Three Flash Pieces
What It Takes to Sleep Well
“I changed all the sheets and blankets this morning,” you say to me when we pass each other in the hallway, when we’re each between morning meetings.
Your implication—invitation—is clear.
You know that I am allergic to the residue of sleep; that when I wake up, I have to get out of my bedroom immediately, to avoid (or at least curtail) a sneezing fit; that at some point before I go to sleep in the evening, I have to change my sheets and take in my blanket from airing out on the veranda—or else it will be a night of very poor sleep.
You know about all that because my allergy is the reason I always give to avoid spending the night at your place, disappointing your enthusiasm to have sleepovers.
Now you’ve invalidated this reason.
After all your overt solicitations and entreaties for my nighttime company, the little statement you’ve made carries an obvious intention.
But your words pique little interest in sleeping on your freshly changed bedding. I just greatly prefer the comfort of my own bed, and it’s not large enough (nor do I have a second one) for you to sleep on. Even when I’m emotionally vulnerable, I like to sleep alone.
After lunchtime, you start vomiting. Your stomach sends you running to the restroom in the middle of some water-cooler chitchat, a frantic dash you must again make shortly after the start of Zona’s presentation on good mental hygiene practices.
I’m tempted to think that you sense I’m going to reject your overture (which I am going to) and are reacting badly to that, but this seems excessively egotistical on my part. It’s probably something you ate.
During the remainder of the afternoon, your condition worsens. When I see you lumbering down the halls with unsteady, labored steps, I am afraid you will crumple to the floor at any moment. Your head droops, succumbing to gravity. Worried, I see you home.
“I think it’s a mind’s eye infection making me nauseous,” you tell me as I drive your car. “Whatever I imagine is mentally fuzzy and wobbly.”
It’s then I notice that despite your weariness, your eyes have been fixed on the road the whole time we’ve been driving. You need to look at the physical world to avert the infection’s symptoms.
You look more haggard when we get to your place, so I make you some dinner. In your well-stocked kitchen, it’s a breeze to prepare a leek and nagaimo soup with red quinoa.
We dine silently on the soup and leftover biscuits, gazing out the kitchen window at swaying tree branches, their leaves made to quiver by the wind. I want my life to be like that—like one of the leaves, fluttering in the flow of time, but anchored to the substrate of reliable circumstances, the sheer joy of existence warming all of us, like luxuriant summer light. I wonder if you want that too, or is it too docile for you? Maybe you’d prefer to be the seed that blows away to grow into a magnificent new tree.
After the simple meal, your gaze remains languidly on me, as though at any moment you’ll reach for my arm and say, “Stay over, just tonight,” especially if I show any indication of leaving.
But you don’t do anything of the sort.
Then what you don’t pressure me into, worry does.
Reading a novel, I wait by the bathroom door while you take a shower. Every time I get too engrossed in the story, I’m jolted out of that immersion by the anxiety that you might collapse in the shower. Fortunately, nothing like that happens.
Lying on the left half of your bed, I tell you about that time during high school when I was so reluctant to go to my mental health checkups because I was afraid. Not embarrassed. Afraid. Of what the metaphysiologist would see when she looked into my psyche. Because of the daymares I had.
As you listen, you stare at me. Your night vision has always been good.
I tell you about this time in my life because in retrospect, it’s quite ordinary, though at the time it was happening, it felt anything but. Compared to the baseline of my life then, the daymares were unsettlingly abnormal, but in the context of adolescence, my situation was not unusual. The story is mundane but tinged with nostalgia, making it, I feel, appropriate for your current condition.
“You know, I always wanted a self like you,” you whisper.
I squint at you, like I’m trying to better comprehend you through the darkness.
No, you don’t want to be allergic to the residue of sleep, I consider saying to you.
“A me that I could become to see the world the way you do.”
Is that why you want me to sleep over? To be in the company of who you think you yearn to be? To repose beside another version of you?
“A me that would remind the rest of me to harmoniously be and do,” you add, voice even softer now.
Am I not already such a reminder? Or do you want a more... intrinsic reminder?
My mind drifts into thoughts about my car, perhaps now the only one in the company lot. A fragment of my life left stranded in the nocturnal wasteland of the office park after business hours. I imagine another me walking over to it. The leather driver’s seat creaks a little as this other me climbs in. The headlights turn on to illuminate a swath of the open lot that the car then advances toward, beginning the journey to the suburbs.
Not all selves reside within us, I want to tell you.
Maybe tomorrow I will tell you this, after you’ve rested, when hopefully you can see your inner world more clearly.
To Confidently Advance Toward Autumn
You’ve regained the ability to hear your self clearly.
Her voice no longer sounds like water rushing down brooks in the springtime. She no longer needs to make phone calls to me, to have me send you postcards. I no longer bear the responsibility of pithily paraphrasing her.
So you head out with her to the old cottonwood tree, to enjoy iced tea and catch up.
With the linguistic bond between the two of you restored, the dry heat of the blazing sun feels delightful, even invigorating. The summer sky has exactly the right brightness now. You leave your sunglasses hanging by an arm from the back pocket of your pants, to let summer hit your eyes unmitigated, to see the purple of the distant thistles unfiltered. You walk deep into that familiar, parched, scrubby landscape that seems timeless but you know will all too soon be rendered in shades of brown. You carry the capped carafe by its neck, the tea you’ve brewed swaying inside. She holds the ice bucket, the glasses nestled inside among the glistening, slowly melting cubes.
You make your way without talking, content to know that you could, that if you chose to discuss something, you’d understand each other.
Then, with your backs leaning against the wide tree trunk, the two of you sit beside each other, you holding your cold, heavy glass of iced tea by your knee, while hers rests on the ground. You talk unhurriedly for a while.
“What a relief it is, to be able to communicate this way again,” you say to her, after you’ve each gone over your own perspectives on buying a new car, the oddities of my new job, the allure of Nancerangle shoes and the lingering perplexities of yesterday’s film—The Exemplars of Gentle Outrage, in which the protagonist, you both agree, is like an émigré from a world that never existed, sporting a personal culture of classical idealism that too strongly contrasts with the story’s otherwise consistently contemporary existentialism.
“Yes, it is good to be more clearly comprehensible to you,” your self says.
“At least I had your emphatic body language to work with,” you reflect. “I needed that guidance.”
“I’m glad it worked as well as it did, but without that, you would’ve been fine. Even if you lost sight of me, you’d be fine.”
You look at her, trying to figure out how casual, how pleasantly hyperbolic this remark is supposed to be.
Then she tells you she trusts you. Entirely.
You wish she didn’t.
At least not so readily. You’d rather that she doubt you, the way you doubt her. That she possess a sincere skepticism that would push you to prove your good will with transparency. She shouldn’t be complacently expectant of honesty.
You believe that trust shouldn’t be given in its totality. It should be loaned, with interest due in the form of earnest accountability and sincere commitment.
And if you have somehow already earned her trust, it shouldn’t be a lump-sum payout. You want monthly installments. A more finite arrangement. Some must be withheld as incentive, insurance or leverage.
“Don’t,” you finally say, settling on being direct with your self. “Just don’t. I need your scrutiny. I’ll get too comfortable otherwise.”
“You’re only afraid you will,” she tells you. “You’ll see.”
“No, I’m sure I’ll abuse that trust,” you say, tone petulant, like her trust is a pet you won’t take care of, a kitten you will end up neglecting or shoving aside when it gets in the way.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she says sternly.
Her voice carries such quiet force that for a moment you’re too scared to ever encroach upon the forbidden territory of mistreatment.
You expect her to threaten you with some terrible consequences for the violation of her trust. Her bombardment of your conscience with feelings of guilt, maybe. Or her abrupt, complete departure from your life.
But she doesn’t make any menacing promises. She doesn’t say anything at all.
You enter one of those uncomfortable silences with your self. You’re no longer accustomed to moments like this. Silence has become very comfortable over all the weeks of her cryptic burbling.
“Trust me,” she says at last.
You want to believe that it can be just so simple. That you can just trust each other, take that as a given and move on from there. But then, looking at the melting pebbles of ice left in your glass, all you can think of are the childhood misadventures you two wound up in because of some “brilliant idea” she had. That time in the toolshed still feels like it just happened last month.
Before you know it, you’re crying.
“Hey,” she says softly, placing a hand on your shoulder. “There’s still some great summertime left.”
You know that, of course, she’s right. But now you know also just how much your dread of autumn is overshadowing the luxuriant warmth. And the real issue is winter, with all of its isolation-inducing coldness, to which autumn is merely prelude.
Then you know what she is really saying.
There is still time to make the most of what remains of this season. But you will need to trust each other to do so.
It is still to you a question of how much trust and when it will be given, but the question is posed within a more hospitable landscape now.
How will you move through the rest of the season together, with trust or doubt? Will you allow her to trust you for what’s left of the summer?
She doesn’t need your permission, but she’d rather have it.
Just for now, you think in a whisper. Just for now.
Intimacy and Anonymity
As a parting gift, Qalixy gives you a book. That’s not surprising. She always gives books as presents. What is surprising, however, is that this book isn’t a novel or a memoir or a cookbook but a compendium of dreams you will never dream.
For weeks, this epic, canvas-bound tome stays tucked into a corner of your bookcase, beside college textbooks of comparable heft. You are afraid to read it, afraid to learn about a dream you would love to dream yet never will, scared to know that dreams could be so much more than what you experience in your slumber.
You know that Qalixy didn’t mean to stir up such anxiety. She just thought your life would be enriched by this window to scenes your unconscious mind would not conjure up spontaneously on its own. But Qalixy’s good intentions do little to temper your apprehensions.
Soon, your dread over the book’s possible contents is too much for you. You decide to give the book to me, to have me read it then tell you if I think it would bother you.
I owe you a favor, so I agree to be your private book reviewer.
I start reading it mere hours after I get the book from you, to relax after dinner.
As I lie in the reading hammock I set up in my study last week, the book’s translucent prose ferries me through the fantastical imagery of illogical situations. Soon, I’m permeated by a vague sense of déjà vu. Not a feeling of having read these passages before, but rather the feeling that I’ve already imagined what they are prompting me to imagine. Printed words become mental scenes a little too quickly—scenes that are tinged with familiarity.
A few “chapters” in, I realize each one is a dream that I have at some point dreamt. So of course the book is a compilation of dreams you will never dream because there’s just no way you and I would ever have the same dreams.
Now it’s me who feels uneasy. I’m not sure if I want you to know my dreams, even if you won’t be able to tell these dreams are mine, which will almost certainly be the case. Besides Qalixy, we don’t have any friends in common, and you haven’t met my family, so there’s no way you’d know that some of the book’s characters are from my life. Also, I hardly ever dream about you, and would you recognize the you of my dreams, even if the two of you have the same name? You always look blurry, lithe and adolescent in my dreams, like a teenage gymnast seen though tissue paper.
A strange, impending combination of intimacy and anonymity now stares me in the face. I’ll know that you’ll know about my dreams without knowing they’re mine. This has a weirdness on par with me knowing that you’re going on a date with my ex without knowing she’s my ex.
Additionally bizarre is that Qalixy must have browsed—if not pored over—the book before giving it to you, but surely she has no idea these are my dreams. She would never be so insensitive as to trample someone’s privacy by divulging their dreams.
Closing the book, I sigh heavily. Qalixy has unwittingly complicated our friendship once again.
That night I dream that I am a renowned concept designer commissioned to create a conceptual framework for emotions, one that codifies into a succinct set of ideas all that we as a society have learned about emotions through our history and science. It should be straightforward work, but they rebel. Emotions don’t want to be epitomized in this way, refusing to be summed up, to be neatly intellectualized. Some go on strike, others use their abilities against me, warping my experience of the world until I relent. Trees turn me jealous, green beans tinge me with anger, insipid pop songs bring me to tears. I want to break their hegemony over my subjective perceptions by completing the project I’ve been tasked with—to overthrow emotions with intellection—but in the company of the one emotion that stays supportive of me, I realize I cannot bear to forever alienate my emotions through my work.
When I wake up, the first thing I do is look in the book for this dream.
I don’t find anything remotely resembling it. Perhaps only my past dreams are in this omnibus.
I set the book down on my desk then turn to look out the window beside it. A cedar waxwing is perched on a low branch of the birch tree just outside. For a moment, the world has a lucid calm to it, a transcendental yet mundane self-aware quietude.
I head to the kitchen to brew my morning coffee, ready to give the book a favorable though not glowing review. I don’t think my dreams are particularly special.
About the Author: Fascinated by the ways in which fiction can serve as a means of metacognition, Soramimi Hanarejima crafts stories to explore the nature of thought. Soramimi is the author of the story collection Visits to the Confabulatorium and works on information design projects that seek to visually communicate aspects of subjective experiences.