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ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT: Getting Through February

by Joan Shaddox Isom



It’s February.  2 a.m., and Churchill's History of the English Speaking People has not done its work.  Sleep is slow in coming after reading about endless Saxon and Norman conflicts, all those land masses being devoured by the sea, and the Romans and their penchant for divining the future in disgusting ways too gross to mention.  This book, camouflaged by its send-you-to-sleep title, is not soothing.


So you do what thousands, maybe millions of sleepless people — it’s cozier to imagine you’re not alone in this — throughout the world are doing during this dreary month.  You turn to the Internet.


Choices abound, but sleep is out of the question anyway. Stay away from the food and recipe web sites, your mind warns. Remember the swimsuit you bought two sizes smaller because you misread your bathroom scale and thought you’d lost ten pounds.  You troll through childhood memories; a name surfaces. Joe E. Brown, an actor from the forties. A memory of his face leering from a black and white screen teases you.  You click on Google and type in Joe's name. Seventy-two of his movie titles appear, somewhere within may be the one in which you fell asleep, mere infant that you were.


An ad pops up on your screen, wanting to show you how to make a five-layer white chocolate torte. You banish it quickly, clicking on Barnes & Noble's vintage poster collections, maybe hoping for a close-up of Joe, but before you reach that site, another ad covers two thirds of your screen. It wants you to look at a state-of-the-art oven.


Maybe you should check the newest kitchen appliances, a dangerous move, considering the chocolate torte', but recklessly, you do it anyway. As you scrutinize a mock-up of a high tech kitchen, something prances and waves on the left side of your screen, a little hand beckons you in. Dare you?  Sleep is out of the question. You succumb. It's a recipe for trifle.  A brief history of the dish states that women in Britain made this out of whatever they happened to have on hand. You mentally inventory your larder, recalling the three packages of tortillas that have been in the freezer since Cinco de Mayo, 2000.  You ponder an ethnic version of the recipe. You're pretty sure there's a bottle of chocolate syrup with an inch or so left in the bottom. And some cream cheese that's only just beginning to mold.


You click off the Internet and slog to the kitchen in a flat-footed, hopeless, to-the-gallows shuffle.  Dawn is coming. You make coffee and thaw tortillas, pausing now and then to bang the bottle of cold chocolate syrup on the counter.  The cat is doing her "feed me" roll on the kitchen floor. You finally resort to thawing the syrup in the microwave, pour it on the tortillas and cream cheese (the heat will kill the mold, you theorize) shove them into the microwave, bemoaning pop up-ads and the Internet in general.

As you sip coffee, you resolve before the next evening to go to the library and find a book that will put you to sleep, maybe Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or something. But he probably gets started on the threat of asteroids, which can keep a person awake for hours.


Your patched together trifle is tasteless.  The cat wants it. But chocolate is not good for animals, is it?  “Wait,” you tell her, “I'll have to look it up.”  Back to the computer.


By noon, the cat has lost interest in the torte, eaten some of her crunchies and gone to bed. It's snowing again and the library trip is out. You follow the cat’s example and crawl back into your own bed.  You really should consider doing something worthwhile, something a mature, motivated, civic-minded person would do to pass the long winter hours.  But you notice that A History of the English Speaking People is still on your night stand. You pick it up.


You begin to read …

Joan S. Isom suffers quite a bit from insomnia, which encourages concocting strange recipes at odd hours, and searching for dry books in the local library. Joan's most recent book, Offerings in the Snow, was reviewed by Julia Sneden. She is the author of The First Starry Night (Charlesbridge) and coeditor of The Leap Years: Women Reflect on Change, Loss and Love (Beacon Press). Isom's fiction, poetry and plays have won awards, and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including anthologies. Of Cherokee descent, Isom lives near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. If you can’t sleep, check out her website: You may reach Joan with comments at

©2006 Joan Shaddox Isom for SeniorWomenWeb
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