He awakened to soft gonging from the guest room at the other end of the upstairs hall, and to intense darkness. It rang four times, but that old clock kept terrible time, so he knew it was between half past three and four a.m. He had fallen asleep only a few hours before, sick to his stomach and head pounding from another headache, but the medicine had finally done its part and the only things remaining were a chalky, dry mouth and the grogginess of three doses of migraine medication in one day. Too exhausted to do anything else, he soon sank back into the warm bed and fell quickly asleep.
Only a couple of hours later, his eyes opened again, still to darkness, but this time he felt more alive. As he lay there with eyes open to the inky stillness of his bedroom, he listened and felt—first the soft, steady breathing of his terrier blissfully unconscious on the floor beside the bed, then to the steady rhythmic ticking of that same old clock down the hall. Later still, he noticed traffic on the street well below his side garden, sporadic at first, then steadily becoming more regular as early risers headed off to whatever early risers did during the day. Gradually other senses became more apparent in the dark. The silky smooth cotton of fine sheets—He could sense they were brilliant white, even in the dark, even if he hadn’t known that all his linens were by choice pure white. His bedding smelled warm but clean, the perfect combination. The old clock chimed once, a single bright bell for the half hour. Early, of course, but this time he checked his phone to see that it was 5:21, clear, and just slightly chilly out on this early fall morning. Pondering whether to roll over for more sleep or get up, he compromised, sitting up and reading for a bit. Not the news. The news this early in the day would be either recycled from the day before, or headlines from Europe, and none of the news from there had been good for some time.
Instead, he settled in to answer a couple of emails and read a chapter or two of a sexy, plot-driven story, just romantic enough for him to start the day feeling as if he hadn’t spent another in a long string of nights alone in this big, half-empty sleigh bed. Soon enough, he put the tablet down and pushed his arms up, up toward the black iron and dark brown wooden fan hanging expectantly above, motionless for the past few weeks since summer’s end. He could feel every muscle and joint in his neck, shoulders, chest, and back stretching, crackling, and waking up as he reached for the ceiling. With that, he slid out of bed naked to stand barefoot on firm, slightly rough, textured carpet. Careful not to disturb his still sleeping dog, he made his way across the bedroom lit only by the merest hint of dawn peeking through the east-facing clerestory windows over his bed to the bath, where he shut his eyes tightly and flipped on the lights over a marbled vanity.
His morning routine consisted of the usual, a quick trip to the toilet, peremptory pass of fingers and a comb through short hair, and brushing of teeth. Still unclothed, and resisting the obligation to slide fabric over his skin for as long as possible, he settled in for thirty minutes of yoga stretches and resistance exercises. Not enough to leave a sheen of sweat, at least not this time of year, but enough to warm his skin and muscles, to impress upon his brain that it was time to move forward. Satisfied with his readiness to face the world beyond his bedroom suite and just as the clock struck 7 a.m. (still early, of course), he slid on a pair of gray running shorts, black t shirt, socks, and a luxuriously thin, lightly warm, fleece top.
Standing over the kitchen sink, watching through shuttered windows at a sky slowly brightening above the oaks and dogwoods and the neighboring rooftops, he sipped his warm morning drink. Funny how dependent he had become on the sharp acidic taste of apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning, and the warm, deeply darkened wild honey that followed as an afterthought, all washed down his flexing throat in a wave of hot water. Where once coffee had lit a chemical match under his mornings, now something else more organic sustained him through the early hours. Still hot, still bitter and sweet, still brown, albeit golden rather than midnight, it was at once a spark and a flame, slow fuel rather than incendiary, and he drank it down reflexively. Cup rinsed and leash clipped to canine’s collar, he opened the door to the eastern sun streaming across his sharp features and graying scruff and stepped brightly forward once again. It would be a good day.