A lot of people who live in my area go to bed early. I know this because I drive home from work in the dark every night, and I see a lot of dark houses. They could be empty, I suppose, but I don't think we have that many weekenders—or at least not that many weekenders who don't put their house lights on a timer.
If I'm very tired, the dark houses have a certain appeal . . . I envision everyone asleep, no one needing to do anything or be anywhere. They're all in what my mother called "Bunkyland." They went to Bunkyland, and I've got my foot on the gas pedal and my hands on the wheel. My eyes strain to see deer at the edges of the dark, winding road.
The occasional house is all lit up. I'm convinced these are happy homes. Nothing bad can happen in all that golden light. Don't tell me the lights are on because someone's being chased through the house with a baseball bat. I just know the family members are moving from room to room, offering food to one another, sharing a joke, perhaps singing a song. These are the Irish and Italian families I idealized in my youth, the ones who spent all their time with their arms draped over each other's shoulders, singing, laughing, and eating. That was my made-up version of a perfect life: singing, laughing, and eating. I guess it still is.
But the houses I'm most drawn to on my late drive home are the ones with a single light upstairs. Only one person is still awake, and he or she will soon turn off the light. Once again, it's the yellow light that pulls me in; blue lights from TV screens don't count.
Although the shades are drawn, I can tell you what those rooms look like. They are sparsely furnished, with very little in the way of decoration, but they invite sleep. A braided oval rug lies at the side of the bed. The bedclothes are always white, and the beds are always soft. The occupant may be reading in bed, or seated at a small desk, perhaps writing a letter in the fashion of Rebecca de Winter, but at night, and in far more modest surroundings.
As I get closer to home, the percentage of dark houses rises. The hour is later, of course, but also I am surrounded by farmers who get up very early in the morning. For a while I was leaving my house dark as well, using a flashlight to walk from the car to the porch and into the house. I was unwilling to face the receiving line of moths that always show up this time of year in the presence of light. But after a home invasion took place on my road last month, I've been leaving both porch lights on plus a lamp in the living room.
One of these nights, when I've closed things up and only my bedside lamp is lit, I'm going to slip down the stairs and out the door. I'll navigate the porch steps, pass the old well and the flower beds, and walk out to the road. From my position in front of the house I'll look up at the yellow glow of my bedroom window with its drawn shade and tell myself the light is mine to do with as I wish. What I will probably wish is to turn it off and go to sleep.
My sheets aren't white, by the way. But my bed is soft.