sleep

John Doe

My wife had loved the colour yellow. Just adored it. She used to say she could find yellow in everything–in the sun that split the sky into a million other colours at dawn, in the washed-out light of crescent moons, even in the flaxen hair that topped my head, long turned peppery-grey with age. I had little to offer her when we married besides cheery moods and soft smiles, so as a surprise wedding gift I painted the front door of my house bright butter yellow–oh, how she smiled and laughed when I brought her home that first night! That was many years ago now, but I can still see her in my mind’s eye. I find I can no longer remember things the way I used to, just small things. Mundane things. With her, though, they never seemed mundane. I remember the way her shoulders moved when she aired out fresh linens early in the morning, I can remember her in the garden, her hair tied back with a white bandana, tending to sunflower seeds–yellow flowers to match our yellow door. I remember the way her teeth looked when she smiled, all straight and pearly and perfect. I remember all the things about her that she forgot about me. Dementia is an ugly beast, but we never let it bring us down; I delighted in retelling our stories to her, in making new memories by reliving old ones. Forty-eight years of marriage passed blissfully until age finally took her from me. Now, I am left only with a yellow door and a field of sunflowers. The only things left that mark her time, her place, in this world.
It was four loud knocks on that front door that roused me from the dregs of a late-afternoon nap one midsummer night. It was hot, the kind of stifling heat that even a breeze can’t alleviate. Dusk had fallen, the evening star twinkling bright through the kitchen curtains, a hot, hot night that threatened to choke me when I opened the door. On the porch stood a couple, young, bedraggled, dressed in rags that betrayed too-thin frames on both of them. Naturally, I invited them inside for dinner–a remnant of an old habit of picking up broken things to fix them, bringing home strays to show them what love is. How my parents had rued me for such a drive in my early days. But I was excited to have company for a meal. It had been so very long.
Under the dirt and grim, they could not have been older than their late 20’s. Bright blue eyes shone out of the woman’s gaunt face, analyzing me from underneath shaggy black hair. The man’s hair too was black. but his eyes were so dark a brown they glittered a similar colour. I could see my reflection in them, clear as day. Looking at them made something click inside me, something protective, something attached, as if they automatically assumed the representation of a future that could have been for me, but never was; as if in their faces I could recognize the faces of the children my wife and I never managed to have. In that moment I wanted to offer them everything they so clearly needed, and then everything they wanted, and it both delighted and terrified me, because they were really just strangers, and what can strangers be to an old man living alone in a field full of sunflowers, really? Dangerous, is the answer to that question, but I lended them my trust the moment I laid eyes on them. I suppose it was pity.
While I cooked, I tried to speak with them, ask them questions, but they were so withdrawn from me that I wondered what kinds of terrible things had forced them into nomadic living. Names they would not give, and when I asked if they were hungry (a silly question, I know, but you know how it is sometimes trying to make conversation), the woman only smiled wanly at me. The man simply stared, as if he couldn’t hear me. They were strange, queer folk from the start, staying so quiet while they sat with perfect posture at my kitchen table while I bustled around them, busy as a bumblebee with dinner. Very strange, very queer, to think they would receive my hospitality like that, now that I look back on it. I remember that they both sat with their hands folded on their laps, their gazes never leaving me. Now, it is unnerving, but at the time I only remember feeling somewhat awkward under their stares, failing so miserably to make conversation. I must have appeared such a foolish old man to them, although it hardly matters now.
I served them a meal I remember having been one of the wife’s favourites, but for the life of me now I cannot recall what it was. I just know that they never touched it. They sat across my table from me and never so much as looked at the food I had served them. They just stared, silently, at me, watching every bite I took. I think I only managed half my meal before I couldn’t do it anymore, I was so self-conscious, so I packed everything up into my wife’s Tupperwares and stored them in the fridge for later. I was never keen on leftovers, but she had hated to waste food. They watched me do this with some interest, but never moved. I could feel the weight of their scrutiny, and I wished they would leave then, but I could see even in the corner of my eye that they stayed perfectly still. I felt rather than heard myself speak.
“I usually turn the television on after dinner. I…I hope that’s alright by you.”
They made no response. It felt like it took years for the television to turn on. The screen came to life in slow motion, turning from black to gray to unearthly blue. It gave me time to feel every pinprick of those two unmoving stares along my spine. Everything felt dreamlike around me–the shining of the stars outside, the movement of the curtains in the hot, heavy air around the open windows, the low buzzing of the lightbulbs humming in the kitchen behind me–until the television snapped me out of my reverie with it’s harsh, cacophonous voices. As usual, it was the news programme.
“…under no circumstances should you answer the door tonight,” the anchor was saying, “they are not what they seem.”
My eyes were fixated on the screen, on the anchor’s face. He always does the evening news, that chap, but I can’t remember his name. He’s young, but that night his face was full of worry lines, and I suddenly had the impression he was much older than he had always looked onscreen.
“Whatever you do,” he cautioned me, “don’t let them inside.”
I looked away the, catching my own reflection in the glass of the window. Outside, sunflowers danced in the dark, and little spherical lights my wife has wound around the porch railing glowed yellow. I looked comical superimposed on that quiet scene, television remote clutched in calloused, blue-veined hands and a checked shirt tucked tightly into my trousers. I was floating there, watching the sunflowers wave in and out and in and out of my transparent chest. And then, behind me, I could see my guests, standing now, still staring, their mouths both gaping open. The reflection made it look like their mouths kept growing longer, almost to an inhuman size, like the way snakes unhinge their jaws to eat bird’s eggs.
I turned, slowly, my stomach knotting itself over and over again so tightly I could feel it making its way up into my throat. I thought then it might choke me.
They were already upon me when I faced them, moving with deadly silence. My face was mere inches from hers, her eye sockets all empty and black and hollow, her mouth a cavernous one lined with tiny clear teeth shaped like ice cream cones. The only noise she made was a quiet hissing, constant, as if she were taking one long inhale. I thought she might scream, but she just kept hissing. I couldn’t make a sound, I couldn’t even scream, and I felt my jaw go slack as my shoulders tensed and the remote fell from my hands to the floor.
She put a grimy hand on my face, thumb on my chin and fingers on my temple. Her mouth met my other temple, sinking tiny sharp points into my cranium. I felt the blood trickle sticky down my face, blurring in my eyes, as she pulled something smoothe out of my head. It felt like she was unfolding all the gyri of my brain and sucking them out of the hole in my head. I know all about the brain, you know, from when my wife was sick. Her mouth felt wet, and I could only think that it was my grey matter dripping down her chin and onto my carpet. The pain was unbearable. Stars exploded behind my eyes, excruciating bright light that dizzied me, and after that I could only see blackness. I would have collapsed if she hadn’t been holding me up. How she had so much strength in one arm, I will never know. She was so small, so slight…so fragile a thing.
I did lose consciousness. The shock, it must have been. I woke up with my face in the carpet, breathing in my own coagulating blood. I can’t remember what colour the carpet used to be, but it was rusty when I woke up. Everything I looked at bent around me as if I was looking at it all through the bottom of a bottle–all shaky and almost circular. I was so dazed, I couldn’t remember my name or where I was or how old I am–all things I used to ask my wife every morning when she woke up. I was afraid. I thought I was losing myself like she did. I could see the front door open, could see the little yellow lights paving the way down the stairs to the road, and I moved towards that, the yellow, crawling, until I was outside. I had to use the stairs and the railing to stand up. After that, I lost time. It was pitch black and I walked out into the sunflowers. I didn’t know what time it was. I still don’t know where I was trying to go. I was just…going. And then I was on the highway, walking, I don’t know how long I walked for, but I didn’t think of a single thing. It was as if I didn’t have a thing left in this head of mine.
You know, they call them “hospitals,” but there’s not much hospitable about them. I understand now. You keep us all here like animals, locked up with no freedom to do anything. You’re not helping us, you’re studying us. You’re trying to understand them. Those things that came for us and ate us and left us like this. Hollow shells. You make me tell you this story every godforsaken day and you never think about what it does to me, because it’s the only thing I remember anymore and it’s the only thing you care to know about. You never even tell me who I am. I’ll bet you don’t even know. I’m just another nameless face in this crowd to you. You treat us like your lab rats, damn you! Let me put your experiment to rest; I’ll tell you what I know to be true. Those things were here to hunt us, and they will come back for you. You people who remember them and remember me and remember what it’s like to feel sunshine on your face and hear your loved one’s voices and have hopes and dreams for the future. And then the next batch of up and comers will lock you up like me and you’ll know what it’s like to be treated like refuse. You won’t even let me sleep, you’re so afraid of losing the rest of me. You think I’ll let the rest of myself slip away and I’ll lose my value to you. Well, I’ll tell you what: maybe it’s not such a bad idea. So maybe I will let myself go.
Maybe this is the night where I say goodbye, and remember that I said it in the morning.

Advertisements

Phantasma

There is a phantom that makes his home in the dust and cobwebs of my bedroom, a poltergeist flitting in and out of sunbeams and bumping in the dark. I can hear him sigh my name in the back of my mind every day at noon; I can feel him ease down onto the arm of my chair to read over my shoulder the newspaper, and I know the door opens just a little too quickly every evening when I come home. When the pages of my book refuse to stay open, when all my houseplants begin to wither and die, or the cat goes galloping down the hallway in a random panic, I know that he is restless. His presence lingers around me, heavy like an uninvited guest, but he always welcomes me home with the open arms of an old friend.

He keeps me awake at night when he cries, terrible, awful, heaving cries, coming from the darkest corners of my bedroom. Some nights, I can feel his salt tears on my cheeks, leaving cool colourless trails down my hot heartbeat skin, whispering like autumn winds past, or his fingers trailing across the bony bumps of my hips, turning once-rosy skin blue and rotting, deadening under his airy gray touch. He sings sweet nothings of a time long ago to me in the dark hours of the morning, his voice soft as cold September rains. When I close my eyes I dream of him, his face flush with colour and the sun dancing through his eyelashes, his smile a night terror I can no longer start at. I awake, and there too is his face, grinning out of the darkness and relishing the circles of purple he puts beneath my eyes. On hot midsummer nights, he slips a knife between my shoulder blades, a sharp sliver of cold biting between my vertebrae, popping them apart and relaxing all my muscles, stinging and burning where his poison fingers probe my wounds for my bloody essence that he seeks to make his own. I wake with bruised flesh, hues of purples and blues and browns, where his hungry hands have grabbed and pulled at my limbs in an attempt to make me his.

He lives in dismal grayscale, and I in ghastly technicolour. He cannot find his place within my watercolour world. He begs me to recall his name when his hands gently caress my shoulders while I make breakfast, three syllables that tumble across the tongue in shades of red and orange. He queries after the colour of his hair while I brush my teeth in the bathroom mirror, toying with once-black tousled curls now white and streaked a grey translucence. He asks me desperately to remind him what colour was his favourite when he still lived as I change out burnt lamp lightbulbs, staring at me with empty eye sockets where once eyes so dark a brown they glittered black resided, deeper than the deepest outer space. I remember falling into those eyes for the first time, drowning in them, feeling that I could both know everything about him and yet leave him a sparkling enigma all at once if I just let them wash over me like a gentle deep-ocean wave. I floated content in the great voiding depth of those eyes, never once suspecting that they hid a raging riptide, a famished black hole, that they had trapped me as a pitcher plant traps a beetle, feeding off it for days.

On my bad days, I ignore him, and he screams at me, a terrifyingly loud and angry bass, like an upset child with the voice of a man, and he opens floodgates that force me to remember everything I push down deep inside. Our play at contented coexistence comes to a screaming halt, giving out a dying gasp of sad summer air that ushers in the cold of autumn with it. On those days, my hair turns white and falls out in clumps, more fine lines around my eyes crease, and I become older and slower and quieter while he stays young and powerful and angry. Later, the colour returns to me cheeks and lips, but I feel a little more tired inside, and in the bathroom mirror I mark the growing transparency of my own skin, knowing I will join him soon and render him content. He cannot give up his living past, and I cannot reconcile what he once was with the thing he has become. It will be the death of me.

The saturated colour of my eyes, the eyes he always loved so dear, dulls every time his fingertips trail my face, never to return. What he touches, he ruins, just as I once ruined him. And I want to leave, I want to, I want to, I want to run away and never look back and never be found and never relive his horrors again—but he is forever bound to me, holding on to that pre-summer bliss of our childhood, when we were two imperfect souls finding perfect solace in one another, reveling in what we were, what we could have been, what we planned to be.

I can bury his skeleton in my closet, but I can never outrun his ghost.

***

PLAYLIST:

The Best Idea I Ever Had—Sew Intricate
Heaven in Hiding—Halsey
I Knew You Were Trouble—Taylor Swift
Somewhere Else—Artist VS. Poet
Million Dreams—The Greatest Showman soundtrack
Unbreakable—Artist VS Poet
Summertime Sadness (cover)—Megan Davies
Edge of Seventeen
I’m Not Dead—P!nk
Saviour—Rise Against
Devil’s Backbone—The Civil Wars
Everybody’s Fool–Evanescence
Apologize—One Republic
Dancing with a Wolf—All Time Low
This Means War—Marianas Trench
Ordinary World—Joy Williams
Man Overboard—Blink-182
Erase This—Evanescence
Ghost—Ingrid Michaelson
Outlines—All Time Low
Oceans—Evanescence
Dearly Departed—Marianas Trench
B-Team—Marianas Trench
Young and Menace—Fall Out Boy
Eyes Like Yours–Shakira
Amnesia—5 Seconds of Summer
Nina—Ed Sheeran
Down—Blink-182
Grand Theft Autumn/Where is your Boy Tonight—FOB
One More Night—Maroon 5
Outer Space/Carry On—5 Seconds of Summer
Dark Side of your Room—All Time Low
Rhythm of your Heart—Marianas Trench
I Miss You—Blink-182
Daddy Lessons—Beyonce
Don’t—Ed Sheeran
A Drop in the Ocean–Elenyi
Nightmares—All Time Low
Call Me When You’re Sober—Evanescence
End of an Era—Marianas Trench
.
(BONUS: The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes—Fall Out Boy)

Angel–Part 1: The Dream

Waking up with butterflies in you stomach is either a good or a bad feeling.
Waking up with you heart stopped, brain frozen up, and those butterflies beating against your stomach in a failed yet desperate attempt to breech it is the bad kind of feeling.
Especially when it happens again.
And again.
And again.
In one night.

It was the same dream, over and over. Standing on the street, I watch the body plummet to the ground. And as it hits, there’s a moment. A lull in time where everything stops. And I run towards it, pushing my way through the growing crowd yelling my justification–“he’s my boyfriend, he’s my boyfriend”–until I reach him, cradle his head in my arms. Wipe the blood from his face and settle into a quiet desperation, rocking to and fro. I stroke his face and sing, something he has never heard me do, and I close his staring eyes and gaping lips. I kiss his forehead and rise, watching up above me for his shape standing at the edge of the rooftop. But he was here already, he jumped and hit the ground before I could have caught him.
And it was the proceedings following this that after which I would awake.

In one I would run, unable to be caught, around the building and up the stairs, and infinite number of stairs, until I reached the roof. My friends would scream up at me from the ground as I stood at the edge, and then I would jump. Face first, welcoming the ground with open arms. And I’d crash into it. Awake.
In another, everyone below would catch me and pitifully I would live. Awake.
In another, I would subject myself to an anxiety attack. I’d run, find somewhere secluded, and sit with my face or ears covered. And eventually a man would find me, and take pity on me. He’d lead me to a trailer nearby where he would let me sleep in his bed, so I could deal with the pain alone and safe. His friends would question it, but accept it openly and not at all unkindly. And I would become one of them. A façade became my face to the public, some strange and new girl celebrity with a sad and unknown past and a fake name. She’d sing about a boy who fell from a rooftop, but no one knew his name. Every day middle class girls from around the planet would send her hate messages for becoming friends with “their boys.” But they didn’t realize that those boys were the ones who helped her deal with the loss of the boy that fell from the rooftop. And eventually she fell into an awkward phase that exists between losing and finding some one. The man who had found her shared something special with her and they grew attached to one another. When she had nightmares of her lost love falling, he would wake and slide off the trailer couch and into the bed that used to belong to him, all cold feet and tousled hair and white boxers, and wrap his arm around her frail, skinny body with his nose pressed to her neck. In the morning she would wake before him, and make breakfast for all four of them in an attempt to make up for the burden she thought she had become. She cleaned and she cooked and she shopped as her old self on their behalf, so that they could avoid the adoring crowds and loving and obsessing teenaged girls. She allowed herself to join in on their music practices, and she would help the man dye and redye his hair for the fans. And eventually something grew, as it was bound to. In the days he spent watching her grow and recover he came to admire her, and he could no longer look away. One day she caught him, her lips inches from his. A brief moment saw them leaning to kiss, but their hearts failed to take over and the moment was lost.
Awake.

With heart pounding and blood rushing and her boyfriend alive and that beautiful man with the smiles like stars that helped a broken girl fix herself singing a song about forgetting, and another about being at the mercy of another, and another about wanting to let go far far away from her, she awoke.
I wanted to wake up with amnesia and forget, because I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t–or what I wanted to be true or not, for that matter.