Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

The Aspen TImes
Aspen, CO, Colorado

At an early age, I learned to quietly sit while the adults talked. So good was I that sometimes they forgot I was there and went ahead with the kinds of stories kids shouldn’t hear. The following was told by one of my mom’s female, schoolteacher cousins, visiting from Denver:

A young woman, down on her luck, had moved in with her mother, who lived in a tiny suburban house along the outskirts of the city. The size of the house necessitated that the two women share a bed, or one of them had to sleep on the couch, and after a time, they developed the habit of sharing the only bedroom.

One evening, the daughter went out, whether for entertainment or work this writer can’t say, but whatever the reason, she was absent from the neighborhood far longer than intended. Arriving home late, bone-tired and not wishing to wake her mother, she tiptoed through the very dark house without turning on the lights, finding her bedclothes from memory. Thus dressed, she slipped beneath the covers on her side of their shared accommodations and called for the dog. With her hand draped over the side of the bed, as some carelessly do, the dog (she thought) dutifully gave it a quick lick.

This might end the story, except about the time the woman began to drift off to sleep, she noticed a wetness, something warm and sticky that appeared to be coming from her mother’s side. Curiously, she touched it with her fingers and called out to her mother in a quiet, sleepy-time voice. Hearing no reply and feeling no movement from the other side, the daughter frantically leapt out of bed and fumbled for the light switch.

There, in a pool of blood lay the mother, her throat cut from ear-to-ear, obviously dead. Desperate for contact with another living thing, the woman hollered for her dog, with no response. In the kitchen, she found him, her faithful companion, with a similarly slashed throat. Obviously, her dog was dead when she got home, so what was it then that licked her hand in the dark?

Investigators didn’t have to tell her, but they did anyway; the murderer was still in the room while she got into bed and in a move beyond the pale, gave her hand a lick with his own tongue.

I was 6 or 7 when I heard that story, and whether it was true made no difference to me. My dad would tuck me into bed, and then the nightmares would start. As I lay there with my eyes open wide, the slightest bark from our dogs outside would cause my heart to rapidly pound – who was coming? And then, when they quit barking, was it by choice?

The door on my clothes closet, although almost new, stuck, and it took a strong adult like my mom or dad to get it fully closed. If the door was ajar, I would be intensely afraid of what might be lurking in there, and it would be impossible to close my eyes as I intently stared the closet down. Sometimes my dad would come shut it.

It was an unpleasant thing, and you might say I learned to sleep with my eyes open. In the beginning it was fear, and then for years, well into high school, it was just a learned habit, born of that fear, that kept me from ever closing my eyes in an effort to induce sleep. Every night, I dozed off with my eyes wide open.

To this day, almost as though instinctual, I refuse to let my arm protrude past the side of the mattress, and even though I don’t mind sleeping out in open grizzly country, a closet door partially open will bother me until I get up and close it.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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