By Ashleigh Hatter
Arm flinging to the other side, he felt the absence and rolled about in his sleep.
The bed was only half full.
“Couch…” he muttered, making sense to himself and the shadowy dark. And it did make sense, if one knew certain things.
Like, if one knew that they had recently had a baby and that baby tended on the side of noisy sleeping, it might make sense.
Or, if one knew that his wife had trouble sleeping because of her restless leg syndrome, it might make sense.
Or, if one knew that he worked fifteen hour shifts at his job at the local hole-in-the-wall diner, it might make sense.
Take whichever you please, but top it with the love the wife had for her husband, and the love he had for her, and it certainly made more sense.
So, there he was, at three o’clock in the morning, patting about for his wife’s lovely form, unaware and totally aware that she wasn’t there. He grunted, fingers bumbling, looking for that little dip in her waist that made him go mad. But the sheets were empty.
“Couch…” he muttered again, listening for a second for any sounds from the small crib that shared their room. It lay silent as well.
A noisy baby and a restless mama did not a quiet room make, and taking in the silence and stillness, his sleepy mind rolled back onto itself and he began drifting back asleep.
But his skin fought it.
Or, not his skin.
No, that wasn’t right.
Flesh is the right word, but not the whole of it. There was a certain section of flesh that was more active, more awake, more unwilling to sleep that the others. It was the ring of skin around his right thumb, no more than an inch wide, that burned and tried to bring him up and out of his slumber.
He grunted and scratched at the burn, and fought to reclaim the lovely oblivion of sleep; of the deep deepening sleep he’d risen from.
But the skin continued to burn.
Despite the burn his mind reeled backwards, knowing the burn of the thumb and giving in to a tired body’s demands.
How long had it been since he’d slept a full night?
A while, certainly.
Yes, but how long?
And his mind fought to find an answer as it peddled backwards, gaining speed and making his stomach lurch.
Then, in his sleep he smelled iodine, thick and sharp. Like those swords knights used to slaughter the peons with. He smelled it and woke a little, rising enough out of sleep to see their room covered in darkness.
He tossed a hand at her side of the bed and felt the emptiness.
“Couch,” he murmured, and fell back into an uneasy sleep.
Back into the dark, backwards, spinning.
Back into the scent of
and lights, and voices and machinessss…
“I can…” he jolted, almost awake. The dreams had a hold of the back of his mind, and with thick gloppy yarn, it pulled him back, backwards, and he fell back into his pillow. But before he did he reached for his wife, and felt the emptiness.
“Couch,” he sighed, falling back into the room. It was white and there was light all around, and especially two big lights.
There was a hedge, a very blue hedge, a very thin hedge that was raised up in front of him; the kinds neighbors use to keep other neighbors from snooping. And the light from the two suns in the sky shone down, and blinded him, so he turned his eyes away. When he did, he saw a mound of dirt, very short, pressed up against the side of the blue hedge that he was on.
“But the skin continued to burn.”
There was shouting on the other side of the hedge, the side he couldn’t see, and he wondered what might be going on.
Looking up at the lights, he felt the pain of their intensity and shook his head
waking up into the dark of his room.
He breathed and smelled the air and he listened.
The furnace kicked on, wheezing into their room, and he was afraid in his sleepy state that it might wake the baby. But no sound came from the crib. Reaching out, he felt the emptiness where his wife slept and frowned, then listened again.
No noise came from the crib.
Looking over at the bedroom door, he saw that it was slightly ajar, and only darkness poured in through the crack.
But didn’t he always shut the door?
Thinking, thinking, thinking for a moment, he smiled while his dream latched back onto him and bore him back.
“Couch…” he muttered. “On the couch…”
And he tried to look through the blue hedge, but leaves shaped like fingers, and bunches of them shaped like hands swatted at him, pushing him back, while the shouting on the other side of the hedge intensified.
Walking back over to the mound of dirt near the blue hedge, he saw that some of the dirt had been shaken loose, obscuring the neat line into a more fuzzy blur; the mound was not so high. From behind him was the crackling of an ill tuned radio, fading into PR quality jabbering and an almost constant beeping.
He began to walk to the radio that sat on a stainless steel table, but found he couldn’t move because a flower, a single flower that had appeared out of the mound had wrapped its petals around his hand, cinching and squeezing.
He tried to shake it off, but the petals tightened, gripping harder.
And from the dirt, he heard a gasp.
It was deep below the dirt, but the gasp was undeniable.
The shouts on the other side of the blue hedge grew louder and the PR mumbling increased as well, as did the rhythm of the beeping.
He tugged and tugged, straining against the sound and the petal, straining against the flower, but it held fast, squeezing and squeezing, and in a screaming second, he felt his thumb dislocate.
His screams lifted and flew, filling the air, but the yelling on and the PR and the beeping were louder, and suddenly…