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Sleep is for the Weak

Following on from A New Home, and Dead Man's Flip Flops. Amnesia, meet insomnia.

By L.C. SchäferPublished 3 years ago 13 min read
1
Sleep is for the Weak
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I lay there in his stinking bed, wishing I could wash being dead off me and wondering where I lived. I could hear him running the shower, and for a long minute I ached to be the one standing under it and scrubbing away all traces of the morgue and these itchy, reeking sheets. I almost moved to go and say something to him, but I didn't want to have to fumble through another conversation, and I didn't want to be naked in his flat while he was here either.

I felt tired - or, more accurately, drained. But sleep would not come. It was like I had forgotten how.  Or was this not a new thing, since dying?  Was this just me? Is that why he was cheating on me with some cheap skank while I was waking up dead?  Because I was a weirdo who didn’t sleep?  

I wondered dispassionately who she was, this other woman. Her bra was pushed down between the bedframe and the wall.  I had no inclination to confront him about that.  Not yet, for certain, and maybe not ever. I made a half hearted attempt to feel jealous or angry or sad.  But why would I care, when I didn't even like him that much?  I added the little bit of information I had to my tiny hoard.

I listened to him moving around his kitchen, impatient for him go to work, or whatever it was he did in the days. When his footsteps approached the bedroom door, I slammed my eyelids shut and pulled the bedclothes up over my face, immediately wishing I hadn’t.  I lay perfectly still, willing myself to continue breathing gently through my poor, assaulted nose, and for air to come and go softly, as if I were at peace.  I couldn’t remember how to fall asleep, but I knew what it was supposed to look like.

I heard the door crack open.  I saw, in my mind’s eye I think, his head peering in.  The door did not click closed. His footsteps padded closer.  I could feel the shape of him next to the bed. I could feel his eyes.  Can he tell when I’m faking it?

He stood just a heartbeat too long, right on the edge between “checking on his sweetheart" and “creepily staring at someone while they sleep".  Another moment and I would have shed the pretence, but there was no need. He turned away.  The bedroom door clicked shut at last.  The front door opened and closed, the stairs creaked. The outside door complained about the damp and banged shut.  His car sputtered several times.

Please start. Please. Please just go away.

As he drove away, I could see him, as if there were a movie painted on the inside of my eyelids, getting his seat belt on too late, juggling through the gear change and steering wheel. Was that a memory of something I've seen him do before?  Or - impossible -  did I hear the seat belt click, and my brain came up with a picture in real time?

Only then did I stop trying or pretending, and get out of his bed.  I couldn’t bear to be in it any longer.  I could feel the smell on my skin. He hadn’t shown me around or offered me anything to eat. Wasn’t that what people were supposed to do?  I quite literally couldn’t remember when I last ate anything.  I checked in with my stomach. Did I feel hungry?  Not really.  Just relieved he was gone.  Irritable. About everything. Claustrophobic, from the jumble sale appearance of the place. Seriously, how long ago did he move in?

Out of the bedroom, to the left was the unexplored flat and to the right was the front door with a chain at eye level.  It made a very satisfying and reassuring noise as it slid into place. Somehow, this extra patina of security made me feel marginally more comfortable. I made my way through the jungle of boxes and followed my nose to the better-coffee aroma in the kitchen.  It smelled good, much better than the brown water I had been offered earlier.  There were no clean mugs, but there was one still warm sitting on the tiny table in the corner, apparently belonging to The World’s Greatest Lover.  Which one of us gave him that?

Must have been her. Couldn’t have been me. Could it?

It was likely to be the cleanest and had been festering in this hole the least amount of time. I scrubbed it under hot tap, disdained the grubby tea-towel and poured myself a generous amount.  He had left me a note.  I read it while I sipped at the coffee, which wasn’t bad. I read it again while I spooned in some sugar and sipped some more. According to his scribble, he hoped I got some rest and was “starting to feel more like myself again".  I guessed this must mean, had started to remember things so we didn't have to have a terribly awkward conversation later. I was to “help myself” if I felt hungry. He hadn’t got a lot in, but he’d left some cash and I could pick up something from the local shop if I needed to. There was a set of keys hanging in the boiler cupboard.  He was going to be home at five and he hoped we could talk then. He didn't say he loved me. There were no kisses.

It appeared he didn't know just how much I didn’t know.  I didn’t know where the boiler cupboard was, or how to get to the shop.  I didn’t know when I had last eaten, or showered, or slept (I wasn’t sure if my spell on the slab counted).  

After a second cup of coffee, I started the shower running and tried to work out which bit to turn which way to make it at least bearably warm, even if it was still an aggravating dribble.  I tossed the stupid flouncy top in a basketward direction (it was the only item of clothing I had on), got in and picked up a bottle of soap at random.

I didn’t know if I was supposed to be at work today, or where I worked, or what extension to dial if I needed to call in dead.  I didn’t know if I had ever felt attracted to this person I was supposed to believe was my boyfriend. I didn’t know whose clothes I had been wearing or if there would be a clean towel to use when I got out of the shower.  I didn’t know if or when I would remember anything significant. I didn’t know how much to reveal about my amnesia.  To Miles, or to anyone else. I didn’t know how much longer I was going to have to tolerate him but I found myself trying to work it out, and trying to work out how I could make that time shorter.  I didn’t know whether I had always been this calculating. 

I stayed precisely long enough in the shower to industriously scrub every inch of skin, from my scalp to my toes - and not a second longer. I guessed he must have used all the hot water, but I gritted my teeth against the tepid disappointment and washed away the cloying smell of death, bad coffee, poor choices, his sweat and inevitably inadequate sex.  I could not scrub my skin on the inside, but I think if I could have, I would have.

Miraculously, there were clean towels in the airing cupboard, so I wrapped a big fluffy one round one me for some warmth, and used a smaller one on my hair before going on a hunt for something bearable to wear.  Tip-toeing so that as little of my feet came in contact with the carpet as possible. There was a chest of drawers in a second bedroom.  The bottom drawer was a treasure trove of extremely dated analogue pornography, but the one above that contained the jackpot - a jumble of threadbare t-shirts and paint-marked joggers.  I dug out some mismatched Christmas socks and found a comb in the bathroom. I feel almost human

I flirted with the TV remote, but decided against it.  Just now, I felt OK, and if I saw news of my death, or my not-death, I might feel not quite so OK.  It wouldn’t be that big a story, would it?  It also felt like I should re-learn details about myself before the wider world.  The other way around seemed perverse.

What did people do all day?

I had no desire to soak his crusty cereal bowls or go hunting under the stairs for a vacuum cleaner. Perhaps if the bed was actually clean I could lie on it and try that sleep thing again.

Clean bed sheets are surely second only to showers, in my opinion. 

Do all men stink like this?

Stuffing the dirty sheets into the machine, I decided to investigate lesbianism at the earliest opportunity. The bottom drawer in the spare room could probably help me with that. I chose a cycle at random.  As long as it was good and hot, who cares?  I couldn’t find any detergent, so I poured a double-slug of fabric softener and hoped for the best.

The new sheets were mismatched, but they were clean. I lay down on the newly made bed and waited for something to happen. I crawled under the covers and tried again.  I cocooned myself, I squeezed my eyes shut, I softened my breath.  Nothing happened.  I tried pretending. If I pretend long enough, it might become real.

Maybe I am just not tired. How long did I lie dead?  Is that not what death is, just sleep squared? What did sleep even feel like? Lying there waiting to be dormant felt silly and pointless, so I admitted defeat and got up. Again.  Perhaps it was all that coffee. Perhaps I could have another mugful. Left, on the sideboard too long, it had gone cold.  I decided to see if I remembered anything about coffee-making. I didn’t. The new pot tasted awful. I poured it away.  I drummed my fingers on the counter. I stopped, because the surface was sticky.  I picked up a dishcloth to wipe it, but the dishcloth itself had seen better days.  I suspected I would make the worktop dirtier.

This was intolerable. I had another eight hours of this. I would go outside.  I would walk, maybe I would ask a person where the shop was. It felt as if this flat was infested with cobwebs that were settling on my skin and threatening to become part of me. The fresh clean air outside would blow them away. I took the cash from the kitchen sideboard without counting it and stuffed it into the pockets of a fleecy jacket I had found hanging in the hallway.  The trainers I scrounged were a little big and not very clean, but an extra pair of thick socks provided the buffer I needed, and they would do, provided I laced them very tight. I marveled at how my clever finger remember how to do such a thing, while my memory appeared sluggish and useless.

I found the key by opening every cupboard in sight until I found the one with the keys in. Who knows, perhaps I was a detective before I died.

I was quite excited at the idea of taking myself out for a walk. I was practically panting and whining at the door.

There was a news van parked outside.

I am trapped!

Rage flickered and threatened to burn hot, rage at people who had conspired to trap me here.

Who did they think they were?

No, no I am not trapped, I told myself firmly, giving myself a mental shake and pouring cool, soothing milk on the indigestion of my anger. I will wait, and they will go away.  Miles will come back and help me remember SOMETHING.  And then I will decide what to do next.  If nothing else, I will make him write down my home address and I will go there.

The prospect of being cooped up in that suffocating flat wasn’t thrilling, but the alternative was climbing out of the window and escaping over the neighbouring gardens.  That was probably not something that sane people did.  

I am sane, aren’t I?

As much as I wanted to find out about me at least a little before I found out about the wider world, I also wanted to know more about the wider world than it knew about me. 

Something cold and steely settled over me and took hold.  I was going to have a good poke around in his belongings. I was his girlfriend, apparently, and I have some kind of amnesia.  Or something. There will be photographs, things to jog my memory. This is a perfectly reasonable, sane, human thing to do.  Once I pieced together enough of myself that I felt ready, I was going to switch on the TV.

Maybe it would be easier if I had a friend.

I felt a moment of revulsion for such weakness, and I caught at it, a tiny shiny Clue to the person I might have been Before. I did not have a friend.  I had Miles.  A collection of foppish gestures with a posh coat and half decent cheekbones, gently basted in uncertainty and mediocrity.

One of the best things he had to offer me right now was all this Stuff, and all the potential clues I might find before he got back. I started trawling through boxes, beginning with the ones in the hallway. 

One very big fat clue became apparent the more I searched.  I wasn't sure what it meant, yet, but it had to be significant: there was nothing of me here. Nothing to suggest our lives had been tied together. No photographs. No gifts.  No little love notes, SWALK.

Were we ever together at all?  Is that why I felt nothing towards him except annoyance?  But then, why had he been the contact and not a parent or sibling?

Who was he? suddenly seemed a more pressing matter than Who am I? After all, I am me.  I can trust me.  This guy could be anyone. I prided myself on this stellar bit of thinking and risked a glance out of the window. Another news van had joined the first.  My urgency doubled.

But really, though. Who am I?

There was a computer in the corner of the lounge. Why didn't I think of that sooner? Another fact about me: apparently I am just not at home with technology. I switched it on, but it demanded a password of me. Frustration was beginning to take hold. A swear word snarled out of my mouth in a language I didn't recognise. A small part of me leapt with excitement, clutching at this new Clue. The rest of me was too busy trying to soothe my temper, as if it were a separate beast. It's okay. It's fine. Humans keep computers in their pockets. A quick rummage unearthed an old mobile phone in the bottom drawer in the kitchen, but the battery was dead and, although there a dozen different chargers scattered around the place, none of them fit.

I hated being here, I hated not knowing anything, I hated how dirty and smelly everything was. Everything chafed. I felt trapped in my own skin. The restraints on my fury were snapping, it was unfurling in me and I was too small to contain it. I snatched at the TV remote and jabbed at the buttons angrily.

There was an ominous technical "pop" and the smell of smoke.

Hellfire. What on earth have I done? And how?

literature
1

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Book-baby is available on Kindle Unlimited

Flexing the writing muscle

Never so naked as I am on a page. Subscribe for nudes.

Here be microfiction

Twitter, Insta Facey

Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

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