short story by Kelly Rawson, ’20
She huffs quietly as the comforter rests softly on her head. The irritating, busy street noise of the city buzzed outside her window, despite the fact that it was just a little passed three in the morning. She grunts, frustrated with her uneasy sleep pattern.
This was the twenty-sixth night in a row she hadn’t slept before her alarm went off. It was an awful habit she had gotten into. She had diagnosed herself with insomnia earlier on in her life when she would wake up more than five times a night, for no apparent reason. From then on, it grew worse and worse.
She doesn’t like the noises. She wishes they would stop, that all the street noise and the sound of her neighbors voices, and the planes flying overhead would just stop. Then maybe, maybe, she could close her eyes for just. One. Second.
Maybe if someone, anyone, was there to talk her to sleep, maybe she could. Maybe it would cancel out all the noises, and she could sleep. Or, if they held her, just tight enough to make her smile, to make her feel what it was like to actually have someone to hold, then she would sleep.
She watches the clock slowly turn from 5:58 to 5:59. Last night, she didn’t sleep at all. She just stared up at the ceiling, thinking, processing, dreaming. She’s supposed to be out of the house in an hour. She has a job, after all.
The seconds count down faster and faster, and she knows she has to be up in less than thirty seconds to start getting ready for the day. The worst part, was that every morning, this would happen. It was like clockwork. She’d turn over to her side, and the clock would be blinking an obnoxious red, silently yelling at the girl to get up and get ready.
So when the alarm sounded, she instantaneously hit the button with fury. The noise was horrid to her, as it would be to anyone. But, nevertheless, she blinked multiple times, stretching her arms above her head. Her thoughts in her head she had kept all night escaped and she was left in exhaustion. Her mind furiously pounds with the desire to sleep, despite her actions against it.
She places her feet on the hardwood of the floor, feeling her toes curl under in the December chill. Her sheets could no longer keep her warm.
She looked around her empty house, as the colorless grays and whites settled down in the dawn of the newly rising sun. The world seemed black and white to her, like color had completely disappeared.
Her body aches from the hard mattress and she shuts her eyes in pure exhaustion. She opens her mouth in a longing yawn to feel the tiredness of her brain wash over her body. Her eyes remain closed, but her mind is awake. She liked the fact that it was black when she shut her eyes. That meant that she didn’t have to see anyone or anything, and the whole world was just hers, and she was alone in it. But she knew that when she had to open her eyes and see the world before her, she would no longer have that comforting feeling of being soaked in the dark.
And as she opened her eyes, she remembers him. She remembers how that bed didn’t used to feel so cold and so empty. She remembers that he would come home from work early just to hold her close and to let her sleep. And then he left. That very same night, she didn’t shut her eyes for even a moment. She was scared to.
The memories flood her mind and she feels her breath hitch. She’s trying to clutch the breath, but it won’t hold. Her head stops spinning for once. Her hands stop shaking. Her heartbeat slows. Her body stops moving. No words are whirling in her head for once. Her body’s given up, and given in to the fear; the fear of being alone.
She saunters into her bathroom, where she flicks on the light. The yellow cracking light of the old fixture obnoxiously glowed as she was reminded of her flaws in the mirror.
The golden glow reminded her of his hair, the blonde highlights flowing through, while her hand absentmindedly ran through it. And the brown of his eyes would stare into the blue of hers, reading her thoughts, understanding her more than she could understand her own jumble of words. And he’d whisper comforting words into her ear, sending shivers down her spine. And he’d excuse himself. Night after night, he’d leave her longer and longer. And one day, he just wouldn’t come home. And he’d leave her for good. And move to California, leaving her in this big city. And she’d scream and cry for days, but she would have nobody to run to when she was upset. And no one would let her cry on their shoulder. So she sat in her room, staring at this one painting, the only thing keeping her sane. She still hasn’t figured it out. The artist she bought it from told her that she has to open her mind, and only then, will she understand it. But she’s been looking at that painting for months. Nothing has changed about it. It’s still an undecided mess. And each time she stares at it, it gets more and more confusing than before, turning into an ambiguous mess; a jumble of lines, colors, shapes. It reminds her of her thoughts, how everything is distorted and unreadable. There’s nothing more in her mind then clouded words and feelings that no one, not even she, can figure out. But the longer she would stare, the more insane she realized she became.
Her mind screams at her while her emotions sit blankly on her face, feeding off no expression. The thoughts of him scared her. She was terrified for no apparent reason. But even at the thought, she’s not sobbing, she’s not visibly breaking down, she simply just shut her eyes and let single tears fall from her eyelashes to her pale cheek. She touches her skin gently, wiping away the painful tear. Her hand holds there for a moment, feeling herself shake. She didn’t even realize how much she was shaking until now. She keeps her eyes shut for a little, letting the darkness consume her mind.
She runs the water in the sink, letting it splash in her face. As the cold water ran down her cheeks, she glared into the mirror, watching the unfamiliar face of herself stare back at her. In her mind, thoughts oozed out of her mouth. She spoke whatever she was feeling in the moment. A tangled mess of confusion and worry and doubt, words flow effortlessly. She softly bites her lip as she slumps against the wall behind her. How had she come to this? How did she subconsciously lose sleep every night?
Her hands feel cold and clammy as she plays with them in front of her. She stares down at the chipping dark blue nail polish. As she looks harder, she realized how much she truly hated the color blue. It had never been a favorite color of hers. When she thinks of blue, she imagines being in the middle of the ocean, where nothing can be seen for miles and miles except for the big empty sky and the ripples of the water. There, she feels the blue slowly fill her lungs, and every breath she takes, the farther she gets pulled under.
So, she takes one more look in the mirror. Her hair tangled in knots while her fingers run through the blonde streaks. She quivers in her own frame, feeling a cold wind rush up her spine. She curses under her breath at the window she forgot to close from last night’s longing shower, where she had refused to step from the warm running water for over an hour.
As she looked into that mirror again, thinking about his eyes, and how his nose sloped down, and how his forehead crinkled as he laughed, along with his eyes, thinking about how he left her to cry herself to an oblivious state each night, she told herself something. She couldn’t ever forgive him, despite the fact of how badly she wanted to. But it’s not a matter of forgiveness, really, because some things cannot be forgiven. And it’s not a matter of strength, because sometimes we are really only strong enough to make ourselves forget. However, she was nowhere near strong enough to make herself forget. She would have to live like this, for years in miserable sorrow, alone and upset that she will never be good enough for anyone else. His words he spoke before he left would eat at her alive, making her feel even worse than she did before.
She believed those words. She knew she shouldn’t, she shouldn’t let them tear her up. But they did, and she couldn’t stop herself from thinking that maybe, just maybe, they were true.