Creative writing submission from the Rest Less community – submit your entry here.

Since my dog Arthur developed dementia, I have to go upstairs to the bedroom at around nine PM and prepare it for settling him down later. This means that when I take him upstairs, nothing disturbs the routine or hampers his sense of calm.

I must plump his velvet cushion, fold his blanket, and fill a bowl with kibble. I then hide his food along the side of the chimney breast as he’s become a secret eater. I also turn down my own bed, close the shutters, and open the window (if it’s not already open), so that once we enter the bedroom, the scene is set for sleep and I can settle him down quickly. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve discovered that to get any sleep and stand any chance of a peaceful night, it must be done.

Over the weeks and months since this horrid condition attacked him, I’ve learned to hate Tuesdays (occasionally a Wednesday too, but it’s usually Tuesday). For some bizarre reason, come Tuesday night, he won’t settle or sleep. He spends the whole night stressed and pacing backwards and forwards. I take him up and down the stairs like a yo-yo in the hopes that popping him outside into the garden might magically allow him to calm down and sleep. But it never works!

I can sort of guarantee that once a week, we’ll both be up all night. The next day, bless him, he’ll sleep like the dead…all day. On the other hand, I’ll spend the day like a zombie, desperate for the nighttime so that I can take him upstairs and we can both sleep the night through together.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t resent it, it is what it is. It’s not his fault and I’m extremely lucky to still have him. And being retired, I can always find ways to eventually catch up on sleep.

Anyway, when I went upstairs at dusk last night, I opened the window and found myself just leaning on the sill, looking out over the gardens and rooftops in quiet contemplation, enjoying the magical qualities that exist between daylight and darkness. All is still, even the birdsong is muted, the usual vibrant notes have become soft and grey. The air is light, still warm and pungent with the smells of lilac and rose, but heavier now, less vigorous, quivering between solidity and liquid evaporation. My mind wanders and I remember being in Venice many years ago.

My sister had rented an apartment from a work colleague for a week and we had no idea what to expect when we got there – but we weren’t disappointed!

It was at the top of an old, large building at the end of a cul-de-sac off a main square, with one of those immense, unpainted, wooden doors that rose up straight off the cobbled street. The door was ridiculously large, as if made for a giant, though our entrance was a smaller door cut into it that we had to duck through.

Once inside, we were faced with a tiny area. It was only about three square feet and had one of those push-in timer lights and a beautiful, marble, spiral staircase with a black, ornate, cast-iron bannister. Without the light, we were in complete darkness and the staircase was impossibly steep and impossibly narrow – the steps dangerously thin. As we dragged, bumped, and buffeted our suitcases to the very top, risking life and limb with every step, the light went off.

I remember my sister cursing and moaning, thinking ‘blimey, this doesn’t bode well’, but on reaching a tiny, tiled landing at the top, what greeted us as we opened the door was simply wonderful. The apartment was built into the rafters of the building and was rustic, utterly charming, and full of light.

The whole of the main kitchen and living area opened up onto a wooden balcony that ran the entire length of the apartment and jutted out over the rooftops, overlooking courtyards and gardens far below us. It sported an old table, wicker chairs, and pots containing a tiny lemon tree and a jasmine plant that wound its way around the space.

There were two bedrooms and a small, clean, neatly tiled, little bathroom with one of those lovely baths that you step down into (the first time I’d encountered this was in a small hotel in Rome). I don’t know why we don’t have them here! They save space, water, and solve the problems of getting in and out once older, but hey ho.

I had the single room at the back which I thought was the better deal as it was cool and airy. Plus, as I was always up by five AM in my working life while my sister liked to lie-in until after nine, it left me free to get up, wander out onto the balcony with a cup of coffee, and enjoy my alone time writing or with a book.

I’ll never forget the view or the sense of freedom, space, and wonderment at being so high up, level with the clear cerulean blue of the sky.

I loved the rich, red, wonky clay tiles that interlocked in strange shapes around tiny, leaded windows to create an atmosphere of elegance and historic majesty. Pigeons would fly in to settle, ruffling and preening their green-pink neck feathers before settling down to roost along the ridges and call softly to their partners.

Peering over the balcony like a gargoyle on a church corner, I found myself perusing tiny private spaces; cobbled courtyards and gardens with stone benches covered in moss and lichen and wall-mounted ceramic fountains in brightly coloured glazes tinkling brightly. Filled with pots of greenery, a vine crept around the whole space with coarse, woody stems – a profusion of leafy greenery with heavy bunches of bright, green grapes, dangling down temptingly.

Later in the day you could see the heat like a thin, waspy haze across the rooftops. But, in the mornings, the urban landscape was utterly beautiful. It was breathtaking, full of magic and secret wonder, sheltering the lives of those that slept soundly.

Of course, Venice itself was wonderful, but I remember feeling that I could’ve stayed in that apartment forever. I never wanted to go back down those steep stairs into the real world. Mental, I know, but I’m so glad I experienced it.

I’m so glad that last night, leaning out of my window in Dorchester at dusk, I remembered Venice. I remembered that lovely, little apartment, my rooftop kingdom, and the power of those few hours alone, awake when all others slept. Utterly priceless!

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