bed-diagram

Sleep Into Nothing
by Dorothy Howard 

Nothing would wake Marcus, not the cold air slipping through the window, not the light of the bedroom turned off and on throughout the day, not the sound of fingers click clicking on the keyboard. Marcus’s bottom lip was tucked slightly beneath his top lip and his face was threaded by a needle that was held at his lips or else far away. His body was curled into the shape of a banana pepper and his clean jaw and droopy eyes heaved just enough to move a wisp of his hair as the air was replaced.

Hovering over him, I was waiting for the moment when I would look and see his eyes open. I waited kindly and adoringly, empathizing with his breath. As the hours past, I turned my chair at my desk and upped the volume on my speakers. I became aware of how each song would sound if someone were to wake to it. I put on waking songs, one after the other, thrilled at the delicacy of my selections. When I became hungry, I moved to the kitchen, leaving the bedroom door open to bring in the sounds of clanging pots and pans and scraping, silverware. I added extra butter in thought of its strong aroma. I warmed sausages though I did not eat them, waiting for their smell to occupy the air. I tenderly shook Marcus’s arms as he responded in sleep language, which I encouraged until it deadened. I washed out and away this untouched fatty food eventually, covering the butter and putting plates in the oven to keep warm.

Marcus continued to sleep into the afternoon until I began to wonder what it would be like if he died in my bed. Within the world there is no place for a man in eternal slumber. But he slept unapologetically through the evening and into the night. I came into the bed in the wee hours of the morning, rummaging for the feeling of life in it. Marcus made huffing noises and puppy whines. I covered my head with the blankets, scolding myself for wanting sex so un-provoked. I felt my clitoris but it did not feel for me.

When I woke up the next day, Marcus continued to sleep mercilessly. He slept as the snow fell in hoards until I could hear people were talking about the snow melting outside of my window. I believed it impossible that he still slept but there he was splayed out like a palpitating cartwheel. I went to work and came home late that night and there was Marcus, continuing in his z’s.

I began to think that Marcus’ slumber was healing him from some colossal, worldly exhaustion. This sleep was not just for himself, but for the world. He mind went deeper and deeper, adjusting its distance from the loose and perplexing distractions of the pain ridden in life into the constant visitation of it. “I don’t know what you are made of anymore.” I spoke to him now, believing that he no longer could hear me. I was speaking in the language of humans, but he had moved beyond us .

The next day after coming home from work my room smelled like warm sweat and sweet milk. There was Marcus, this time with his hands clasped above his head as his body lay sideways. He had crossed and uncrossed his hands, but he continued to sleep. I was threatened by my utter incomprehension of this person who was slowly, I thought, losing the recognition of his own name. “What I’d like to know from you is if you are now inside of me.” I spoke to him again. I felt that he was dissolving into the various architectures of this space. He was attempting liberation by escape and the desire to forget us. He didn’t need me, nor I him, I mustered. I looked at him, deciding that I would leave him there forever if he was to remain in this state.

The pale, cloudy winter light broke forth into spring as Marcus continued to sleep night after night. I would wake up early, go about my morning routine and check my appointments at my desk before leaving the house for work. I would come home in the evenings to check on him before going out again. This pace of life developed a goodness to it that I believed he could feel as well. To me, Marcus’ sleep was a delicate and fragile joy that I dared not even whisper to other mortals lest the mere thought of it be lost forever.

The buds of spring curdled and dropped off to make way for petals and Marcus continued to sleep. When I walked into my room during this time, I began to feel that my mind was playing tricks on me. In one instance, I walked into the room after work and set down my bag. When I looked over, Marcus’s body was translucent, almost like dust upon the sheets. When I looked back again, there he was full bore and cherubic. Another morning, I woke up and widened my eyes. Marcus’s shoulders lay flat on the bed with his arms on either side of him, but his hands were missing from the earth completely. It was like they had been erased by a magician’s pencil. But the next instant, the hands were redrawn on him, perfectly in order and lovely in their shadows and definition.

The days began shortening again and the summer luncheons turned into fall dinners alone. Marcus continued to sleep and the illusions persisted, becoming more and more familiar. Some days Marcus’s limbs would be missing from his body for short intervals, disappearing and then reappearing within moments. Other times his form would be almost invisible, at which point I would lay down next to him and see of what I could still hold.

One winter night, I was knocked down on the subway by a stranger and I came home limping and abused. There was Marcus, so becoming, opening and closing circles of life. Offering nothing but in that an immortality. I laid down next to him for a while and let my eyelids turn into my soul. This sleep had spread like a virus in my thoughts and I was attuned to it. My face closed. Sleep threatening me to forget the impressions of language and conversation, to see and live in dreams. It exonerated me from myself. Just before losing consciousness, I saw a few fibers of my wrist become translucent. These things though, are only worth telling up to a certain point.

Dorothy Howard writes poems and co-edits WONDER. She is from the Skagit Valley in Washington State and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.

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  • Anonymous

    “udder” incomprehension? Come on…