Last spring when I was ill and confined to bed, a friend mailed me a little book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. In her thirties, Bailey was overtaken with a mysterious viral illness that left her almost motionless. She needed help even to turn in bed. A friend […]
When a room becomes your world, every sight, every sound, matters.
Photo Credit : Illustration by Care Owen/i2iArt
Last spring when I was ill and confined to bed, a friend mailed me a little book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. In her thirties, Bailey was overtaken with a mysterious viral illness that left her almost motionless. She needed help even to turn in bed. A friend brought her a pot of violets, which she placed on the bedside table, at eye level. Another friend, while walking in the woods, captured a snail and brought it to her. The snail attached itself to the flowerpot, and a new world opened up for Bailey. Incarcerated by her newly narrowed existence, she fell into the world of the snail.
I was not quite so immobilized, but for long weeks my bed became my world, the room my universe. Fortunately, it was a universe I had created. This house, which was once a rooming house, had seven bedrooms when I first came here. I needed only two. So I consolidated a lot of the smaller rooms into bigger spaces. In the back of the house, there were two tiny bedrooms with an odd shared closet, accessible from both rooms—a Yankee solution to an old problem. We gutted this entire space, which was transformed into a spacious room with windows east and west, letting in an abundance of light, a blend of both rising and setting suns. At the north end of the room, we built closets, and bookcases lined the rest of the walls—my idea of paradise. I painted the walls a mustardy yellow and hung cream-colored curtains. I added art created by friends. Eventually, my great-aunt’s cannonball four-poster bed, full of memories with long reach, joined the milieu. It was a place where I expected to spend a lot of time, but I never thought it would become a room of convalescence.
It was April when I succumbed to this paralyzing and mysterious illness. April is a month many of us here would prefer to miss. We chafe at the slow rise of temperature and occasional subfreezing night. What felt normal a couple of months ago is suddenly unbearable. The mud roads yank the steering wheel from our hands and pull us left and right as if by some strange magnetic force. We slither. We slide. We curse. It’s April! The warmth we crave continues to escape us.
My big sleep ran through April and on into May. It became a time of intense gratitude as friends and family members brought me food, groceries, mail, and medicine. I just about slept through it all while they mowed my lawn and tilled my garden, took my dog, Harriet, for walks, did my laundry, swept my floors. The graciousness went on and on. I was amazed by how much it takes just to keep one human being going. Like Elisabeth Bailey, I lay on my side and watched the fields green and the daffodils release their yellow and the bare sticks of my apple trees turn white as snow. In her book, Bailey’s world constricts so tightly that she can hear the sound of her snail eating the moss off the side of the flowerpot, a sound she compares to that of a small child munching celery. In my case, it wasn’t so much what I heard (though eventually, the windows were thrown open, admitting the comical, almost deafening birdsong and the guttural welcome of the peepers) as what I saw, my beloved world, every single leaf and blade of grass, waiting for me to emerge.
Edie Clark’s latest book is What There Was Not to Tell: A Story of Love and War.
Order your copy, as well as Edie’s other works, at:YankeeMagazine.com/store or edieclark.com