Sleep in the Week that Follows
Michael is dying. In my dream, he has gone blind, but seems to know it's me creeping up to his bed, where he lies
in dirty jeans, eyes shut, and without the thick blue frames I so intricately paired to his face at the eye doctor’s
office. Smaller now, his eyes are swollen and red. I walk around the room slowly and his attention follows me.
He tells me that soon his hearing will go as well. And then the rest. I sit on the edge of the unfamiliar
antique-style bed. I nod and touch his arm. I am cold and he is warm. We both flinch as our skin sparks. All I can
think of is how much I'd like to leave.
I wake crying over my ambivalence. It is cool and black with a bluish tint in my bedroom, but the dream had been
orange, candlelit, and I feel my eyes change, as if struggling to adjust.
At 2:00 I am jarred awake by my own voice in the cold. It's monotone; an exhausted call for help, as if some
caretaker will answer at the slightest call, sit down and pat my fingers or my hair. As if they might bring a warm
washcloth to my forehead, heal me, warm me in combat of the broken heater. My shoulder sore from lying at an
odd angle, I wiggle my body, working out the ache and the mental reverberation.
Woody Allen is in the kitchen of my grandfather's house, and has talked me into making a bomb with him.
"It's not like we're going to use it. What're you, crazy?" he asks me. "We're just going to make it."
I am easily convinced. The bomb requires coffee, and lots of it. With the two-cup brewer, it takes a while.
I pour small pot after small pot into a steel vat, but eventually I get careless. Grinds overspill. Weak batches
are mixed in. Woody is not happy. My father walks in with familiar donuts, those that powder-coated my
childhood weekends. He reprimands me for my bomb-making attempt.
"If you want to help Woody make a bomb, that's your business. But first you need to go clean up your laundry."
The downstairs is littered with my dirty underwear and t-shirts. I'm embarrassed and can't clean them up fast
Sitting on the ground and holding a glass of water between my knees, I struggle to balance and escape an
inward-collapsing gravel hole. Like quicksand, it slides and sinks while I struggle on all fours, backwards like a crab,
panicked. I look over, and Michael is on firm ground in a beach chair. He sees me, but turns away. I waddle faster
as the hole picks up speed, expanding. I abandon my water, hear it ping, then shatter on its way down, and focus
on the business of scooting awkwardly toward safety.
Only solid, pinot noir-soaked sleep.
Years ago it was reoccurring: I have found an old love. We are rapt, yet each time we kiss, our mouths fill with sand.
Only the location of the dream changed. A museum. A basement. A cave.
Now snow is falling quickly, and Michael and I watch silently from his oversized, dusty window. I want to stay, though
at first he seems reluctant to have me. Then he kisses me.
There is no sand, but it feels like the kiss of an uncle or a cousin. I push forward into him anyway. Downstairs we
watch people dance on television. His roommate is a rail-thin model, and mocks the costumes in her raspy voice.
The doorbell rings, but all we find are strands of long, dark hair in a trail of snow.
I dream of us lying on an orange-blanketed bed in the middle of the day. The fabric is worn and soft, faded and
puckered from the wash. The sun warms us through the window. Our limbs stretch out toward all four corners.
My head is propped on Michael's stomach, and we let out contented murmurs, hands grazing shoulders, eyes closed.
When I remember I'm not supposed to be there, I sit up and look toward the window and squint, stalling. Eventually
I go, pulling one hand from his leg, one from the blanket. Stepping off the blanket is sadder than the earliest, coldest
mornings in winter, broken heater and all.
Jessica McCaughey earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University in Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Colorado Review, Silk Road Review, Best American Travel Essays 2011, and Phoebe, among other publications. She teaches first-year and professional writing at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.