nights ago, Gilbert was walking Ralph around the neighborhood at midnight. He often saw other dog walkers in the neighborhood at that hour. This made him feel less conspicuous and maybe even a bit main stream. Ralph had seen a rabbit and bolted from Gilbert’s hand. A fellow night time dog walker had caught Ralph by the leash and returned him to Gilbert. The woman, Doris, lived two doors down from Gilbert. They had never met, she was genuinely surprised to discover that he had lived in the neighborhood for five years and she, who had known everyone for twenty, had never even seen him before. Yes, Gilbert could remain quite hidden when he wanted to.
Late at night, pushing his grocery cart down the vacant aisles, Gilbert was sometimes privy to things that weren’t meant to be seen by others, things that he suspected didn’t happen during the day, young couples making out behind store displays, people eating almost freely from the produce section, a shoplifter hiding items in a pocket, coat, or purse, store employees smoking and talking causally at the front registers. It was a whole different world at night. Sometimes Gilbert found it more entertaining than going to a movie.
Gilbert awoke to the light of the full moon outside his bedroom window. It was his habit to retire to bed soon after lunch time, usually around 1:00pm in the winter and 2:00pm in the summer. He allowed himself eight hours of sleep, arising to shower, shave, and dress as one would do in the morning. Tonight Gilbert would do his grocery shopping, make a delicious dinner for himself, walk Ralph, and watch movies. He thought briefly about getting some work done. In addition to web design and maintenance, Gilbert also wrote blogs for several clients. He could put that off until the early morning though. The night was his to enjoy.
A knocking sound broke through Gilbert’s ocean dream. He opened sleepy eyes and fumbled by his clock for his glasses, 4:00pm. He was in the deepest part of his daytime sleep. Not wanting to be bothered, Gilbert rolled over and put a pillow over his head. The knocking continued, then stopped abruptly, only to be replaced by a ringing doorbell. Gilbert thought that it had been disconnected, but remembered through his sleepy haze that he had reconnected it in order to not miss his most recent client, a high profile attorney. Slowly, Gilbert climbed out of bed and into some pants. Knocking he could ignore, but this incessant ringing was giving him a headache. As the doorbell continued to chime in the background, Gilbert fumbled for a shirt. “Coming,” he shouted, pushing his glasses up his nose.
At first he didn’t see her when he opened the door in a fury, ready to shout insults at the doorbell ringing fanatic. She stood at his doorway, the little girl from next door, sobbing, shaking piteously, “My, my, my…mom,” she choked, “Please help me mister, my mommy…my mommy…just fell.” Choking down his fury, Gilbert searched for the right words. How long had it been since he had actually talked to another person, two weeks, a month? Conversational interaction was not a frequent occurrence for Gilbert. “I…I’m not sure what to do.” Truly, Gilbert was not sure what he could do, the emotion, the possibility of a medical problem. “Please,” the girl begged, “No one else is home, I tried Mrs. Jennings and Auntie Doris’ house and no one is home.” Gilbert paused, he had no idea who these people were, were they his neighbors? The little girl stood there clad in jeans and a pink “Hello Kitty” t-shirt, she wore flip-flops on her feet. “Mister…please,” she grabbed Gilbert’s hand and pulled him out onto the porch. The late afternoon sun bore down like a hot ball of flame scorching Gilbert’s night eyes. He put a hand up to shield them as he stumbled down his own front steps. “Are you sick?” We need to hurry, my mommy,” the little girl implored him. Gilbert knew that he would have to find the strength to do this, to come out in the light of day. He looked at the little girl, “What is your name?” “Mandy,” she looked back at him with innocent blue eyes, “What’s yours?” “Gilbert.” “My mommy says that I have to call adults by Mr. or Mrs., I will call you Mr. Gilbert.”
Mr. Gilbert entered Mandy’s house in a daze. His whole body was shocked by the sunlight. He felt disoriented, his chest was constricted, his throat dry. Mandy’s house was cool and light. All of the blinds were open. There was almost as much sunlight in the house as there was outside. “She’s in here,” Mandy steered Gilbert to the right, into the kitchen. Mandy’s mother lay in a crumpled head at the base of the cooking island in the center of the kitchen. Gilbert heard crying. “Is the radio on?” “No, that’s my baby brother, Kennedy, he’s just waking up from his nap.” Gilbert paused, a baby, what would he do with a baby. “Mr. Gilbert, can you please check on my mom, will she be all right?’ Gilbert bent down, Mandy’s mother was tall and slim, her long brownish hair fell over her face. Gilbert brushed back the hair from her mouth, his knowledge of first aide was rudimentary, Gilbert didn’t think he felt any breath coming from her nostrils. Clumsily she grasped her narrow wrist and attempted to find a pulse. He didn’t feel anything resembling a pulse, but was unsure if he was checking in the right spot, he reached for the phone and dialed 911.
Mandy appeared with a chubby baby boy on her hip. “Ma!” he pointed, Mandy let him down and toddled and crawled over to his mommy, climbing on top of her and trying to get her to wake up. With a gentleness that he didn’t know that he had, Gilbert lifted the baby off of his mommy. Kennedy looked squarely at Gilbert and started to scream. Gilbert tried to soothe the distraught infant. He felt a tapping on his leg, Mandy was there holding a sippy cup. “Here,” Kennedy grabbed the cup and began sucking hungrily. “Is my mommy going to be O.K.?” Gilbert looked at Mandy, he had no idea what to say. His head was reeling with his new foray into daylight, he had never spent any time around children, he had in fact, never been by himself with children. “Where is your father?” “He’s travelling for work, Mr. Gilbert, will my mommy get better?”
The sirens shrieked in the background, they sounded like they were coming closer. Mandy grabbed Gilbert’s leg with both arms and buried her face in his knees. When the paramedics arrived, they talked to Gilbert like he was the husband/father. Gilbert tried to explain that he wasn’t, but his voice was rusty and he couldn’t get the words out. That was how Gilbert found himself in the family car, driving two distraught children to the hospital.
Both of the children were crying as Gilbert struggled to park the car at the hospital. He was confused by driving in the daylight and the screaming children caused him to become completely disoriented. He lost his way several times.
As he stumbled into the emergency room, weighted down by the screaming children, a nurse approached him, clipboard in hand, “Are you Mr. Smith?” “No, I’m…” “We have Mrs. Smith here, the ambulance said that you were right behind,” she waved the clipboard furiously, “Mrs. Smith needs emergency surgery, we need your consent.” “I’m…I’m not her husband,” Gilbert stammered. The children, huddled around his knees, wide eyed and sniveling as they looked up at the nurse, thankfully they had stopped screaming. “Well, where is he! And who are you?” the nurse shouted at Gilbert. The emergency room appeared to be close to capacity, all of the helpless, waiting patients seated in their plastic chairs turned to look a the scene unfolding between Gilbert and the nurse. “I am the neighbor, I only just met them today.” “Never mind, we’ll find him.” “What do I do? Where do I take the children?” Gilbert called to the nurses’ wide, white receding behind. Gilbert tried to think of what he had seen fathers do on T.V. in similar situations. Slowly, Gilbert squatted down, taking Kennedy in one arm to stabilize him, “How would you like a cookie?” “Really?” Mandy looked at Gilbert, wide-eyed and sniffed, “We have to be careful of Kennedy though so that he doesn’t choke.”
After treat time in the hospital cafeteria, Gilbert and the children returned to the emergency room. “So there you are,” the same nurse from earlier scolded Gilbert, “We tracked down Mr. Smith, he is on his way and he doesn’t know who in the hell you are.” “I am from next door, I keep to myself, I never met the Smiths before today when Mandy came to my door…” Gilbert realized by the suspicious look that the nurse was giving him, that he was losing ground. She squinted as she looked him up and down. “I think that you had better go. We have a social worker here to look after the children.” The nurse scooped up Kennedy and took Mandy by the hand. Mandy was reluctant, looking back solemnly at Gilbert, he watched them fade down the dingy hallway.
Gilbert tried once to talk to the Smiths. He rang their bell to return the car keys. Nobody was home, Gilbert wrote a quick note and left the envelope on the front porch. He surprised himself by leaving his phone number, asking them to call. Several weeks later, the house was up for sale. Gilbert ventured out to attend the first open house. He had found himself longing more and more to be awake and active during the daytime. He found out from the real estate agent that Mrs. Smith had died, a brain aneurysm. Mr. Smith and the children were moving in order to be closer to his parents. Gilbert felt grief in his heart when he remembered Mrs. Smith lying on her kitchen floor. He found himself wishing that he had gotten to know the family. What had Mrs. Smith’s laugh sounded like, did it sound like Mandy’s? Gilbert reached up to adjust his glasses and felt a damp spot near his eye. Embarrassed, he moved quickly through the house and out the back door. Gilbert stepped in into the center of the damp yard. He caught a rainbow glint out of the corner of his eye. Bending down to get a closer look, Gilbert saw the crystal. Mandy’s crystal in lying in the soft mud. Feeling his heart lighten, Gilbert grasped the crystal in his hand and held it up to the bright afternoon sun.