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Lullabies a brief story about falling asleep

wakefulness There was a light, a glittery, playful ray of light that snuck between my blinds and rested on my closed eyelids. But when I opened my eyes, the light had disappeared. I gently pulled the blinds so that the sunlight could fill my bedroom, but instead it was grey and rainy and the little orange leaves on the trees were blowing pitifully in the wind. I watched as one of the leaves finally broke free from its branch and blew in circles near my window until it floated somewhere – away. I looked at the hand that had pulled the blinds. It was tiny and thin and incredibly wrinkled. Every vein was pronounced. It looked like a crumpled sheet of paper. A forgotten, discarded idea. The frustrated writer had tossed it away. I turned over both hands and looked at the – my – palms. A palm reader would revel in the many creases that stretched like ineffaceable scars across the flesh. The hands felt disembodied. But they moved in coordination with my intentions. I could feel what they felt. They were definitely mine. But how? I looked up and saw before me a calendar that covered a whole wall. There were x’s that crossed out the first six days of November. So today was November 7th. I remembered November 7th, 1962. We had pinned a long string of twine across the very wall that this large and looming calendar was now hanging. We had attached exactly twenty-three postcards with clothespins onto the twine. There was one from each city you had visited on your trip to Europe. I felt like a clumsy poet as I put them up, one by one. As though I was compiling a poem, line by line. I insisted in my movements that there was meaning to it all, that I was constructing a deep and precious narrative, but all the while I had a sneaking feeling that it was an inevitably random and meaningless project. Sometimes, a wind would blow into my room through the window and a postcard would fall away. How lonely and vulnerable it would look! I’d carefully put it back in its spot – like I was lifting a tiny bird that had broken its wing. I was a devoutly sentimental girl. On November 7th there was a fight, you – “Look around! Just look at your room – at all the things I’ve given you – that poster over there – at least twenty records – that entire book shelf – and the post cards – it takes up a whole damn wall! I could cover this whole room with – “Oh really, oh really! Should I count them? And the more I count, the more you love me? Is that how this works? Well then! I guess I simply don’t love you then, I guess if that’s the currency – that’s how we measure it – “You know that’s not what I meant.” “I know no such thing! Why don’t we put it all out there, hm? How much do I owe you for all this? Here, let me get my wallet. Thirty, forty? A hundred? Here, take everything I’ve got!” “You’re acting like a crazy person.” “Or better yet – In one swift movement, I undid the little knot that attached the twine to a nail in the wall. “What are you doing…what are you doing…” “You think there are things that can’t be touched? You think these postcards are sacred, don’t you?” “No…that’s not what I said…you’ve misunderstood everything…everything…” I silently removed each clothespin and flung each postcard in his direction. “What are you doing? Get a hold of yourself!” “Take them all, take them all back. I don’t want them anymore!” “You’re acting like a crazy person…”

I strategically whipped the postcard from Amsterdam in your direction. It made an unexpected turn and the wind, that frivolous wind, caught it between its slender fingers and out into the world it went! I rushed to the windowsill and watched as it gleefully drifted off. It moved with such purpose! The postcard sailed farther and farther away, without losing any height, until it was lost beneath the trees. You were next to me on the bed, looking out at this strange little adventure your postcard was taking. From Europe to here and now to God knows where! For several moments, we were both very still. A restless tranquility had settled in the room. I breathed in – you breathed out. Then you firmly grabbed my chin, turned my head, and kissed me. The relief spread through me like a hot shower that soaked my cold and naked body on a winter morning. Like a large, fuzzy blanket that covered me with its soft and patient palms. The warmth was too good – too good! I resisted a spasm of happy pleasure. I was an empty little house before I met you. With tightly locked doors and aching windows. I was an empty little bed. With untouched pillows and cold, clean covers. I was a tiny little glass jar that could shatter at any moment from the pressure of such emptiness, such loneliness. I awoke the next morning from a dreamless sleep. I had faded into the gentle darkness of the night. And when morning came, I gracefully rose to the surface and opened my eyes with a deep exhale. There you were, sleeping soundlessly right beside me. I looked out the window through the blinds and saw a gorgeous sun embracing every inch of my view. And before my very eyes, the embrace grew tighter and the sun’s rays began making love to the world with great tenderness, but also with a kind of – passionate aggression – that declared – he is mine. You may revel in the beauty of this moment, but he is mine. November 7th, 1962. Where was I now? Lying before a calendar that was telling me that today was November 7th. I turned and noticed several notes stuck to various objects in the room. Immediately to my right, on the lamp – You are in your own room. You are seventy-four years old. You live alone in this house. Try to get out of bed now and read the next note on the wooden desk about three steps to the right. I lifted this body out of bed and slowly moved towards the desk. You were a well-known photographer and you did most of your editing at this desk. Underneath this note you’ll find several magazines that featured your work. Be sure to return the note to its original spot when you’re done. Then, exit this room and open the door of the room right next to this one. I found within the pages of the magazines many black and white nudes that were credited to me. I slowly returned everything to its rightful place and waddled over to the next room. It was a bathroom. I found a note on the mirror. Do not be alarmed by your reflection. Use the toilet. I looked in the mirror and was startled by the unfamiliarity of the face looking back at me. I felt no recognition, no attachment to this human. The eyes were large. The nose was small. The lips were small. The hair was long and silver. The skin was dry and wrinkled. I looked down at the toilet. You have an altered perspective of reality. You can remember your past with alarming detail. But you have no recollection of yesterday. Brush your teeth, comb your hair, and then walk down the hall to the next room. I brushed my teeth. My gums were stinging and I noticed blood on my toothbrush. My hair was thin and so I combed it in a matter of minutes. Slower still, I made my way down the hall. I found a kitchen. On the table I found the next note. Have a slice of toast and some grapes from the fridge and make yourself a cup of tea. Then, turn the corner. I prepared a piece of toast and spread some butter on it. I sat at the wooden table in the middle of the room and waited for my tea. When the kettle started ringing, I let it fill the room with its sounds for a little while. The utter silence of the building made it difficult to move, it made me feel frozen and heavy, so I welcomed this noisy interruption. I finally turned it off and hungrily listened to the sound of hot water filling my mug. I sat for a while with my tea.

Was I dying? I was older, but was I dying? I suppose I’ve always been dying. From the moment I was born, I was living, yes, but I was also dying. Every moment that passed was a moment closer to my death. Now I was just getting closer. Shouldn’t an old woman be wise? Shouldn’t an old woman feel at peace? I was neither wise nor at peace. I felt like an astronaut who had somehow moved too far from the spaceship and was being pulled away into the abyss. Was this how I spent every day? Every morning? I could see no other possibility. I put my things away and turned the corner. I entered a room that was filled with paintings. Small ones, large ones, long ones, fat ones. From wall to wall there were bright, bold, colourful artworks. Tubes of acrylic paint covered the floor and paintbrushes were everywhere. I stepped closer to the nearest painting and realized that it looked familiar. July 3rd, 1951. I was nine years old and my father had given me a bunch of helium-filled red balloons. We walked to a very green field and I start spinning around, balloons in hand. The ribbon that held them all together suddenly came undone and one by one the balloons came loose. I scrambled to grab a hold of them but they were quickly out of reach. It was like they had all plotted against me! Like some kind of jailbreak! Like I was waking from a dream and the memory of the dream was swiftly disappearing from my consciousness! The painting was lovely. What a perfect balance of colour! Like the balloons were meant to be there. Otherwise, there would have been too much blue. It needed some red, just – there. I walked around. October 14th, 1978. My mother’s birthday. All of us sitting around the dinner table with reds and yellows peeking through the window just behind our table. April 2nd, 1999. That day when I was feeling rather melancholy and I drove for six hours just so I could sit by a lake. And there it was. February 27th, 1967. The sun rising behind the wintery slopes. I realized that the painting was missing a streak of pink. September 6th, 1993. When we took our bikes and went to a baseball field not too far away and lay down in the grass and stared up at the night sky, somehow unable to contain our irrational laughter. We were inconsequential beings who were drunk off this great, starry void. There were so many paintings. And right in the middle, a half-finished painting of the sun – my sun! – and its loving encounter with the earth that I had witnessed on November 7th, 1962. I noticed all the windows around me and saw that it was still gray and rainy outside. What an unpredictable relationship they had – sun and world. I picked up a brush to complete the painting of my sun.

restlessness There’s so much skin. All the orifices of my body have been filled with your skin. My eyes are closed shut by the warmth of your flesh. My nostrils are stuffed with the scents of your body. Like scrunched up tissues in a bleeding nose. My mouth carries your name like a basket of handpicked flowers. Your name is safe in my mouth. Let the parting of my lips be the playpen, the house, the garden, the room of mirrors where it falls asleep and stretches its little body in the morning. Let it wander far and wide and if it comes too close to the edge of the earth, my gums will be the walls that gently nudge it back to the shelter of my smile. Do you remember how we met? This skin on skin is making me forgetful. Every touch in the present somehow erases another moment of the past. It’s like a simultaneous painting and un-painting. There is only one canvas and with each added brushstroke, an older one fades away. I’m wearing you. I’ve wrapped your skin around me like a blanket. In the stillness of the early morning, I pointed my rifle, pulled the trigger, skinned and cleaned your motionless body and then draped it around my shoulders and dubbed myself queen of the forest. And in that same instant your arms wrapped quietly around me. As the heat of the afternoon spread like creeping smoke between the trees, your flesh gathered my flesh and it wore me just as I wore you. None of this matters right now. None of this verbal dressing, this incessant wordplay – none of it matters. I wish my consciousness would fade. I wish I could push my mind into a tiny space somewhere deep inside my skull. I want to drop it into a bottomless hole, a freshly dug grave. We’ve known each other for, what? Three weeks? A month? You push your lips against my neck. I push back. You press your palm against my stomach. I press back. The only parts not touching are our eyeballs. I don’t know which leg is mine. I don’t know which arm is yours. Surely this bed will soon fold in upon itself and suck us both down into another place where such touching is not strange. And yet I want to be closer. I want this space between us to be smaller, to be invisible. I want this gulf, this blank page, this giant breath of air between us – I want it to disappear. I want there to be only ten fingers and ten toes between us. I feel like I am pressed against a glass window that refuses to shatter. I wish that my mind would be quiet. I wish that I did not have to attach a word to each moment. I wish that in utter silence, our bodies would touch and then as you close your eyes I would fall asleep. You’ll breathe in, and I’ll breathe out. But instead this frantic fondling. This relentless holding and heaving and clutching and crying. Like an insufferable ache, a displaced nostalgia that can never be filled. And yet, there you are. Close enough to touch, but not quite close enough to hold. Let’s build a fort out of these sheets. It’ll be just wide enough to fit both our pillows. The entire floor will be our bed and we’ll hang string lights and lie on our backs and imagine constellations forming on the roof of our makeshift home. We’ll have to move softly so nothing breaks. We’ll lie there for a while. I need time to count your ribs, to memorize the shape of your spine. Time will pass and soon enough we’ll be quiet and disembodied. But neither of us has that kind of patience. We can’t hold our gaze for that long. In one thoughtless wink, this will all be over.

It’s morning now. Everything changes in the morning. Silly desires and little fears are suddenly meaningless. Or at least they lose face against the enormity of the rising sun. I met you at the corner store where I buy milk. Every morning I wake up and slowly make myself a cup of coffee with two tablespoons of milk. I love watching the milk swirl around my cup until it’s completely dissolved. You were standing in front of me in line, waiting to pay. I sometimes look at strangers and they don’t seem at all strange to me. Sometimes, they’re alarmingly familiar and I wonder if maybe that old man was my father in another life and if that person who accidentally just bumped into me was my lover last week. But then the people that I do know, if I stare at them for long enough they’ll start to look weird to me. Like how if you repeat a word enough times, it starts to lose all meaning and becomes cumbersome and unnatural in your mouth. Like if you look at a thing too intently, it soon becomes surreal. When I saw you I thought for sure that you were once my friend. Maybe when I was a schoolgirl. Or maybe you were the doctor I visited last month for the funny ache in my stomach. Or maybe I just saw your face on the subway and I hadn’t quite forgotten it. It’s been rainy since we’ve known each other. The rain has been a fitting soundtrack for this love story. It drowns out our incoherent thoughts and all the gasps for air. For almost thirty days now, the windy rain has fallen so hard that we’ve spent most of our time together indoors. Our only ventures into the real world have been to look out the window and wonder what it holds for us beyond the glass panes. But today, the sun is rising. It fills my bedroom and places messy handprints across every surface. I can see discarded clothing on the floor and dirty cups with cold teabags. And I can see your skin peeking out from underneath our blanket. I can see your open palm, your feet, your ear. The rain has tired itself out. And then the images start coming. I can see us dancing. I’m wearing some kind of sheer material and there is soft music playing somewhere. The room is dimly lit and I can smell you. Maybe it’s our wedding. Or maybe it’s next week and we decided to leave this room and be alone somewhere else. I can see us sitting with your parents. Your mother has hands that I want to hold because they have the same rough texture as yours. I realized this when she put her palm against my cheek and then carefully kissed the other cheek. Your father has laugh lines and I want to trace them with my fingertips and follow the path to the stories of your childhood. There are fresh flowers at the centre of the table and I feel excited for the day that we are old and you bring me fresh flowers. Now we’re in another country and we’re unfolding a giant map. There comes a relentless wind that collects the map between its playful fingers and away it goes! I watch as we run after the wind to retrieve our map. I watch until we’re tiny specks in the distance and I can barely make out the redness of my sundress. You’re working at a desk. I can see your back and I stare from behind as you gently place your coffee cup on

the table, careful not to wake me. But I am sensitive to the sound of your sipping and it lulls me to sleep that night. Some time has passed. My hair is shorter and you seem skinnier. We’re sitting next to each other but there’s a distance between us. You are fading and I can feel a weight of hopelessness in my chest. There is a tiny version of me, the girl in the red sundress, falling silently into an abyss inside my body. I am sitting alone in my room. It’s raining. The letters you wrote me are everywhere. They cover the whole floor and I am in the centre. I hold my limbs tightly, as though the space where I am sitting is a tiny island on an ocean in which I cannot swim. I can make out some of the words – September 12th – It’s been one whole month and I keep thinking about – October 12th – I feel I must have known you for much – November 14th – I meant to write this earlier bu – December 12th – It’s so cold out there and – January 20th – You are – April 12th – Something about the weather just makes me – August 12th – I sometimes wonder what if I had not felt like buying a chocolate bar that fateful day? March 12th – It’s raining today. There’s something else – The moment changes and I see myself waking up, walking into my kitchen and waiting for hot water for my morning coffee. I am alone in the house. You’ve gone away. I realize that I’m out of milk. And I watch myself walk to the funeral store, with tears falling down my face and they quickly turn into silent, shaking sobs. But I keep walking. The images stop and I return to my bed, with you sleeping next to me. There is no cure for this disease. No method of controlling it either. I remember when I was a little girl and I had my first vision. I was with my brother and we were playing hide and go seek in a forest with the huge, looming trees. And then suddenly, in my mind, I was standing in an empty field, no tree in sight. And then a moment later I was in the middle of a busy street where an old woman took my tiny hand and guided me onto the sidewalk. Once when I was seven I was sitting beside my mother and she was peeling an orange for me. One by one she let the little pieces of skin drop into her lap until the whole fruit was naked. I remember looking at her small, white hands and then being propelled forwards to a vision where her hands were smaller but wrinkly and I was holding them and they were so fragile. I rest my head beside yours so I’m facing you. How badly I want to reach out to you. To beg you to leave my bed – no, to never leave this bed! I wish I could suffocate myself in your skin – to die quietly and breathlessly in your arms! But I close my eyes and fall back asleep.

somnolence Mother is very careful about her things. Some coats and sweaters especially. I know for sure that clothes don’t break. But she carries them around like they’re made of glass. I get scared sometimes, you know, like when I get changed and drop my pants on the floor. I wonder if maybe it’ll shatter into a hundred pieces. But that doesn’t make any sense. And she dresses Daddy like he might break. She puts on his tie for him in the mornings. (I’ve seen him do it himself before so I know he could do it if he wanted to. But she still ties it everyday.). She’s very gentle with his neck. She takes the fabric and pulls it around, barely touching his skin. Then she tightens it. It’s always quiet. Sometimes I get a weird sick feeling in my stomach. You know, like maybe she’ll realize that it’s skin and not glass. That it’s silk and not glass. Then what? This scares me. I don’t know why it scares me, but it does. I did a bad thing last night. Mother and Daddy went to sleep and then I went into their room. I could hear them breathing. Isn’t it funny that I could recognize who each breath belonged to? Deep and heavy – Mother. Short and quick – Daddy. I hope they can recognize my breath. So if one day they come into my room and another little girl is sleeping in my bed instead of me, they’ll know. Because I’d know. If another Mother and Daddy were sleeping there, I would have known. The breathing would have given them away. I tiptoed into Mother’s closet. I was really quiet. I was scared of even touching the floor. What if suddenly the pieces shifted and we were floating on little bits of bedroom floor in the middle of an ocean? I’d be all alone. Mother and Daddy would be sleeping. They wouldn’t know that I was moving away – farther and farther away. So I tried to whisper with my feet. I pretended I was a ballerina. And if I pointed my toes I could float across the floor. Mother’s closet smells like – well, a little bit like Mother and a little bit like Daddy. Mother smells like something that was just cooked in the pot. Maybe some chicken mixed with green onions and a little bit of salt. Something that makes you hungrier if you sniff it while you’re hungry. And Daddy smells like oranges. He eats at least seven each day. He even ate one as he tucked me to sleep. The peels are still sitting on my nightstand. I sneak into their bedroom every night. I go to Mother’s closet and take one piece of clothing. But I wake up before even Mother wakes up and I put it back in its place. And in the middle of the night, I wear her clothes for a little while. Sometimes a big jacket that makes me look like a rectangle. Sometimes a red sundress and sometimes a sweater. I don’t pretend I’m Mother because I don’t want to be anything like her when I grow up. No, that’s not why I wear her clothing. It just feels good on my skin. They’re always so warm and clean. I wish I could fall asleep in them. But then she would smell me next time she puts it on. And this would make her angry. Then maybe she would put her clothes in a suitcase and lock the suitcase and sleep with the key under her pillow. Last night, just as I was about to step out of Mother’s closet, I saw her face because she was sleeping on her side and facing me. She had an angry look on. But how could she be angry? Her eyes were closed and she was sleeping. Then! Daddy turned her over and he started kissing her. He put his body on top of her’s and then – well, he unpeeled her like an orange. I couldn’t really tell their breathing apart after that. I waited for them to fall asleep. I can never be sure what I’ve taken from Mother’s closet until I go back to my bedroom. Because it’s so dark in there. I knew that last night I had taken something lacy. I crawled into my bed and turned on my lamp and realized I had taken Mother’s wedding dress. My heart was beating as fast as anything. There were three things that would be unforgivable for me to take from her closet. One was anything in her little jewelry box that she hides in the pocket of the dark blue coat. Two is any of her pants because she folds them a special way that I can’t fold like. Three is her wedding dress.

But there it was. Lying in front of me like a real live person. You know, it looked happy somehow. Like it was excited to finally escape the closet. Mother hasn’t worn it since her wedding and that was exactly twelve years ago. The dress had probably slept for some of that time. At least for six of those years. But it had probably woken up eventually. It probably started getting anxious while it was awake. Maybe it had decided that it was time to die, because surely no one would be coming to get it. Maybe I had just rescued it. The dress was relieved! How badly it wanted me to try it on. So I did. The skirt was white and silky and a little bit puffy. It probably went just above mother’s ankles. But it gathered around me like a huge puddle. I fell by accident on my walk over to the mirror. It was so fluffy and wonderful. I just wished I could close my eyes and fall asleep. It felt like I was sleeping inside Mother’s stomach. You know, sometimes I think about that time. Well, I can’t remember anything from those days. But I wonder what was different back then. How was it so easy to sleep? And not remember anything from that sleep? I almost closed my eyes but then I heard the wind. It blew so hard, like someone blowing out gigantic candles. Who’s birthday was it? I looked out the window. Nobody’s birthday that I could tell. I stood up. The sleeves were too long. I looked in the mirror. I could barely see myself beneath the photographs. All around the frame of the mirror were photos of Mother and Daddy. To remind me, you know. That they loved me. I looked so horribly ugly in the mirror. Nothing like Mother. I started crying. I just looked uglier. No, no, I had to stop crying. Crying makes you tired, you know. Crying makes you want to put your head in a pillow. To pull blankets on top of yourself. To be somewhere warm and safe. Like in a dream. No, no. I backed away from my reflection. I started taking off the dress. First the too-long sleeves then the too-big waist. I put it back on its hanger. Then I stood on my little stool and hung it over my window. Then I lay on my back, in bed. With no clothes on. It’s harder to fall asleep when you’re cold, you know. And I was freezing. There were Goosebumps all over my body. And the hairs on my arms were standing up. My skin looked ugly and pimply and I didn’t want to see it. So I turned my head and stared at Mother’s wedding dress. They say, you know, that I should sleep. That it’ll be okay. They’ll come into my room and make sure that it’s all okay. But I can’t, you know. I really can’t. Last time I dreamt that Mother was a murderer. I dreamt that she would lie on top of Daddy while he was sleeping until he stopped breathing. So then I woke up and grabbed the biggest wooden spoon I could find from our kitchen. The one that Mother uses to make the huge vats of soup with the chunky bits in them. I crept into their bedroom before sunrise and whacked her across the face with it. While she was sleeping. Then she started bleeding under her eye and Daddy started yelling and she carried her downstairs and put a fat piece of ice on it and then the ice got all bloody and there was blood coming down mother’s arm and all over Daddy’s hands. Then I started crying and running around everywhere with the spoon. I started knocking things over. Things started breaking and Daddy stepped in a piece of glass. Then his foot started bleeding and then I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and my eyes were puffy and I just wanted to go back to sleep. But that was bad, I couldn’t do that. I would dream again. So I started whacking myself with the spoon. Then everything was black and I don’t remember much else about it. When I was littler and I went to school we had naptime. Everyone slept on mats on the ground. From above it probably looked like we were ballerinas. Just frozen in that one pose where you’re spinning and you have one leg raised. But then I closed my eyes and imagined that I was the star of the dance. I was in the middle of a circle doing pretty things with my body. And everyone else was spinning around me. Except then the circle got smaller and smaller and I imagined that all the other boys and girls were coming in on me! So I woke up and ran – I ran to the forest beside the school. Everyone started scrambling around trying to grab me! Even the teacher! My dream was coming true. I saw a man in the forest. He was smoking. I lay in bed looking at the dress. After a short time, the sunlight started coming in through the dress. Through the lace, through the arms, through the sheer part of the skirt. It looked like an angel, kind of. Maybe it didn’t really like me wearing it. Maybe it died afterwards. And now it was floating away. It looked so pretty. Like a sparkly thing that you might be afraid to touch. But I couldn’t stop looking. Maybe Mother wouldn’t mind if we left it hanging there. I closed my eyes, but I didn’t sleep.

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