One beat. A beat and a half. Three beats. A quarter beat.
Sometimes, there’s a swish to it, like the cloth’s sighing.
Some nights, you sync your breath to this, the sound of metal ringlets on plastic rods, the smear of cloth on cloth, the songs of the curtains.
The curtains go clink clink and you breathe in.
You hold your breath. Ten seconds, maybe more. Your head spins. Not spins, to be precise, more of a curtsy, a delicate bob, in a bright pink tutu and a tiara. If your eyes were open, flashes of hot light would burst in time with music, like fireworks.
One second more, two, and then three. You don’t think you’ll be able to hold out.
One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, you count, just like you’d been taught. The sentence sounds odd in your head. You wonder why, and then you realize: the word ‘sheep’ has no plural. Isn’t that strange? Like fish. But ‘fish’ does have a plural, for types of fishes.
Aren’t there types of sheeps? Are all the sheep in the world cursed with sameness, no name to call themselves, nothing to set them apart?
All of a sudden, you want to cry.
. . .
The sheep in your head are white. So white, you feel more awake just by thinking of them. The word ‘awake’ blazes, and you can almost see the synapses firing, your brain conspiring against you.
No more sheep, you scream, lips pushing out the words in big circles, comically slow, and your brain is way ahead of you. More sheep pop into being, with a distinct plopping sound, like popcorn kernels, like in video games, and there they are: hundreds of them, thousands even, and each one has the word ‘sheeps‘ branded onto their skin, their mouths open, as if in silent screams, or in laughter.
No air, you’re still holding your breath, waiting for the clink, so you can breathe again, but no clink, so no air. The curtains curl up, as if to stop themselves from making noise. They’re mocking you, you just know it, you’ve always known it.
No air, and you feel like you’re drowning, in a vacuum. You wonder whether it would be possible to sleep this way, whether if you hold your breath long enough, you can slip into unconsciousness.
If you bang your head against the wall for an hour, you can burn a hundred calories. You can’t remember where you read that. How many calories would you burn if you choked yourself?
You wish you had the discipline to choke yourself.
Your throat feels like it’s going to collapse. Your finger starts twitching. The word ‘air‘ flashes in red inside your head, like a traffic light.
You look at the curtains, willing them to sing. They look away, coy.
Fine, you say. Fine. If you had the strength, your hands would be raised, palms open, facing front, in surrender.
You wait for a second longer, tease yourself.
Your lungs scream.
Your eyes start to roll up, and then your body takes over and you eat in your breath, claw at it with your teeth. It burns in your throat.
Now, they sing. You sigh.
Clink Clink Clink.
. . .
Some nights, you come real close. So close, you can taste the sleep, you can smell it. It smells like dripping saliva and warm cotton cloth.
You fake a few yawns then, to push you over the edge, open your mouth so wide, the edge of your lips starts to burn. Stay that way, mouth wide open, until something resembling a yawn tears through your throat. Hot tears fall onto the mattress, salt mingling with the sickly-sweet moisturizer on your skin.
You’re almost gone. So close. That’s it, just relax now, sink in, that’s it, sweetheart. You force yourself to ignore the voice, but it won’t stop. You’re almost gone, sweetheart, you’re almost gone. Gone. Where will you go? When you fall asleep, where do you go?, the voice croons. And you realize that if the voice is still talking, then you’re not unconscious at all, and as soon as you think this, you’ve lost it, you’ve lost all of it, even that precious pretence of sleep.
Some days, you come real close, and you wish you hadn’t. You wish your body wasn’t screaming at you to collapse, you wish your eyelids wouldn’t sag into themselves. You wish you were wide awake, so you could go pretend nothing was wrong with you.
In the dead of the night, the clock blinking at 2:43 a.m., you feel like a corpse dragged out from the grave. Immortality forced down a mortal.
You feel wrong.
. . .
The worst parts are when you go under.
You have no memories of these times, but they must have happened, this time-lapse.
The last you remember, it was 2:43 a.m., and you open your eyes, thinking to yourself you’re never going to get any sleep, that people die of sleep-deprivation, and doesn’t that sound nice?, and then you realize it’s 6:00.
You wonder whether you’ve gone insane.
Three hours, seventeen minutes. All gone. You’ll never get them back now. Three hours, seventeen minutes of your life, and you don’t know what you did with them.
Later, your dreams surface as though they’re memories, and it takes a while to comb through them all. Figure out which ones were fabricated, which ones were real. Sometimes, you can go on for a week, deceive yourself into believing in a long-awaited promotion or an apology that never happened.
A fine line there, between a dream and a memory. Subconscious and conscious.
You tread that tightrope between fantasy and reality, and you’re not sure you’ll make it.
Who are you kidding?
You’re not sure you want to make it.
. . .
. . .
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