SHORT FICTION: Sleep

I am not a good sleeper. Drifting off into a restful eight hours has never come naturally to me. I clamber into bed at night with a notebook and pen and a choice of paperbacks to keep me going.

“Do you really need all of those?”

“Of course.”

It had become our nightly ritual. I would kiss Matt good night, tasting the toothpaste on his lips before watching him collapse back into his pillows and fall instantly to sleep. No herbal remedies, no essential oils, no classical music, audio books, reading, tossing and turning, no tears in the night because he was exhausted but still couldn’t sleep.

I would watch him sleep for a few moments and then find whichever novel came to hand first, settling down, trying to be calm.

The first time I didn’t sleep at all when we lived together, he woke in the morning looking confused. I had moved to the armchair by the bookcase, wrapped myself in blankets and finished my novel.

“Did you sleep at all?” Asked Matt, rubbing his face, then yawning widely.

“Nope.”

“Not even for a little while?”

I shook my head and stood, my knees clicking.

“Will you have today off?” He asked, as though taking a day off was nothing.

“Because I didn’t sleep?” I laughed.

“Well…yeah. You mustn’t be well.”

I rolled my eyes and put on my dressing gown. Early morning after being awake all night and there is a wave of energy and clarity. I often feel oddly refreshed, as though I can do anything. There must be a wave of endorphins or adrenaline, or something. My thoughts move easily, I can puzzle as the biggest questions life has to offer, plan a new life in a foreign country, come up with an idea for a new business, a new novel, a film.

It is not until after midday with hours still left in the day that the exhaustion usually hits me. Emotional, bone-aching exhaustion. It’s painful to move. Eating is too much effort. Words blur on the page. Other peoples voices become too loud or too shrill. And amongst all of this I know that despite the heaviness of my eyelids and the aching exhaustion that weighs down my limbs, there is no guarantee that I will sleep that night.

I might not sleep at all.

Or, I might fall easily asleep only to wake with a start an hour or two later, my body certain that it is morning, or my heart pounding from a nightmare.

Sleep is a luxury. Yet, sometimes I’m afraid to let myself fall. To give up control. To see what adventures my mind is going to unfurl. War zones. Murder scenes. Mazes. Funerals. Holidays. Weddings. Laboratories. Churches. Schools. My school. Hospital. Waiting rooms. My own birth.

Matt tells me that he doesn’t dream. He drinks his coffee black and sips at pints of cola until ten or elven at night before falling into his perfect, dreamless sleep as if it is nothing. Sometimes I watch him in wonderment. His pink lips pushing out short little breaths. His brow furrowing. Sometimes he gently snores, or smiles, or murmurs good morning when I am restless and not careful enough clambering out of our bed. What must that be like? What must it feel like?

Sometimes Matt gets annoyed by my insomnia. When I wake him to go wandering, or when I am too exhausted to go out the next day. Those days I watch him fall asleep and I hate him. Just a little bit. Embarrassed to feel that way.

At first I was embarrassed.

And then, as time passed, I allowed myself to embrace the feeling. I would furrow my brow until my vision was blurred, drawing my knees to my chest, sitting up on my pillows, watching over him.

Put put put, his sleepy breath would go. So easy for him. Like nothing.

You can see how it happened.

How perfectly simple.

He woke up and was so angry at me for being awake.

“For God’s sake Neive, go to sleep!”

I shook my head, I couldn’t.

“You’re creeping me out watching me. Read a book or go watch TV.”

I nodded and got out of bed, goose pimples lining my skin, racing along my bare legs and arms, my skin stinging with the cold. I watched him pat at his pillows and then sink back into them, his eyes closing instantly, his breathing slowing.

As if it was nothing.

For a while I watched him from the doorway, feeling the hot anger in my stomach. How could he be annoyed with me? It wasn’t my fault. I was worse off. I couldn’t sleep. I could never sleep.

Something clicked or snapped or popped or something. In my head, right at the back of my mind. I think I might have fallen asleep standing, finally getting some shut eye but standing up. I waited a while longer, made sure he was definitely asleep and then….I think….I can’t really be sure but this is just what I am surmising from what I’ve been told. I can’t remember doing it of course, because I was sleep walking.

I thought I was dreaming.

My dreams have always been so vivid, it was bound to happen eventually.

Bound to.

Nothing to it.

I went downstairs, to the kitchen. I went searching through the drawers. Perhaps I was quiet. I didn’t wake up. Neither did Matt.

I found amongst the drawer, a knife.

I headed back to the stairs and as I walked I held the knife to the side…like this…I let it cut into the wallpaper. I’ve always hated that swirling pattern. I cut a line in the wallpaper all the way from the bottom step to the bedroom door.

As if it was nothing.

I can’t remember anything. None of it. Not the sound it made or the sound he made or anything.

I woke up the next morning in the armchair by the bookcase, wrapped in a red blanket.

Which was strange.

None of our blankets are red.

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