Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sundays are for Storytelling: "Long Nights"

Here is a little fiction for you. 

Long Night 

She hadn’t slept in almost two weeks.

Okay, she had slept. But her nights were splintered and broken, a series of fitful naps that added up to nothing but a head full of fog and a body that ached more than it should.

She hadn’t slept well in almost two weeks. Not since her due date came and went, a promise that shriveled and died instead of bearing fruit. She would be pregnant forever.

Happy, sappy advice on the topic seemed to follow her wherever she went. On the phone with her mother, in line at the grocery store, via email from a high school friend – you better sleep now, while you can! It will get so, so much worse, they said between their teeth, bits of foreboding behind their smiles. She would scream the next time someone said it. She would open her mouth wide – to 10 centimeters, maybe – and barf obscenities into a bowl, bring them to a boil, and pour them down their throats. But she always just smiled back and agreed that yes, sleep was best.

Because she wanted to sleep. She really wanted to. Desperately. She wanted to pour restful, dreamless hours into zip-lock bags and stack them neatly in the chest freezer. She wanted to deposit sleep into the bank in eight hour increments and watch her hoard grow. She wanted to start out full.

But each night depleted her reserves. She did all the right things, followed all the pre-bedtime rules, and even dozed off within minutes of her head hitting the pillow. But the dreams kept waking her.

The first time, she dreamed about a baby born with a full mouth of teeth. They fell out one by one and she caught the tiny pearls in her hand. But he swallowed the last one. He choked. He turned blue. And she woke with a scream in her throat.

She told Micah about the dreams the first couple nights. About the one where the nurse handed her the baby all hunkered down in his blankets, and when she angled him toward her breast, a snake’s head darted out and sunk its fangs into her nipple. She told Micah about the one where the doctor looked up from between her legs and announced there would be no baby. She had never been pregnant.

Micah told her it was just nerves.

But when she dreamed of standing on the roof of their apartment building, holding the baby by two ankles, then one ankle, naked and over the edge, she kept her dreams to herself. She told her husband she couldn’t remember what went through her head at night. She figured she was probably going crazy and she wanted to keep that to herself.

So she usually crept out of bed after Micah fell asleep so she could toss and turn solitude. But tonight was the winter solstice. The longest night of the year. She didn’t even bother going to bed.

She lay on the couch long after Micah had said goodnight, paging through the book of baby names. Benjamin. Brandon. Clayton. No, no, no. David. Dominick. Henry. No, no, no. Nothing felt right.

She couldn’t close her eyes so she put on her coat and walked outside. The moon was full and red – the lunar eclipse, she had forgotten. Micah had said it would be too cloudy to see.

Her boots crunched over the snowy cement and she walked a little stiffly, wary of hidden ice. She couldn’t zipper her coat but she was warm and it didn’t matter. Her belly swayed low and heavy.

At the end of the end of the driveway, anxiety gripped her body in a firm vice. What will it feel like? How long will it take? Will I sound like a barn animal? She inhaled deeply and let the cold air singe the tender skin on the inside of her nose. She kept walking. She stopped at the crosswalk to breath into fear. What if he won’t nurse? What if he’s sick? What if he’s missing a leg or a chromosome?  The snot was freezing in her nose but she kept on with the slow breathing and stepping and thinking. At the corner, she turned around, right as doubt washed over her. I won’t be strong enough. I won’t be patient enough. I won’t want to join the PTA. She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes before moving forward once more.

She had her hand on the front door handle when foreboding almost knocked her to the floor. He’ll be stillborn.

She turned, shaking all over, and looked at the moon. The deep red was reduced to an edge-dwelling blush. She exhaled and left it all on the doorstep.

Back inside, she felt tired in a much different way than when she left. This was a deep exhaustion that crackled her marrow. She collapsed onto the couch. For the first time in weeks, no dreams pierced her sleep.

When the baby kicked, she woke with a start, eyes squinting in the morning sun, something warm starting between her legs. She knew. She would be fine. And she would be fine, too.