Sleep is One of Those Luxuries
Sleep is one of those luxuries that I only partake of once every ten years. Staying up though the night and into the next day, feeling the chest tightness and heart palpitations, the tunnel vision, the veins bulging in my temples; it’s like I’m hacking into the code of reality and fucking with its basic structure. Even when I do fall asleep, I don’t actually sleep. I find myself trapped in a reverse dream, convinced I’m asleep, but really, I’m sitting mesmerized in front of televisions broadcasting documentaries on African man-babies drooling in the mouths of nature show hosts. As I send my laundry to the future in a time machine disguised as a dryer, I pray that my heart will be calm when it comes time to wake from the nightmare of insomnia …
… Standing at the junction of Fifth Avenue and the Street with No Name, I light a cigarette. The amount of drags I take will depend on how much homage to Bukowski I can pay in the next few paragraphs … Did Bob Dylan really perform at coffee houses in the nineteen-fifties? Or was that just a myth manufactured by pop music purists to make ol’ Bobby seem like he didn’t emerge from the womb a complete, meticulously crafted star who could spit on a moist towel and make fifteen mil. Paul Simon did it, so why not?
… Now I’m in some kind of tube-testing facility, a home for unwanted badpeople. Caroline, I … try to get a hold of myself, but I’m naked and submerged in green water. The tubing around my genitals is uncomfortable. I can’t remove it. Help! If I scream loud enough, maybe I can summon a bluebird to my tank, a bluebird with thirty eyes, each eye burning with a crystal shard. Save me, bluebird! Perchy fucker with orange talons and baby-blue feathers reminding me of powder … of snow … of sleep … of …
… Is being awake the undesired state? Is sleepwalking the seepage of day into night? Are nightmares manufactured to keep people from sleeping their lives away? Maybe I’ll get a job at a nightmare factory. That way, I can face my fears on a daily basis and conquer any challenge put before me. After all, what could be scarier than hand-assembling the very things that terrify you the most?
My first day on the job went about as badly as a first day can possibly go. Fuck this job! I shouted as I took one step out onto the assembly line. Upon glimpsing the various boogeymen and incubi being welded by robotic arms, I did an about-face and plopped into the grimy armchair in the break room. I pulled out a novel called Vessels of Sin, but as soon as I read the first page …
… I realized I’d rather be asleep with a squid gnawing on my legs than be forced to cope with the endless hours of things to do, like flapping my arms on a windy day in May 1991, eating a burrito without hands, dying for my country in a foreign land …
The next day, I didn’t even bother showing up for work. I knew I was fired, so I pulled the covers over my head and …
… I could fly if this was a normal dream, but all I know is the Hallway stretching before me, the Light At The End beaming information into my brain. Déjà-vu and synchronicity are proof that our minds are trapped in a computer simulation of reality operated by Centipede Sentries who use our bodies to manufacture millions of giant shoes.
… When you awaken from surgery, do you return to the same world in which they anesthetized you? Or do you die whenever you are given sleep-inducing drugs? Is each opening and closing of the eyelids a new reality being born? I think so. What a positive message coming from a guy who broke his fight/flight response with lethal amounts of espresso and ammonium oxide back in 2012.
“What are you talking about?” says the Other Character whose presence is necessary to make the story more … what? Exciting? Realistic? Believable? Some other adjective I can’t think of?
“Well, obviously,” I run a comb through my slicked-back hair, “What I mean is that I don’t know what you are. Are you a person or a voice in my head? I haven’t even described what you look like yet. For all the reader knows, you are housefly, a pattern of light on the wall or even a nonexistent entity. Your only purpose is to anchor the reader’s perception of what the hell is going on here.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” she snaps. “You dodged it with a non sequitur like I figured you would,” she frowns. “Should’ve seen it coming. ‘What are you talking about’ is a pretty vague question.”
“Ta-da!” I make sparkles with my hands. “You have a gender! The pronoun ‘she’ denotes that you are …”
“Nobody tells me what I am!” She grabs me by my shirt collar.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s with the sudden hostility?” A bead of sweat runs down my Adam’s apple and plinks onto her knuckle. “I give you a voice and you go all apeshit on me? Jeez, this isn’t some primetime movie on the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’m not saying you have breast cancer or anything, and by the way, you should probably get that mole on your cleavage checked out, it’s looking kind of black and crusty. It’s extending its borders and …”
She slaps me.
“Thanks.” I needed that more than anything.
As she storms down the hallway, her stiletto heels grow taller and taller until she’s the height of a small ski-jump.
A wave of sadness washes over me, but when I realize I don’t have to go to work tomorrow, the next day or ever again, I jump out of bed and do a little dance. I’ve got sleep and sleep has me. It’s the one luxury I will hold close to my heart and never let go of as long as I live.
About the Author: Brett Petersen writes because he feels it is a better way to spend his time than dust-mopping a warehouse floor or staring into space while a batch of 'everything' bagels burns on his watch. He obtained his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011 and his fictions have appeared in publications such as Loud Zoo, Peculiar Mormyrid and Polychrome Ink. He also plays drums in his dad’s band Blank Slate, and is Creative Consultant for Mushroom Studios, an art and souvenir company run by his mom. He lives in Albany New York.