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Night Owls and Mourning

                                    Ric Hoeben


The Beverlys could not sleep. Geoffrey stayed up and took no rest because he wanted to look after all his garden gnomes. He expected that at any moment one of them would spin around with life and start tending to the empty rows in the Beverly’s garden. Geoffrey hoped his tomatoes would grow well, like they had done in years past. 

Mar-Jay, his wife, had the obsessive-compulsive disorder. She sat up straight in the bed, picking at her feet and complaining about how awful they stung. Most nights she got down off the side of the king-size bed and went over to a pile of clothes or towels and looked for fresh ravelings. She kept a pair of desk scissors in her nightgown pocket so that whenever she did find a pesky raveling—with no lack of time—she could snip it off from the main fabric and climb back into bed and try to find some decent sleep. 

Sometimes, when it got really bad and the Beverlys were yawning unnaturally and scratching their red eyes out of their sockets, they’d hold hands and pray and ask for genuine sleep. Geoff was a typist, and Mar-Jay was an 8th grade teacher. They were scared they would lose their jobs if they kept shifting around like zombies during the normal human hours. They drank gallons of black coffee in the mornings and jogged twice a week, but to no avail. They’d end up asleep on their work desks by noon. 

Mar-Jay could not bear children, and that suited Geoff just fine. He didn’t feel like either one of them could parent well or even make love if they felt tired and broken-down all the time. They would go through life childless and be content with their gnomes and cocker spaniel and the three late-night movie channels. 

If they were not watching the television together around 2:30 A.M., Mar-Jay would be reading a new mystery novel, and Geoff would be stroking his beard and looking out for the work of the gnomes or doing one of the crossword papers in the former day’s newspaper. He had garnered some fine awards in his life from crossword-puzzle skill. 

One night, as Geoff was reading his paper he came across the idea of nudism.


Geoff took the pizza pie from the soft hands of the delivery boy. It was 3 A.M. The cocker spaniel yapped away, twirled, and then hid under the Beverly’s bed. 

Star Brothers pizza was the only place open in town, and Geoff and Mar-Jay had become accustomed to its quasi-Italian taste. 

“Marj, it’s like this,” Geoff started. “I was reading in my paper something that I’d seen before in an e-mail from my brother Randy. Nudism, Marj. Only while here in the house, of course. But just think how relaxing it could be for our bodies. How natural. We may get to sleep soon enough.” 

“Oh, I don’t know, Geoff. What would the neighbors think? Or my mother?” 

“Now, they wouldn’t be seeing us. Just in the house. Strictly.” 

“Oh, I don’t know.” 

“But sure, yeah. Randy and his kids do it out in Sacramento. And he’s always so peaceful and all, even after poor Olivia died.” 

“Oh, I don’t know, Geoff.” 

“Well, I know. I got 50 cents here in change from the pizza. And I’m taking this first quarter and flipping it. And so, see, if it’s heads we’re lifetime nudists, right off. And tails means we should commit suicide, seeing as how life is beginning to grow pointless and hazy.” 

“I guess.” Mar-Jay was more worried with picking up the disgusting crumbs Geoff was dropping from the meat pizza; they were getting all over their king-size bed. 

The cocker spaniel began to eat off the floor. 

Yes! It’s heads, Marj. It’s heads—you hear that!” 

“Okay, well, help me get undressed, Geoff. I’m going to get the canister vacuum right after that.” 

The couple stood up and disrobed. They stared at each other’s paleness and life and began to giggle like school children. 

“This does feel good, Geoff. I like how the AC feels on me!” 

“Yes, refreshing, Nature, Life, how the good, great Lord intended for us to live!” 

“Geoff?” 

“Oh, yes!” 

“What’s the second quarter for.” 

“Well, let’s wait dear. Let me think a second.” 

“About what then?” 

“Let’s try to get some sleep now. Now that we’re naked." 

“I have to vacuum, Geoff.” 

“Okay, fine, fine. Bring me the pills and herbs box, please, too, okay?” 


After Mar-Jay had finished all her vacuum cleaning, she and Geoff spread out over the bed in their glistening nudity and started taking pills they’d purchased from the Organic Market. Geoff took two Valerian root. Mar-Jay had a few Sam-e. Geoff swallowed a St. John’s wort, and Mar-Jay countered with a B-12 sublingual. They both took a melatonin tablet and held hands. They pulled down their pair of sleep masks over their eyes and breathed in and out with a perfect unity. 

No rest came upon them. 

“What is it, Geoff. What is it, honey?” 

“Dangblastit. I think the gnomes are up to no good. I’m worried sick about this year’s tomatoes.” 

“Honey, think happy thoughts. Try to get some sleep. You know gnomes aren’t real.” 

“Hmmph.” 

Honey.” 

“I never flipped the second quarter, Marj.” 

“Huh?” 

“The second quarter I was going to flip.” 

Mar-Jay wrestled her naked body free from the heavy covers and sat up. She played with the nightstand lamp some and finally got it to turn on. “God, this thing needs dusting.” 

“So it’s like this. Heads this time means we should open an antique store. I know just the perfect spot. Right on Dozier Street. By the toy store, you know?” 

“And tails?” Mar-Jay fought back a yawn. 

“Well, we die of course.” 

“I don’t think we necessarily have to die, Geoff. I mean couldn’t we just move to a nudist resort somewhere nice, or at least go see a professional about our sleep problem.” 

“You know how much I can’t stomach Western medicine, Marjie.” 

“God.” 

“What?” 

“Those pictures your mother gave us, over there on the wall. They are so—just so—unbalanced.” 

“No they’re not.” 

“Uh-huh. Look how they both slope with the right corner up.” 

“Who cares? Does it really matter? We may die tonight, for Christ’s sake, Marjie.” 

“Tsst.” 

“Where are you going? Get back here. Get back over here in bed. You have to work tomorrow.” 

“I’m just fixing the pictures. Quiet down.” 

“Retarded.” 

“Oh, and living garden gnomes is downright rational, is it?” 

“You could genuinely use a couple trips to the tanning bed.” 

“Oh really, fatty.” 

Geoff began to pull his .357 from out of its home in the nightstand drawer. 

“Fatty, eh?” 

“Geoff, put that down. Geoff, stop pointing that stupid thing at me!” 

“Come over here. Come closer.” 

“Why? What is wrong with you, my god.” Mar-Jay had begun to sob a bit. 

“You and your diseased womb is fine! It’s your diseased head! You and your always needing to fix things. We don’t live long on this crazy, sick planet, and you—you—take it upon yourself to go around and fix things all the time, contrary to the good, great God’s ideas.” 

“They have nothing to do with God. You know that, Geoff. You know what Dr. Adams said.” 

“Ewww, Dr. Adams. Mister Western Medicine. Mr. Princeton grad. You made love to him 800 times, I bet.” 

“You were too busy feeding real food to fake gnomes.” 

“I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you and rid the earth of an incredibly small nuisance.” 

“Well, then wait. Wait.” Mar-Jay began tugging at her fingers. “I’m not dying with my wedding ring on.” 

“Good. I’ll sell it. I’ll sell it and get a leg up on my new antique store.” 

“What? Is it going to be an all garden kitsch shop, then? A freak-fiddlin’ gnome store? Who is gonna come in, Geoff? Tell me, who is gonna come in there? Other wackos like you, huh?” 

Geoff fired one bullet. It rang out and Mar-Jay covered her ears and winced. The cocker spaniel ran for the kitchen. 

“Well, guess you don’t have to worry none over those pictures anymore.” 

Mar-Jay knelt and began collecting the shards of glass. 

“Careful, Marjie. You’ll cut yourself.” 

She sobbed. “Yeah, I know. Can you, well? Can you go get the broom?” 

“Okay, yeah. Good idea.” 

“Oh, and the dustpan?” 

“One step ahead of you.”


After Geoff and Mar-Jay collected the shards and put them in perfect order in the kitchen trashcan, and after they had quieted all the worried neighbors who had come over in their tight flannel bathrobes—the Beverlys themselves were still naked as jaybirds—they began discussing ideas for their new antique store. They were both in tears as they talked. 

Geoff said it should be manifestly plain that no gnomes would be sold. Mar-Jay agreed. She said they could sell their tomatoes at the store, up front at the pay counter. Geoff nodded. Mar-Jay then thought to ask Geoff where he had put the second quarter. He said he did not know. He was tired. They could look for it in the morning. He was tired. 

Mar-Jay was of a kindred spirit. She did not care that the quarter was missing and out of reach of a sensible order. She turned her naked body toward her husband and held on firmly. 

And the Beverlys slept for days.




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