I don’t sleep much; never have. I remember Momma telling me to just close my eyes. “Little girls need their rest,” she would whisper as she slipped from my bedroom. But I would lie in my small canopy bed staring at the lilac ruffles above me and cry in frustration because I could not obey her. Eventually I realized that it did not matter, sleep is not all it is cracked up to be.
Tonight, instead of tears of frustration, I lay listening to the night sounds of my house. Ben, my husband, lays next to me. As usual, he has twisted all the sheets around him, but it is Spring, and the house is warm enough. His breathing equipment makes its soft shushing white noise from his nightstand. Sometimes I miss the snoring. The default screen on the television flickers with its silent undulating blue logo. I feel around in the bed and locate the remote. The room feels quieter in the dark.
I slip out of bed and tiptoe into the bathroom. I pee in the dark and close the lid. We have an unwritten rule, no one flushes at night. I peek at myself in the mirror. The nightlight is generous. I cannot see the lines and wrinkles that I know are there. I can practically feel the gray hairs growing. First there is one and you say, “Oh my gosh honey, look I have a gray hair!”, but then there are two and then a dozen and then you stop counting.
I slip out of our room pulling the door closed behind me. I listen for the tick of the old clock, but I must have forgotten to wind it again. I consider peeking in on my son, but his door is closed. He is a teenager now and wants a little privacy. I wonder what he is dreaming about. Girls maybe? Knowing Jay, he is probably dreaming about video games.
In the hall, I can hear Puppy shifting in his kennel, his claws scratching at the molded plastic floor. We tried putting a blanket in with him to soften the hard floor but with his thick fur, he prefers the cool bare surface. I tiptoe past him. If I wake him, he will want to play, and he does not play quietly. I make the mistake of looking at him and see two big blue eyes staring at me hopefully.
“Go back to sleep puppy. You need your rest,” I whisper.
He makes a small high-pitched cry and I sigh. “Okay, fine. I can’t sleep either, but you have to be quiet.” I gather his tiny warm body close to me and slip out the front door. He is too small for a leash yet and so I set him on the front lawn and sit on the brick steps to watch him play. He tumbles over the edge of the sidewalk and dances in and out of mounds of Liriope edging the flowers. He playacts- ferociously attacking the dead crunchy stalks of last year’s flowers. The cool soil is rich with smells and he revels in them, digging and rolling in the fresh dirt. I notice him gnawing at the knees of the iris bulbs that are just starting to green.
“No,” I insist quietly. “Irises are poisonous! Not for puppies!” My voice in the silence has claimed his attention. He looks at me, tilts his head in curiosity, and then begins to dig and chew at the roots again.
“Come on then.” I slip my hand under his soft warm belly and lift him away from his new treasure. “Let’s go for a little walk.”
I cut across the lawn and he follows leaping between the hillocks of new grass. We stroll down the sidewalk passing our neighbors’ darkened windows. The occasional pair of headlights project a flickering spotlight that washes over me. At this house a teenage boy returns from driving his date home. At another house, a family man heads out for his third shift job. Mostly, however, we move silently through the velvety darkness.
Puppy stops to pee on the purple Clematis twining its way up the post of Julie Tate’s mailbox. Julie is a perky forty-year-old, naturally blonde, divorcee. She is friendly, often stopping by to praise my growing landscaping skills. Julie’s ex-husband is quite a piece of work. He is a loud, obnoxious bully. At 6’4 and two hundred and eighty pounds, he is physically intimidating as well. Most people choose to stay out of his way. He never physically abused Julie-or so she claims-but he is the king of the mind-fuck. He can talk circles around anyone. Julie said it is because he is a narcissist; nothing is ever his fault. She said that he could twist your words and manipulate your emotions until you apologized for getting blood on the knife that he stabbed you with.
In mid-September, Julie found a lump in her right breast. She was diagnosed[RL1] with late-stage breast cancer on Halloween day. On November first, she had all the locks changed, bought a gun, and filed for divorce. She told me that she just could not bear the thought of spending the small remainder of her life under his thumb. He still showed up drunk every few months and banged on her door until she called the police.
In forty-two days, on April 28 at 1:16am, he would show up drunk and weepy at her door. He would beg until she relented and let him inside the house. In the morning, a package delivery man would notice her front door ajar and being of normal curiosity, he would peek inside and find her lying in a dark congealing pool of her own blood.
Of course, Julie does not know any of this, but I do. I know about Julie’s murder and that old Mr. Theopolis will lose his footing on the ice next winter and fall and break his hip and that the Wiggin’s oldest daughter, Susan, was at this very moment taking her first hit from a bong at a slumber party. I have dreamed all of this and more. I have dreamed the future of every person I have ever encountered.
When I was eight, I dreamed how my mother was going to die.
When I first realized that I knew things that other people did not, I tried to explain- to warn people. But people do not want to believe what they cannot understand. When I was young, people chalked my outrageous stories up to a good imagination. As I aged, my imagination progressed from good to vivid to worrisome to at last, disturbed. People began to fear me. Even as they watched my predictions come true, they refused to believe until fate pointed his finger their way. I tried to interfere, to nudge fate off course. If he doesn’t drive tonight…if she remembers to lock the fence…if, if, if. Eventually however, I accepted that there was nothing I could do. I could not stop fate. I knew because I had tried. I also knew from experience, that my interference often made things worse. I could not change the final outcome. All I could do is watch fate unwind.
On the other side of disaster, people, at last, believed but they ow feared and nresented me. I got the distinct impression that a new address was a good idea. I left and started over here in this suburban Eden.
I re-made myself. I enrolled in the local community college. I met and married Ben. I raised a child. I did all the things that any other person would do. I aimed for average. I hid in mediocrity. I kept my dreams to myself. I befriended people that I knew were going to die soon. I stood by as children ran into streets. I kept my mouth closed when I saw the first flirtation of an affair that would destroy a marriage. I have held all this pain, fear, and anguish inside for the last two decades.
Until I realized the answer that changed everything. If I did not sleep, I could not dream. So, I stopped sleeping. It was surprisingly easy. I just found other things to do. Instead of winding down in the evenings, I filled my times with novels and movies. For the first time in my married life, the laundry was caught up and folded and the dishwasher was empty. I did, of course, crash eventually. No one can actually survive without any sleep. Over the years, though, I have whittled down my need for sleep to about three hours a week on average. Some weeks are better than others.
I notice that Puppy has stopped and turn to find him stretched out on his belly in the tall cool grass of the Owing’s brick federal on the corner. I plop down beside him and[RL2] pull him into my lap. For a few minutes, I stroke his silky fur and stare absently into the sky. I lift him to eye level and ask, “Well Puppy, are you ready for this?”
He wriggles in innocent delight. “Now remember, you just run as fast as you can-all the way to the other side of the street. You’ll be fine. I promise!”
Rising to stand, I place Puppy upon the sidewalk in front of me. I watch in slow motion as a gray squirrel leaps from the Ornamental Pear tree to land on the sidewalk in front of Puppy. The squirrel quickly recognizes the danger and darts across the street. I watch as Puppy leaps thoughtlessly after the gray squirrel. I can no more stop the dog, than I can stop myself from stepping out into the street. I am surprised to be startled by the oncoming car. I knew it was coming but it shocked me none the less. For a moment I exist only as a black and white still frame-Woman Struck by Car. The car’s bright headlights sear my eyes, but I cannot blink. I cannot think how to move my legs. I watch as my hands, of their own volition, fly up to a defensive position.
The car did not stop or call for help.
No one heard anything to wake them in the middle of the soft spring night. I lay broken and helpless in the street. Briefly, I am aware of Puppy licking my face. I can feel the gritty stones beneath me, but I cannot summon the energy to move. I know I will die soon. I will bleed to death in the street. I have known too long to really be afraid of this moment. Adrenaline has masked my pain and so I watch myself with a detached curiosity.
The sun will be up soon. I feel a moment of panic and suddenly am desperate to see the sun again before I die. I negotiate silently with fate. I have bartered and begged fate many times in the past, but he has seldom relented. “If I can just see the sun one more time, I will go quietly,” I promise.
I wake to the weight of sunlight burning against my upturned face. I force my gritty eyes to open. The sun shines so fiercely that I cannot look directly at it. I manage a small smile and then I dream no more.