Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Asomnia

Here's a short story I wrote for a class recently. The assignment given was that one of the characters in the story "lived in a world where the rules didn't apply to him/her," and while this was license to create something incredibly fantastical, I opted to go with something a little more mundane, though still very interesting, in my opinion. Enjoy!

***

Peter watched Nancy sleep. He’d watched many others sleep before - his mother, his best friend Dougie Cuthill, his cat Inky. He found each one fascinating in their own way. Nancy was a back sleeper - and her nose would often twitch in a way he found utterly adorable. He was taken aback when he saw her eyes open halfway, followed by the movement of her mouth frowning in disappointment.

“You know I hate it when you stare at me like that. Go downstairs and do your thing,” Nancy mumbled, turning her head away from him.

What Nancy didn’t understand was that Peter was actually trying to do his thing. He was trying to figure out how to fix things between them. At least he had plenty time to think about it, since he wasn’t going to be lying down that night, or any other night for that matter. His body and mind had no need for sleep.

He had been scrutinized by all kinds of doctors as a child, after his parents finally realized something was wrong. Their infant never closed his eyes for more than a few seconds. What they discovered was that his mind was different than everyone else’s. Rather than needing a total shut down after a full day of activity, he was able to rest parts of his mind while the other parts stayed awake. They called it “Asomnia,” and it hadn’t been seen outside of species of fish before. Sometimes it was the logical side of his brain, sometimes it was the creative side. His body didn’t require extended periods of rest either. If he ever over-exerted himself, he would simply need to sit down and rehydrate, but other than brief (and incredibly boring) bouts with food poisoning and the flu, he never felt the need to lie down in a bed.

Peter made his way downstairs, his steps louder than they needed to be. He didn’t like being ordered away, especially after the fight they’d had earlier. He could sense a gap growing between the two of them, one he didn’t quite know how to bridge. He used to spend hours making her breakfast from scratch before she woke up - eggs florentine, served with hash browns and freshly squeezed orange juice. And he used to write her songs that he’d play on the violin, or build a new piece of furniture. But at some point she started enjoying the things he did for her less and less. Or maybe he stopped putting in as much effort. He wasn’t sure which came first.

He went into his usual nightly solo routine - forty minutes on the treadmill, twenty minutes of crunches and push ups. Then, since it was an even numbered Tuesday - when he knew his more logical side would be asleep and his more creative side was fully behind the reins - he drew. He took out his sketchbook and began sketching the only thing burning through his mind at the moment, which was the image of Nancy, lying asleep on her back. He tried to capture the moment just before she woke up, when she was in between two worlds - the world of waking consciousness, and the world he’d never been to: the world of rest, sleep and dreams.

He heard shuffling, then footsteps. Nancy was awake. The upstairs bedroom door creaked open, and he listened as the sound of her footsteps slowly made their way toward him. Their eyes met at the bottom of the steps. She was wearing a short purple nightgown that he’d sewn for her (after five other failed attempts) many nights ago.

“Did I wake you?” he asked. He’d been accused of doing that in the past, and though he denied it fervently, the eventual compromised they’d reached was that perhaps he was doing it subconsciously. Still, he’d come a long way from his life as a child, banging pots and pans or whatever else he could get his hands on together in order to keep his parents awake and paying attention to him.

“No, honey. I’m just having trouble sleeping.” Nancy said, punctuating her statement with a yawn.

“Maybe you’re finally evolving and becoming like me,” Peter said, jokingly. Or half-jokingly, at least.

“You know I like sleeping, Pete,” she said. “What you have is a very special gift, but I wouldn’t trade my life for yours.”

Peter was set to defend his biological anomaly, and decry her but he stopped himself, realizing that he wasn’t in the mood for another philosophical discussion. Especially not with someone with such antiquated biological needs, and so few precious “waking hours” to spare for him. Besides, he knew he was more prone to get angry and irrational while the creative hemisphere of his brain was in charge, so he went back to his drawing. Nancy went into the kitchen and set a kettle of water to boil for tea. She came back out and walked over to him, took a look at his picture and smiled, running her hands through his hair.

“Why am I always sleeping in your drawings?” Nancy asked him.

“Because I get to stare at you longer that way,” Peter said, just before realizing this was what had upset her just a few minutes before. There was no reaction though, as she just continued staring at the drawing, and running her hands through his hair, which Peter enjoyed.

The tea kettle in the kitchen started singing, and Nancy let out another yawn in response, then leaned in to Peter:

“Honey, I’m feeling tired again. I’m going back to sleep. Would you mind turning that off for me?”

“Sure,” he said.

Nancy pinched Peter’s ear as she let go of his scalp and then made her way back up the stairs. Peter made his way into the kitchen. He turned the flame off the stove, and figured he might as well not waste a perfect good kettle of boiling water. He poured the water into a tea cup, then picked out a bag of tea from the cupboard labeled “Dream Time Chamomile,” and smirked as he placed it into his cup.

“She needs her rest,” Peter mumbled to himself as he dipped the tea bag in and out of the water.

He carried the cup of tea over to the kitchen table, set it down and sat down alongside it, watching the heat slowly escape its source.

Then, finishing the thought, he muttered aloud: “But what do I need?”

***

-Matt

1 comment:

mjs said...

this is a fascinating beginning. I can imagine this being a really cool film. How much more does he get done in his life? How much more does he know? But how is he thrown off of normal human knowing as well because of this different rhythm.

A few years ago a very artistic person I knew tried the Leonardo DaVinci mode of sleeping - every four hours he slept for 20 minutes. He didn't get tired but he found that he got really depressed...he didn't have enough in him to fill all the extra time he had in terms of his creative endeavors.

Sleep is so fundamentally human that there is something fundamentally off about him. His relationships, his work, his mind.

I hope you build on this Matt. It is a great idea.