Monica Nawrocki

July 5, 2022


How could I have missed this?

Helen watched the first rays burst over the hill. She stood in her dining room, holding her cup of tea, staring out the slider door. The view was best from here, although every room at the front of the house afforded a glimpse of the lake, the trees beyond, and even a few mountain tips.

How many sunrises had she slept through in her lifetime? It seemed unimaginable to Helen that she hadn’t seen every one she could have. Her heart ached to think of all the daybreaks she’d missed.

Well, nothing to be done but enjoy this one.

The birds were wild with joy. She listened to their morning chatter as she stood at the sliding door and watched the clouds on the horizon suddenly illuminated from within. The sun came up a few minutes earlier every day now. And it moved ever so slightly to the right on her horizon. Tracking its progress filled her with an inexplicable assurance. Soon, when the rest of the world awoke, this private realm would vanish, sneaking away to the secret place where mist and magic hide.

Helen had grown fond of her sleeplessness — not the chronic daytime fatigue, certainly, but the intimacy of her living room and study in the darkest hours of the night. The ability to move about without lights made her feel more graceful and intuitive than in the clumsy hours of day. She loved the stoic silhouettes of her furniture. What might be dowdy and outdated in the glare of electricity, was eternal and charming in the glow of the moon. When she did need a light, she usually lit a candle.

Karl slept soundly behind the pine door. When this first began, he would wake, find her gone, and come out looking for her, to make sure she was alright. She assured him she was not sick, just up — inexplicably up.

For a while, he’d made it his mission to figure it out. Every morning he grilled her about the previous day: caffeine consumption, exercise, stressful events. She cooperated at first, anxious to solve the problem and return to her normal sleep patterns. After a while, though, she knew instinctively that their research was doomed, and she was, in some strange way, relieved by that knowledge. If the insomnia had a source, it would reveal itself in time. She didn’t try to explain to Karl that there was no explanation, would not concede the harmony she found in the mystery. She shrugged off his questions, hinting towards menopause.

No, this was happening to her, and she felt that this part — this not knowing — was creating a sort of knowing all of its own.

With Karl snoring peacefully, she was free to explore her new world. It was a remarkably swift transition from anxious, desperate efforts to get back to sleep, to the welcoming of her quiet solitude. Now, three o’clock tapped her on the shoulder like a fishing buddy and she came awake with a jolt of anticipation.

This morning’s exquisite cedar green was muted by the mist. The sun rose behind the clouds, withdrawing the rays it had sent across the low horizon, pulling in its arms to sit behind the grey blanket. There wouldn’t be any sunshine streaming into the windows this morning, but perhaps instead some rain — and her newly planted lettuce babies would eat, drink, and grow for her.

To better hear the songbirds, she pulled the slider open another inch, and the soft spring air rushed into her lungs. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. It had taken these nights to teach her that breathing, while involuntary, was not necessarily unconscious. She stood for several minutes listening to her breath, filling her chest with the glittering treasure of gratitude. She acknowledged the tingling balance between strength and vulnerability in her body as she watched the mist begin to swirl and separate.

For several weeks now, Helen had roamed free inside her home in the wee hours, thinking, remembering, and dreaming. She had heart-pounding moments of exhilaration, triggered by the simplest things: the feel of a hand-thrown pottery mug in her fingers; the smell of paper as she flipped through a favourite novel; wiggling her chilly toes into her plush slippers; the smooth, hard seat of her rocker. The smell of apple blossoms.

There were times when her heart soared with such joy watching the first light hit the sky, that she felt she had watched it from other continents, in other times, maybe other worlds. She felt profoundly connected to the spark of day and more than once, had lost herself so entirely in the canvas of the day’s birth, she’d literally forgotten to breathe, gasping and laughing as the crowning sun erupted from the horizon.

Two weeks ago, she had written a letter to her cousin, trying to capture the essence of what was happening to her.

Remember when we were little girls and we’d write out menus for huge elaborate meals, then compress all the tastes into one pill with our magic machine? We’d each swallow our tablet and moan with delight and smack our lips. That’s what it’s like. I swallow a pill each night, filled with my most treasured memories . . . but also with my unrealized dreams — not as hope, but as echo, as if I’d lived it all somehow, somewhere.

She closed the slider and walked into the bathroom to shower. Under the steaming spray, she grabbed the soap, holding it to her nose and breathing deeply before she began to lather. The hot water pulsing on her tingling skin elicited a happy little moan. A shower was the perfect example of all the things she’d missed. How many times had she stood here thinking of other things — those done and those yet to come — and failed to notice this extraordinary everyday joy? She let the hot stream massage her shoulders and neck as she rubbed her soapy hands softly across her arms, her sides, her breasts.

She found the lump between her left breast and her armpit. It was quite prominent: the size of the sour cherries the birds “harvested” for her each spring. Helen frowned as she explored the lump with her right hand, and her thoughts began to scatter like ants from a broken hill. Eventually, one thought scurried to the top.

How could I have missed this?

Monica Nawrocki lives on Cortes Island in the Salish Sea. She earns her living as a substitute teacher, happily impersonating someone different every day. She is the author of four books and her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies across North America. For more information, visit