The Year I Slept (Excerpt)
by Matthew Snee
as of 4/15/2015
The funeral is on a hot afternoon. The sun pushes from behind a clear field of blue. The world continues along, unfazed by her suicide.
There is a cloud passing overhead.
I tell you I know its name.
Look: her mother weeps, her father grits his teeth and clenches his fists in his pockets, her brother curses the heavens, and her ever faithful sister can barely lift her eyes above the floor. Cousins and uncles look uncomfortable. The few friends informed of her death don't understand how it could have happened. Children run about.
And if you spy the old Buick in the parking lot, it is me sitting inside, unable to go in, uninvited, unwanted, unknown. As soon as I see them filing out I start the car and drive away, pain in my chest like coagulated thunder.
Can she really be dead?
After the funeral I eat lunch at a crowded diner. Has she been cremated by now? I wonder. Is she but ashes?
Surrounded by the noise of people, I feel suddenly ill, and a darkness rises inside me and I vomit across the table. The waitress and the other diners look at me in pity and disgust as I stand and make my way to the bathroom. I hide there for a few minutes. Then I come out and find a busboy cleaning up the mess with a large gray rag. He pushes the thick, vile liquid back and forth across the table.
I throw down a twenty, apologize once again, and struggle out the doorway.
When I get home Ido my best to cry. But I can’t bring forth the tears out of my eyes. All I can do is convulse and shake!
I collapse into bed.
For days I sleep, only waking to eat and use the bathroom. It is in bed that I find my solace. Sleep. I fall, and it catches me.
When I finally awake for work four days later–after calling in for the days before–I find myself haggard. My flesh is sallow. My eyes are empty.
I plunge myself into cold water and stir the engines of my body. I dress, and ride the train to work. I sit and type at the computer, talk on the phone, and engage with coworkers, all as easily as I ever could.
But a part of me is not there. It’s still in bed, dreaming, the true me. And when I finish with work I come home and we are reunited as I lie down to sleep.
For a week this goes on. I start smoking again in my waking hours, picking up on a habit I quit years ago. I forget to eat, to drink, to call back friends or family. I throw myself into the cold shower again and again: nothing. Still I sleep!
Two weeks pass. I lose ten pounds. I am either at work, or sleeping. I live alone. At work I stare dumbly at the computer screen, still typing in numbers and letters in the right sequences. I am functioning. I do everything I need to do so that I can sleep as much as I can.
You have to understand–it is the only safe place for me. My daylight hours are ripe with despair and my own suicidal thoughts. I don’t want to see anybody. I don’t want to do anything.
A month passes. “I’m perfectly fine,” I tell my parents and my bosses. They believe me!
No one knows my secret.
What do I dream of? When I am lucky, nothing.
Do I dream of her? No. I am teased nightly by the fearless realms of possibility: she is never there. When I lie down to sleep her presence expands across my thoughts. But when I dream she is nowhere to be seen.
So what do I dream of?
Flickering forests, cold beneath a stale sun. My weightless body, chasing through real and fake people, never speaking, from one infinity to another. Archaic metropolises, with impossible streets and angry traffic. Verdant fields of thought, shimmering through the glass of time. Vast seas, and angels singing about them, wings like ravens’, mouths beaked and eyes blue. I come to the same places over and over again, from different directions and at different times of day, under different auspices and different missions. Time passes in this place–in its way, and random experiences in the dream world start to trace out linearity.
Something is happening.
The summer goes on. And then one day as I’m walking home I feel a sudden presence behind me. I turn; there is no one! I continue walking, but there’s a chill down my back, a fear I’ve never known before.
I hurry home. And forget about it.
After dinner I go outside again to smoke a cigarette on my building’s front steps. It’s night now, and cars pass by like electric horses, “whooshing,” through the air. Then the traffic thins out and the street is silent.
And I feel the presence again, a lurking wraith just beyond my reach, and I know instantly that it’s her. I can feel her sitting next to me. I look: she is not there. Still, her presence is strong. Then I hear a voice in my head.
It’s distinct and real, more real than my own voice in my head. It has shape and boundaries, and is bright with ribbons of meaning. I can’t help but respond.
“Hi,” I say. “Is that you?”
“I can’t see you,” I say, though I can feel the atoms of her long black hair and her twinkling skin. I can tell she is wearing a sleeveless white blouse and a short school-girl’s skirt like the one she wore on a date we went on together years ago. I can feel her long legs and her toes in her shoes. She is sitting next to me.
Then she is gone. I can’t feel her. There’s only emptiness next to me.
But then I turn to the street, and I can feel her over there now, doing a cartwheel across the pavement, laughing. A pleasant burning grows in my belly.
Then she reappears next to me again. I still can’t see her. But I know she’s there. “I can’t see you,” I say again.
“There’s nothing to see,” her voice says in my head, amidst clouds of emotions and imaginary words. “But I’m here.”
“I can’t touch you,” I whisper.
“Yes, you can,” she says. “I can feel you the way you feel me.”
“That’s not enough,” I confess.
“It will have to do,” she laughs.
I am silent. I don’t know what to say. There’s a gentle wind and I can feel strands of her hair blowing in it, invisible. I have never been so glad. I am giddy. “I love you!” I blurt out.
She says nothing. I turn to her invisible form again, and can feel her brown eyes knifing into me. It feels like her, so much. She has to be there. I’m not crazy!
“I loved you in my way,” she says. “Just not how you wanted.”
My emotions twist around. I remember all the times she hurt me. “What do you want from me?” I hiss.
I can feel her frown. “I don’t know. I thought I’d come see you. I thought you’d like it. What, don’t you like me anymore?”
I can’t describe how her voice comes to me. It emerges out of the fogs of my mind. There is no sound – only meaning. Still, I know it’s her voice. There is no mistaking it.
“I still like you,” I say.
“I thought so. Well aren’t you glad to see me?”
We are both silent for a moment, in a strangely awkward way. Then I can’t help it: “Why?” I ask.
“Oh, she says. “Don’t ask. I don’t want to talk about it.”
I put my hand over my heart. “It hurts so much,” I confess.
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
Is she? I can never tell with her. It’s still the same as it always was, and worse now that she is dead. She is completely and totally unreachable, dead or alive.
“We have unfinished business, you and I.” Her voice is calm and warm. It soaks into my brain and relaxes my muscles.
“I know,” I say, delirious. But truly I have no idea what she is talking about. Does she tell the truth? Does she really love me? Is that why she came back? “Why did you come back?” I ask.
“I never really left,” she says. “I could have. I chose to stay for a while. I have things to do.”
I light another cigarette. I blow smoke vengefully into the night around me. “I miss you so much,” I say.
“I’m right here. You have to understand: I am closer to you now than we ever were in life.”
What she says feels right. But I am not satisfied. “I still want you,” I say.
“I’m sorry, she replies. “You have to understand that I did it to escape my memories. Do you understand that?”
“Did you succeed?”
“No. But I don’t care about that anymore.”
“What….happens?” I ask.
“I’m not capable of explaining,” she says.
“Can’t you even try?”
And all the time I can feel her bare knees just next to me, the calves of her legs, the fabric of her skirt rubbing against her thighs. She sits. But then I notice something is missing: her nervousness.
“Why did you come?” I have to know the truth.
“I need you to do something for me.”
“I need you to see Tim,” she says.
Tim. The man she left me for. He was twenty years older, around fifty, rich, handsome, confident. Tim stole her from me and she was never the same.
“I don’t understand,” I say, astonished she would even mention him in my presence.
“It’s time for wounds to heal,” she tells me.
Is it? I can feel the long expanse of my heart, broken twice by this woman: once for another man, and once for Death.
“He’s worse off than you.”
“He never loved you,” I argue.
“Maybe. That doesn’t matter.”
“It matters,” I say.
“Will you do it?” She asks slowly, knowing I hate it, and knowing I’ll say yes.
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” I tell her.
And then she’s gone. Traffic returns to the streets. I can hear people talking around the corner.
I go back upstairs. All these wounds, I think. All of them opening again.
I crawl into my bed and dig my head into my pillow.