Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

My Horrible Midnight Experience

Frank McCourt survived a miserable Irish childhood to write his first book. Kate Holden rose above drug addiction and prostitution to realize hers. The American academic, Barbara Ehrenreich, did a parade of drudge jobs to find the material for her book, Nickel and Dime, whereas I live in Vermont. I had nothing to write about, nothing, until my Horrible Midnight Experience.
It was a dark and stormy night (I am writing for the popular market where cliché is an art form). Rain poured from the heavens as thunder made an eerie booming across the floorboards of the sky. Biskit trembled on his sleeping mat and looked up at me with beseeching brown eyes. How’s that for mood evocation? Does it sound like Bestseller material?
‘Oh alright,’ I said, smiling at Biskit. ‘You can sleep inside tonight.’
Andrew was away. It wouldn’t hurt for Biskit to stay in the living room. Seth was also away and he normally rescues Biskit in the middle of thunderstorms. He is that kind of boy and Biskit is that kind of dog. His demeanor seems to say, ‘please love me.’
I went to bed early that night. Alice stayed tapping on the computer for a little longer. Phoebe also opted for an early night. Woo hoo! Girls night in. We were all in bed, reading, by ten thirty. I am not sure how to novelize that bit. It is one of the problems of trying to sell my life story. But it is important for plot development because the thunderstorm had passed and Biskit could easily have gone to his kennel. A promise is a promise, however (even to small dogs), so I let him stay inside.
Anyone who has had baby will know what it is like to be woken by a cry in the middle of the night. If you are fortunate and already have had three or four hours sleep you can rise and do what you have to do with reasonable equanimity. If you are woken within half an hour of falling asleep you stagger drunkenly from your bed with violent, time-to-end-it-all feelings. But when your dog wakes you in the middle of the night (the dog who by your grace is sleeping in the living room), and he is barking at possums, and even when you yell at him he keeps on barking, it is like finger nails on a blackboard, quite indescribable really.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘That’s it!’ I sprung out of bed (this is the action part of the story), my bare feet making a rival thunder storm. (Biskit did look very sweet, by the way, a little white smudge in a darkened room. But this is sleep we are talking about. Sleep is a sacred thing.)
‘Come on Biskit, out.’ I held the laundry door open, grimly.
He looked at me nonplussed. He normally gets a treat when I put him in his kennel.
‘Out!’ I pointed, forbidingly. ‘No treats tonight. You have been very naughty.’ I wouldn’t have minded if he was frightened. My heart would have melted. But possum watching was a recurrent problem and it did not tug at my heart strings.
Biskit wasn’t having any of it. He took one look at my empty hands and decided to make a dash for freedom. I was in no mood for games. I cut him off. He turned and ran back into the house. I yanked the door open and charged after him. Crunch went my bare toe against the cement step. Not my big toe, my pinkie toe. My tiny little left foot toe and it was bleeding. ‘You rotten dog,’ I roared. ‘Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!’ Something in my demeanor must have changed, because Biskit responded almost immediately.

This is around midnight, remember, and I had been rudely awoken from a very satisfying sleep. I stumbled, half-seeing, towards our well stocked medicine cabinet (a jumbled up basket in the linen cupboard) only to find the Band-aids were missing. This is where persistence comes in, the ability to push one’s self beyond the pain barrier. It is the stuff blockbusters are made of. Except the heroes are not generally middle-aged, mussy-haired women wearing pink pyjamas (the reviewers will say I challenged genre expectations). I rifled around in the basket and found one creased Bandaid with its wrapping barely intact. I was not even thinking about Detol or cotton wool. That could wait until morning. I just had to cover the toe up so it wouldn’t dirty the sheets (always keep your priorities).

Surprisingly I was not in much pain. At least, I didn’t think I was. But, as I sat on the lid of the toilet and tried to make my fingers open the Band-aid wrapping, I realized I felt rather giddy. In fact, very giddy, the room seemed to be spinning and my head was having a sort of a darkened-dots-experience. I was on the verge of fainting. How did I know that, I hear you ask breathlessly? I don’t know. It is one of life’s mysteries. It gives my story depth and timeless appeal. I knew because I knew. So I put my head between my knees.

You will be pleased to know the head between the knees thing works. If, like me, you have never fainted, you may have thought this vital first aid technique sounded a little far fetched, old-wives-taleish or over simplistic. But it works. As I sat, head down, breathing deeply (lucky I closed the toilet lid) my head began to clear. I stayed there for a long time, just waiting. Only when my head was once more on a horizontal plane and my hands had stopped shaking, did I sit up and put the Bandaid on my toe. I didn’t make an assessment of the damage. That could wait until morning. My primary objective was to keep the sheets clean.

I woke early the next morning which is a tragedy of mammoth proportions. Sleep is a many-splendored thing and Biskit’s naughtiness was reaching into my dreams. My toe was throbbing. I moaned and rolled over. Andrew wasn’t even there to comfort me. If I got up early, no one would be there to show any sympathy. Those lazy girls didn’t have sore toes, they would be sleeping soundly. Thankfully, at that point I remembered the Gloria Jean’s coffee. (I hope you are impressed with all my brand placements. I expect to make millions out of them them).
After my Gloria Jean’s coffee I felt great, a new woman really. I thought I had better do the first aid thing. A quick wash under the tap in the middle of the might, a dab with a dirty hand towel and a Band-Aid probably wasn’t adequate, I realized, in the clear light of morning. I unwrapped my pinkie toe and bent down to have a closer look. It was very red, sort of raw looking and my toe nail … my toenail … well, it was missing. I poked it with my finger. No hard shell, just a jelly-like feeling. I had ripped my toe nail clean off. No wonder I almost fainted.

As you can imagine, I have been dining out on this experience all week. I have made two trips to the Doctors to have my toe dressed. I have been limping around with my pinkie toe bandaged. I have been unable to wear shoes, unable to go running. If people failed to notice my suffering I brought the subject round to it with tactful questions like: ‘I suppose you have noticed I am limping.’

My friend Sue, who lost two toenails, said my toe nail would not grow back as I expected, just peeking out from under the skin and slowly inching its way along the exposed nail bed. She said the nail bed would simply harden, over time. I am watching with interest. It conjures up the possibility of a sequel to this story with recommended footwear for exposed nail bed sufferers, my own fashion label, perhaps, even a fist aid manual or an an opening in the romance genre: “As Andrew ran his hands over her firm calves and massaged her foot she arched back as the pleasure and pain shot through her, a bead of sweat forming on her brow as his gentle caress …”
No! I am not going to write anymore. You will have to buy the book. I wrote this blog to pique your interest and because my son Seth said if I blogged about my toe, he would definitely read it. Isn’t that what every writer wants: a guaranteed reader. I could not disappoint.


A few Family Events and Photo Links


Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development

1 Comment

  1. Carine

    Think it will be a best-selling short story, this one… Everything’s in it… physical and emotional hardship, courage and determination to stay focused on her main goal in the main character despite all that hardship, and in the end, the triumph of the human spirit 🙂 Well done!!

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