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  • Daniel G Opperwall

Sleep Thoughts Next to a Little Girl (humour essay; adults)

[This is a bit of an old one, but I've always been fond of it.]

Sometimes on nights when my daughter does not wish to close her eyes, I think about

what things would be like if she were asleep. I usually pull up a chair to sit beside her. I flutter

my own eyes shut and let my mind gently caress the silence that would fall upon the room —

perhaps even the whole house — were she to give in to fatigue. I lace my hands atop my head

and imagine the gentle rush of warm wind that would curl past the curtains, delicately shifting the

little locks of golden hair resting just above her eyes — eyes that would be tightly and happily

closed. I lean my head back and see behind my eyelids the purple darkness that would envelope

us both in a delicious restful coolness if my daughter were unconscious. It is an image

impressionistic yet deeply inviting. Inviting to me, that is.

I should be fair to my daughter. There are many evenings when, by the time I have

meditated at length on a few thoughts like the above, she really has nearly fallen asleep. When

that happens I usually get up from my chair and try to leave the room quietly. You will perhaps

find it difficult to believe, but I have been known to succeed in my attempts at this kind of early

departure from time to time. I admit, I lack records proving this assertion, and therefore will

understand should you choose not to believe me. I know the truth, and that is good enough. Still,

these memorable and rare successes aside, I am typically summoned back before I can get out the

door — or rather, to be more specific, I am faced with a choice between pressing forward into the

light of the hallway in a kind of military charge flanked by tears and tragedy, or returning to the

room to enjoy a few more moments of quiet back in the chair next to the bed. Both paths require

a stoic resolve — a willingness to accept the cold fact that night is a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition which can shake the soul of a man if he is not on his guard. I remain strong. I return

to the chair.

When I sit back down, the tears which opposed me now fading away, my thoughts usually

turn to the things that I could accomplish in the next few hours if my daughter were to fall asleep.

It is important, of course, not to be overly ambitious. One does not build the Taj Mahal in a

single evening after all. Indeed, the creators of that monument of monuments almost certainly

did not even design or imagine it all in so short a time. I suspect, however, that it quite probably

could have been at least drafted by those brilliant Mughal architects in the hours before midnight,

perhaps two AM at the latest, had their daughters actually been at rest in bed. And consider the

other great civilizations of the world. Certainly, the Pyramids of Giza, the Cathedral of Notre

Dame, the heights of Machu Pichu — all are lovely — but what would have come should the

engineers of those magnificent structures have had an entire evening with their daughters asleep?

I think upon Versailles perhaps most of all in this context — laid out just the way I myself would

draw it — with bedroom after bedroom, one for every night of the year. And in every bedroom I

picture a little girl, sound asleep, dreaming happily, a gentle smile on her face. Some of them

golden haired like my daughter, but many others not. Indeed, I see all races, colors, creeds —

little girls gathered from around the world, and all of them completely conked out with no

possibility of disturbance. I see me and all their fathers gathered in a drawing room with Cognac

and Scotch, toasting one another's brilliance and drafting out plans for the next great human

accomplishment of design.

But I am getting off track. I am not an architect, so this is only a fantasy by analogy. But

oh what I could write were my daughter asleep — the prose! The poetry! For it is in those fading hours that I know my mind is at its best, yet blockaded from doing its work, prevented from flourishing and pouring out words on a page to rival the

finest of Homeric epic or Shakespearean sonnet. “Shall I compare thee to a sleeping girl?” Ah,

yes, I could compare thee to nothing so exceptionally sublime as that. I would compare thee and

compare thee if only such a girl were present in this moment. I would compose words so moving

as to play with their own kind of music, a veritable lullaby to the soul of man and woman,

soothing us poor forsaken creatures, easing our exhaustion, the syllables fluffing themselves up

like mystical pillows of verse to receive our aching heads for the night. As much as I would love

to, however, I cannot provide you with an example of what I would write if my daughter were to

fall asleep, because when I am pondering such strokes of literary genius my daughter is

invariably awake, and so they are never recorded. They are like Buddhist mandalas to the god of

darkness, vanished away in the twinkling of an eye that is still staring, unclosed, through the

glimmer of a night-light.

Do not worry. These missed opportunities cause me no consternation as I await the

sandman on behalf of a person kicking off the covers merely to test my fortitude. No, I am calm

and at peace in these moments. Besides, by the time I come to think these thoughts, my daughter

has sometimes again gotten very close to being asleep. The time has come to try once more for

the door. I generally attempt to open it quickly because it creaks less that way. However, it still

creaks, and, no matter how softly manifested, the incomparable cadence of that fricative

emanation wakes my daughter more effectively than a thunderbolt of Zeus cast directly in her ear.

Certainly, you may say, I should gently comfort her from the doorway without returning to her

bedside. Believe me, I have thought of that — nay, I have even tried it, and I am not ashamed to boast that on one cold winter evening, now fading quickly from my memory, it came very close

to providing enough cover for my escape. Yes, I try every time to say goodnight and leave her in

the quiet darkness, and in this I give my own little testimony to the indomitable hope which lies

sheltered somewhere in the soul of every man who takes his stand before the mighty Rubicon of

dormancy, the die finally cast and the moment of mad last effort upon him. The hope that it will,

finally, be this time — it is something deeply biological — the remnants of the psyche of an

ancient ape-like ancestor whose animal mind, so much closer to nature, had not yet lost the

primeval instinct for putting the juveniles of the species to bed. Ah, yes...but that instinct is no

longer mine. I must give in to my impotence and return to my post in the chair.

When I am seated again and have replaced the bed-clothes which have fallen to the

ground, I often think about where I might be if my daughter were asleep. I suspect that an

evening in which one's daughter is asleep exists as a space in which time and place become

negotiable — in which simple will and earnest love of beauty are enough to transport us bodily to

an unrivaled paradise. And so I think of how, should my daughter let her weariness overcome her

mind, I might step out of her bedroom and be carried off effortlessly to a refreshing mountain

stream rolling gently back and forth amid clover and blooming lilacs beneath the setting sun.

Below me, a trusty steed — a mare white with brown spots. And me riding bare-back, shirtless

and much more muscled than I am now (probably from working out while my daughter was

asleep) trotting through an opening in the woods, approaching a glen where both horse and master

can rest in the shade, each enjoying the sweet fresh juice of peaches just picked ripe from a grove

ever-present around us. There, delicately trailing her feet in the stream would sit my wife, coyly

awaiting me, her hair glittering, her smile bashful and fleeting, her eyelids batting mischievously. Ah, how deep a breath I would take as I swept her into my arms and carried her off. Not to make

love somewhere amidst all the beauty, oh no, but rather simply to sit, wrapped in an embrace

upon the grass, enjoying the stillness of silence — that silence far the most intimate thing of all,

far warmer and more encompassing than even the most passionate embrace — that silence which

descends upon woodland streams and ancient mountains, darkened rooms and cozy houses,

upon the whole world and all its splendors!, when one's daughter has finally ceased all verbal

protest and flickered out into beauteous slumber.

These thoughts are sweet and lovely, but not always comforting. They are too enticing. I

sometimes have to chase them away. I turn to more cerebral considerations. I turn to the

philosophy of the matter. For night is a time of reflection and thought — a chronological

aberration in which human understanding becomes unbridled. I think often on topics

anthropological and metaphysical — I think of knowledge and its limits; I think of fate and its

power. I wonder whether we are indeed creatures of destiny, or perhaps the masters of our own

lives. At times it seems the former without question. After all, here I am, bound, unmoving,

despite my will to get up. Yet, my daughter gives an answer of her own, a nod to the latter

narrative of human life, when she fires a blast of irritation towards me at the very thought of lying back down on her pillow. I see looking at her in such a moment that we are, indeed, creatures of unbounded will. And, as any father knows, on an evening in which the topic of nightly rest has become an issue of debate for the great thinkers in the bedroom, a young will still possessing its fire is indeed without rival.

You will not be surprised to hear that such thoughts often guide me, as if by the long soft

fingers of the moon-goddess, to sleep a little bit myself. I dive into the cool blue waters of Rapid

Eye Movement like a desert wanderer stumbling upon a lake nestled deep in the garden of

Babylon. I swim through it, the shallows refreshing every part of me. Upon stepping out, I am

attended by maidservants and footmen, dressed in simple airy nightgowns and light linen

pajamas. They are so adept in their work that they anticipate my every need before I speak a

word. There is good reason for them to hone their empathic skills. For just here, in a grove of

Larch and Cedar a few yards from us, there sleeps the tiny princess of the kingdom, and she must

not be awakened. She has fallen asleep without a complaint, without tears, without resistance.

Indeed, some speculate that she is not of this world, so unafraid is she of the entrancing song of

slumber, so willing is she every evening to doze and let her eyes flutter shut, awaiting the sunrise

with joy rather than fighting the dusk and, by so doing, misunderstanding its meaning.

These images are very realistic for me — so much so that I often find myself jolting

awake, having never intended to fall asleep. My heart races in these moments as I look over at

my daughter, wondering if my dreams were perhaps real premonitions — the great visions of a

prophet who has foreseen in symbols the nodding of a head which will come to pass in this very

bedroom on this very night. Yes, indeed, it is finally then, after how long I do not know, that I see

two eyelids beginning to shut! My daughter's face reveals a feeling growing within her that is not

unlike drunkenness. Her pupils roll up and into her head, her eyelashes drop closer and closer

together, the single soft deep breath of a person finally giving up on something is summoned

forth from her lungs — she is nearly unconscious — the race is nearly run! I confess it is

difficult for me not to laugh aloud at her last-ditch efforts against somnolence. And, oh, how my

legs wish to leap in an expression of the kind of unguarded and joyful magnanimity that must be

felt by every newly victorious champion experiencing that first, still-disbelieving, revelry of his triumph!

Then, finally, the vision is made whole and real before me. There do I see a countenance

serene and austere, a pair of eyes finally shut without effort, little arms completely lax upon a

blue stuffed hippo, the covers softly moving with small breaths. The moment I have been waiting

for has come, and I rise to my feet. The floorboards creak, but no glint or shimmer of pupils

emerges. The door whines open, but no creature stirs from within the darkness. I let go from my

lips a gentle whisper of “I love you” from the doorway and, lo, it wakes no one; it is heard only in

the dream of a little girl. Ah, how my heart rises — how true is my sense of adoration for the one

who is finally in dreamland. I speak those words of affection now with an earnestness so acute

that it borders on the infinite. I hear a deep breath rise up from within my own chest, bringing

with it a peace which only a man in a diffusely lit, half-open doorway can know. Liberation,

stillness, the gentle hum of house noises — a little girl asleep perchance to keep on sleeping, even

through the night should the fates allow.

And so the time comes to shut the door completely. All those images of life with a

sleeping daughter crowd my mind, and I look upon them with a patient optimism. Yes, so it all

shall be. All the accomplishments, the journeys, the realizations — they are ripe as grapes in the

sun, waiting only to be pressed into a powerful draft which will well up in my soul and burst

forward onto a waiting evening. A vow forms silently on my lips — a vow that I will seize the

unremitting opportunity of a sleeping girl — yes, as no one has ever seized anything before! Just

as soon as I put my son to sleep, of course.

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