Zenobia Jackson told Officer Murphy that her husband, Rufus, was 73
years old and "a wonderful man when he was awake" but for the past year he had
been jerking "something terrible" during his sleep and had kept waking her up.
He'd swing his arms, she said, like those martial arts men he liked to watch so
much on television. When the bouts were over, he'd give her a big kiss on the
forehead and go to sleep.
"Oh, he was just a doll," she said, "when he was awake."
In the last month, however, Rufus had fallen out of bed three times
"fighting" in his dreams. In the morning he'd tell her he'd been dreaming that
he was in a fight at work or back in high school many years ago. Sometimes he
dreamt he was shooting at burglars breaking into their house in the old
neighborhood. That's why they had to move to a different neighborhood and why
he bought a gun, a little pistol he kept under his pillow just in case he heard
someone in the house. You can't be too careful these days, he told her. He even
taught her how to shoot the gun one night when no one else was on the tennis
courts in Sherman Park. He said she was real good. Not many women, he said, can
But last night, she said, he was dreaming again and swung his arms at
least ten times, like he was chopping sugar cane back in Louisiana before they
moved North. He caught her with an elbow to the eye and then another to the
nose just as she was ducking. That's why she looks the way she does, she told
Long ago, she had stopped trying to wake him when he was thrashing
about. It was because of the pistol under his pillow. He had reached for it one
time right after she had shaken him. She had screamed and that woke him up and
he wasn't too happy about it. He said he couldn't get back to sleep the rest of
the night. And he wasn't lying because she was awake all night, too, listening
to him grumble and curse.
Just a week ago, she had taken him to a sleep clinic where he had
stayed overnight. The doctor said he suffered from sleep apnea but she had
never heard of anyone with sleep apnea thrashing and kicking about like her
Rufus. She had a lady friend in the choir at church whose husband had sleep
apnea but all he did was "snore too loud," her friend said, no thrashing
"So that's how it happened," Zenobia told Officer Murphy, who was busy
taking notes. Rufus had reached under the pillow for the pistol and she had to
"Two in the head," she said, "and he be dead."