A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
– Jenny Offill,
I could tell she was dreaming by the way her eyes darted underneath the closed lids as her fingers twitched involuntarily. The streetlight filtering in through the blinds cast striated bands across her face and body. I could see that her breathing had quickened. Was it that recurring dream she described being whisked down the rapids in a suit made of balloons? Was she scared? She almost looked to be smiling. Perhaps she was dreaming of another man. What would it be like to see inside another’s dreams? I sighed and gently brushed a few strands of hair from over her face. She took a deep breath and her whole body seemed to sink an inch deeper into the bed as she exhaled. I felt an inner peace watching her sleep… the rhythm of her breathing, the relaxation in her face, that sense that she was safe and potentially happy. Can one be happily unconscious? I had spent decades fighting my own need for sleep and yet I found it so right for everyone else.
She began to shake a bit. Almost like she was shivering. It passed almost as quickly as it had begun. The she began to moan. A deep sort of hum. I mistook it for something positive at first until I saw the grimace on her still sleeping face. Her jaw clenched. Her eyelids squeezed into narrowing folds. I usually tried not to wake her in the middle of a sound sleep—it was almost always more disturbing than whatever she was dreaming. Mostly, she didn’t remember her dreams. Nor did she seem to have that many bad ones. At least, not that she admitted to. Her whole body began to shake violently enough so that the headboard tapped against the wall. I’d only seen this once before in real life when I was in grade school. A male classmate with epilepsy had a seizure on the floor just before we were dismissed for the day. She had flipped over so that her back was to me. I threw an arm up and around her and pulled her firmly against me. “Shelle, Shelle.” I spoke trying to wake her. The shaking diminished some but she did not wake. As she pulled slightly away from me a band of light crossed over her ear quickly—it looked as if something shiny and sticky was coming out of her ear. Dark. Possibly blood? “Shelle?” I said louder. She went rigid on her back. I grabbed the sides of her face, cupping her cheeks. “Shelle, wake up. It’s just a dream.” She began to froth at the mouth. A raspy noise coming from her throat. Her eyes still closed. I sat up and opened her eyes by pushing my pointer fingers up as I pulled down with the sides of my thumbs. My throat constricted like I was about to vomit as I gazed into blackness. Just empty sockets. No eyes, no blood. Just holes in her cavernous skull.
I started to yell “Shelle!” but before I got pass the “Shhh” my left shoulder began to shake. Garbled deep within my head like underwater sounds was a voice repeating something over and over. It grew louder and louder until I finally understood it, like my head had burst out of a pool: “MICHAEL!” I jerked backwards, eyes suddenly opened. Michelle was leaning over me. “You were having a bad dream. It was just a dream.” I inhaled sharply not realizing I’d stopped breathing entirely for a bit there. I blinked and stared at her. She kissed me on the cheek. Told me to go back to sleep as she lay her head on my chest. My own breathing eventually returned to normal aided by hers pushing gently against me as she fell back asleep. My eyes surveyed the dark room, sliding over silhouetted furniture, the dark outline of clothes against a pale rug, a door on the wrong wall.
None of this was familiar.