The 2016 Literary Supplement

Sleep talk

Prose ❖ Written by : Christopher Junn

The heat of summer wakes me up. I sleep on towels so that the sticky sweat doesn’t stain my virgin sheets. Three hours ago I tried to fall into a slumber while my sweat condensed behind my ear. I dreamed, but only lightly. I looked over at my clock. It was around one o’clock. The first wave of summer anxiety hits. A reminiscence of the day and a painful reflection of having nothing to do —or of having done nothing. It is a sickening feeling of emptiness that manifests as a lump of heavy air taking up space at the bottom of my glottal region. The feeling does pass. I assure you. But in the hour of the wolf, its takes a hold of your heart and rushes you through a whirlwind of future and past. A quick squeeze to your chest, then its gone but it leaves you frightened. Sometimes, you take your fingers, embed your nails, and pinch at your skin. You pinch hard and the pain erodes your thoughts. I can’t recall much of it now. Maybe next time I’ll remember to record it.

I recall my summer days while visiting family in the motherland. Jet lagged and tired, I would have sleepless nights. The light from the plaza shone into the room and cast orange shadows in the fractal patterns embedded in the frosted windows. I despised that orange light. Those nights, I spent alone in a room shared with four. All the others slept soundly. My little cousin, barely making two years old, was a peaceful sight as he lay directly in my line of vision. Countless times I would hear the nightwalkers make noise in the courtyard and I would futilely try to decipher their shadows against the windows. The seconds of the night ticked by to make minutes. Lost in boredom, I would creep into the living room desperately finding something to do. I found a place by the window that overlooked the plaza and, here, I would listen to the drunken folk scream and watch the motorbikes rumble carrying a delivery of midnight meals. These little excitements of the night would happen every hour or so. Eventually, I would quietly make my way back to bed and unknowingly fall asleep.

But what about when we grow old? When the lingering guillotine of death hangs from a weak string that will in due time snap from gravity’s pull. Death, you don’t scare me as much now. I’ve been desensitized. All those deep nights I’ve encountered you in the realm of my cosmic imagination. You frightened me with your presence in black holes and the void of space. My early nights were spent thinking of the people in my life, my disposition, and most importantly love. She was new. Mostly smiling and shy. Her teeth made her smile amazing. It was from afar that I first saw her. Meeting new friends, she looked happy. She fit in well. I remember thinking of her and smiling into my pillow.

I only remember the good memories. The free periods we spent studying together were calm and nice. She made her way to my study period from hers after telling her proctor that she had to work on math. I found the effort attractive. I waited six months. She knew only of two. In the middle of the two months, we had a trip to Seattle. There, on the first night, was the first time I had talked to you. I said one word and one comment. The first was “hi” and I forgot the second. It couldn’t have been that interesting anyways.

Oh my, do I remember the dark dancehall where you pulled me through the crowd while the soft serenade of Purple Rain rang while the flat laser lights swiveled in senseless directions. I remember your arm extending from the high of your shoulder as it pulled my hand and body in whatever direction you took me. I didn’t care. I was lost in the darkness and you were my guide. Close my eyes and remember. Pull up close again and I hope that you feel the shudder in my breath. Feel my heart throb in the erratic beat of love that is lulled into the comfort of a slow dance. Look at me again and whisper some nervous words.

I’m awake again. A welcomed breeze drifts through the curtains. I remove the towels from underneath me and pull my duvet over my shoulders then tuck myself in. The room is dark and I face the windows. The black silhouettes of tall trees sway to the gentle push of the wind. Looming and ominous, they dance against the gray background. I reach for the clock. The short hand was positioned slightly below the five. I look up to the looming trees, sigh, then turn to stare into the morning darkness.

I remembered a night in the middle of winter. The city sat glowing afar and the wine colored sky floated in the distance. I walked out of my building and ventured into the calm streets. Wispy snow snaked through the lowly airstreams, buffeting my ankles and running a cold chill up my pants. I walked upwards, towards the hill. Under an underpass and down one street, I arrived at a small neighborhood. In the middle of the neighborhood, white lights flooded a snow-covered court. Out of the lime-light, I found a clearing fashioned into an ice-rink. Small trees, stripped of their leaves and in the shadows, lingered around the rink, whispering with the rattle of their branches. I treaded carefully, slowly sliding my shoes across the ice, placing one step in front of the other. I made my way to the middle and, there, I sat staring up towards the speckled universe.

As I gazed towards the cosmos, there, on the cool ice that breathed through my warm jacket, I ignited. A great flame erupted from the void of space and caught my jacket, turning my body into a tall orange bonfire and sending its flickering arms towards the darkened sky. Black snow floated upwards, the smell of singed polyester filled the hot cloud of smoke. The fire, uncontrollable, illuminated the clearing and the shared shadows retreated behind the trunks of the trees, running further off into the looming distance –away from the perilous heat. Aflame, there I was, a lone light in the valleys of darkness, screaming to be heard. Will they listen? Will they grant? Will they do nothing, I suppose.

Morning light pushes its first rays past the trees and into my room, some reflecting off the mirror, striking my eyes awake.