#1
He lay in bed, Christmas Eve, trying his hardest to fall asleep. There was rustling in the next bedroom, and soon his parents were creaking over the floorboards and the support beams in the basement and the cinderblock foundation nestled into a cold corner of Madison, Wisconsin. And straining not to hear with his pillows over his ears, he dreamt in consciousness of wandering through undecorated Christmas trees, plucking the needles from the limbs that bent and swayed with the winter’s breath. He had dreamt himself outside his bedroom window, into the spruce trees past his backyard where he had snowball fights and races to climb the tallest frosted pines that stretched an eternity. But there were no footprints now—he imagined they had been snowed over in the night. And there were no children now—he was sure they had been covered over by blankets and tiredness and were dreaming real dreams. There might have been a wolf up ahead, but he didn’t think far enough to be sure. He didn’t want to know. Ten feet below his bed he heard the thump of something heavy being set down on the carpet. Maybe it was the TV that his dad had been talking about. Probably. He pictured it in the family room playing a Super Bowl game that wouldn’t happen this year. He listened to the announcers calling touchdown Packers in a game that never came to be. Their voices echoed through the vent in his bedroom where he wasn’t sleeping enough to get up for school the next morning. And even after he turned the flashlight out and pulled the covers off his head, the room sucked in more light from the window, lightening his eyelids and showing the stripes from the blinds across the walls. He knew the thud was the TV—the TV that would whisper unsettling bedtime stories his father never told him through the vent in the wall after his dad fell asleep watching some earlier show. He knew it was the TV because it was the only heavy thing he heard them put under the tree. It wasn’t until he could feel morning coming that he fell asleep and slept deeply until his little sister, Angela, woke him up with her eagerness to open the presents Santa had brought. Morning had brightened the house enough to make him squint as he forced himself up, his night shirt slipping off his shoulders, the socks he went to bed wearing bunched up in balls off near the corner, the blankets hanging off the foot of the bed, and the thin sheets clutched tightly to his chest.


On the train to Chicago and to the glimmering freedom of adult hood, he watched the hills sag flatter and flatter until there was no horizon in sight over the trees and the more frequent housing plans. The sun was coming up out the left window over the skeletal suburbs that drained into and out of the city simultaneously. Over a fence, he glimpsed a rigid line of street lights that stretched for an eternity click off all at once. He hadn’t rested the night before for fear of sleeping through the alarm and missing the train. He yawned, turning away from the sun to the blue interior of the cabin , and Jack (as the woman across from him called her husband at her side) peered over his newspaper at his heavily blinking eyes, dismissing him as a college-dropout pot head coming back from winter break. He was actually leaving home for the first time. Jack and his wife get off somewhere near Schaumburg, carrying no luggage.

The train station is browned by dirty, melted snow. A woman spills her coffee and it blends right in. He grabs a coffee himself to make up for not sleeping on the train.

His Aunt Kathy owns an Olive Garden on the edge of downtown. He checks in with his manager who gives him his hours for the week. He works mostly later shifts.

The apartments Aunt Kathy pointed him too aren’t very roomy but they’re cheap, with striped brown wallpaper. He has a couch that pulls out into a bed, a coffee table, a toilet, a sink, and a microwave oven, all within a few feet.

He took painkillers around eleven to help him sleep. They made him sick, and he spent the night over the toilet, Chicago humming over top of him.

The job was good. He made good money in tips. Customers like him. He worked mostly late enough that waking wasn’t too concerning. His mother and sister visited on his birthday with cards, a cake, and reused birthday candles. They couldn’t fit in the room so he had to put the bed back into the couch. Angela’s clothes were soaked with snow and left a dark spot in her shape on the tan cushions after she left. Their mother stood, dripping quietly onto the floor. They left him to the cake to go see Aunt Kathy. He would go see them at thanksgiving barring any issues before then.

Whiskey helped him sleep but he spent most of the night drinking it.

The next night, he went for a walk to the park with a girl from down the hall. They waded through thinning crowds of people, then the people turned into streetlights and the streetlights appeared and disappeared one by one in the snow, save for the glowing fog around their bulbs. They went back to their rooms and he lived and relived innocent love stories until dawn.

He went on sleepwalking and daydreaming through every night. He imagined his unending fantasies over and over where he and the girl down the hall had been childhood sweethearts- where they had hid from the sounds of Christmas morning together in the spruce forest, exploring each other’s heart beats and skeletons. When the stories disintegrated into his memory, he sang himself the softest lullabies, and when the lullabies lost their indifference, he counted the stripes on the wallpaper and so on until the moments before dawn and the certainty of the sun’s commitment to rise calmed his mind and left all his fearful breaths from the night to wander about Chicago, tired and lost for time.

His eyes grew heavier each day but his mind felt calm and borderless, and his character grew even more erratic but oddly more personable.

Spring came and after the early rains washed away the snow he let his window stay open, infusing his cognizant dream worlds with more elements of the city as it was in honesty at night, rather than as it appeared to be when muted by single paned glass and striped wallpaper. And when morning neared he would get as much sleep as he could.

When summer neared, he had forgotten winter, and he had forgotten morning. One night in June there was a lightning storm that hit the power grid and his air conditioning wouldn’t work. His shirt stuck to his shoulders and he broke some threads in the color trying to take it off. He could feel the greasy fingerprints his hands left on the pillow. He didn’t sleep that morning and instead went walking along the Chicago harbor to watch the sun rise on the horizon, thinking about ways to be alone at a party. He went to parties now, and met people through his coworkers. He enjoyed them (they fit his sleeping schedule) but wasn’t interested in any of the girls or much of the conversation. He only wanted to talk to the girl from his dreams, from down the hall.

His mother tells him over the phone how she’s worried that his dad’s been losing sleep. The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain sits on the table, atop a half stack of books, open to “Throwing Away the Alarm Clock.” His father used to draw a cartoon cat on his napkins at restaurants. It was how he signed his birthday cards for the kids. He doesn’t draw the cat anymore.
The girl from down the hall knocks and pokes her head in. He says bye to his mother.
“Will you come meet my parents?”
Anatomy Anatomy
Whale Blue Review

Park that car
Drop that phone
Sleep on the floor
Dream about me
Last edited by jiminizzle at Sep 13, 2010,
#4
Whiskey helped him sleep but he spent most of the night drinking it.
- I love that line

I love the whole story, because of its apparent descriptiveness. You seem to describe the events neutrally, but subconsciously you load packages of feelings onto the readers' backs...
(I'm not sure if you get me, but I wouldn't know how to explain it differently.)
#6
i felt like i was reading a journal i don't keep. i don't mean to say this is like something i would write, i mean this is like something i would live. the sleepiness and cold of wisconsin, family shuffling underfoot, the train into chicago, sleepless nights nursing whiskey, and fantasizing about falling in love in all that loneliness hit home for me in a surreal way. i related to this more than i can tell you. a few lines may have carried on a little too long, and some tangents seem extraneous, but the tone is picture perfect and the whole thing is really engrossing and cohesively flawless. excellent. really excellent.