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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
short story

Submitted: February 27, 2007

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Submitted: February 27, 2007



Sleep by Hans LillegardJesse stood before the water-fountain’s porcelain sink, and shook a blue circular tablet from the plastic pill bottle into his hand. He looked around the room at the church-basement food bank, scanning the pale, blue walls; the stacks of eighty-pound bags of rice, pinto beans that bricked in and condensed the space. He threw the pill in his mouth and bent to drink from the fountain, gulping at the room-temperature water to swallow the pill. He looked at the unmerciful tile floor that had started to form a blockade as he became more and more tired and thought to himself that there were only certain peaceful places where it was really, reallypossible to sleep. Walking past a stack of milk crates that contained, ironically, cartons of instant milk, he pulled at the drawstrings of the green smock he wore, and threw the dusty garment in a laundry bag. The shipment of government potatoes and corn meal that had arrived at four-thirty that morning and the work had left its mark, so that Jesse was exhausted. His arms and legs felt lighter from the lifting, and he was glad he had taken the anti-psychotics, which would crash him before the exhaustion really created panic or hallucination.He climbed the wide, metal rimmed wooden stairs of the church which groaned beneath his feet, and turned the corner in the pine-green deck-painted stairs that angles-spiraled upwards. He’d climbed the stairs and even they had tired him, he needed sleep like the roots of trees deep in the earth needed the cool tear-spray of rain that fell from the indecipherable heavens, needed sleep. He pushed on the brass handle of a wooden, double door that opened from landing room of the stairs he’d only just ascended and stepped into the sad drizzle of the morning that foreshadowed the coming day.Jesse looked around himself and noticed a red cedar that spiraled angularly into the skies and ducked under the cover of its waxy needles, where the water hadn’t fallen; squatted since he hadn’t sat in hours. He thought about the long route home for several minutes knowing just getting to his bed would be an accomplishment, then sat, let his eyes go closed, breathed deep; he knew he needed sleep...Five minutes later he stood again, knowing the tree would put knots and whorls in his back. He followed the drizzle coated sidewalks under a wide bridge that passed over the street, and that spanned a wide chasm; deep, with a ship canal at the bottom of it. Sprouting from beneath the bridge-earth join of the four-lane overpass and covered with vines, a great plant creature stretched out long stems-fronds of tendrils and encircled the wreck of an abandoned Volkswagen van, the front wheels missing. He climbed into the van and then into the camper (triangle) atop it uncertain whether the decision came out of the pathos of his mental illness or the loosened inhibitions of medication. The cool air started to sink into his skin as his eyes fell closed, and worked into his ribs and his shoulder blades five minutes later, so that he couldn’t ignore the temperature. It was separated from the world; unlike the tile floor of the food bank where men helped men or the base of the tree; which had refreshed him, but feeling lonely enough to want to be instead, alone, he climbed from the abandoned Volkswagen van. He climbed a wide, rough-concrete staircase towards the bridge’s deck; that angles-spiraled past the pine green I-beams that sided the bridge, upwards toward a landing where the square, dark brown shelter of a bus stop stood. He sat on the steel bench for several moments, looking through the broken window of one of the brown lacquered steel window frames and floating with the smooth moving stream of cars, and started to drift. He had seen men in trench coats and newspapers who slept on the bench. He sat down and started to drift… He looked at the cheap plastic digital wrist watch and then checked the thin column of numbers printed on paper inset in the structure of the shelter that listed the bus times. He started to drift again and stood, knowing that walking would keep him from sleep, and that he could catch the bus three stops down the line.Following the sidewalk, he circled a small knoll with blue spruce amid the knee-high, brown grass that covered and surrounded the rise, descended a smaller ‘exit ramp’ from the multi-lane arterial past marigold bushes and waxy leaved plants. He crossed the street, passing an ancient, double deck motel with a partly-lit neon sign near the front office windows; an oddity in the vastness of the city. He crossed another street, passing an apartment building with a glass door and card-lock entry, and walked along a sidewalk that cracked up over the roots of maple trees. He passed the uninteresting flag of a sign on a post that indicated a second bus stop and the third fell into his line of sight. As he passed that approached the next bus stop, a familiar figure standing beneath the thin metal plate with the bus number on it caused him to slow. The woman wore a leather jacket, jeans and had blond hair and searched the fog-like distance for the approaching vehicle. She shifted on her feet, searching a leather purse for some token, likely an insert card for the bus and didn’t notice Jesse until he was near. “Hi Nadia,” he said, deciding to wait at the second stop next to the woman whom he’d only met three weeks ago, another common to the bus route who he’d come to talk with, words rising almost without will in the morning dull.“Hi Jesse!” – Nadia said “Why are you at my bus stop this morning?”“I was falling off, so I thought I had better walk.”“Was it a hard morning?”“We had a government truck with potatoes and corn-meal come in at four-thirty – about twenty of those bags and you feel numbered among the dead.” In response, for some unknown reason Nadia’s eyes became sad, and her voice became heavy.“Yeah, I can see bags under your eyes.” A large, flat grilled bus engine; an older model that serviced the less-used route, whined concern; decelerating as it neared. The blue and yellow vehicle rattled to a stop, air brakes hissing as the doors opened. Jesse followed Nadia up the stairs that twisted andangles-spiraled upinto the lighted placeof the bus. He dropped the less valuable silver of several quarters, ringing, into the coin slot and found a chair that faced the front of the bus next to Nadia who’d first found a padded ‘bench’ that ran three persons along its length. Jesse leaned against the window, yawning;“I need sleep.” It was a tell-tale sign that the medication was beginning to work.“I do too,” said Nadia, looking sadly out the window. She paused for several moments, unsure of her footing with Jesse, and then, oddly sympathetic with him that morning, and perhaps remembering his mention of his mental illness two weeks previous and trusting that he had shared himself with her, she spoke; “Unfortunately, since my husband died, I haven’t been able get much.” There was a pause, while Jesse tried to find something to say– he had shared himself with Nadia a little, and had told her that he took medication and was mentally ill; sometimes a fact hard to admit, but didn’t expect anything in return; even two weeks after telling her. Finally he spoke. “I’m sorry to hear that.”  There was a long pause, and uncomfortable with the subject they both noticed that the bus descended a small hill stopping at a red light, and waited to turn the sixty degree angle of a corner; it turned and then spiraled upward as Jesse spoke again; “Is there anything I can do?” He said, as the bus climbed the longer hill and stopped at a corner.“No, not really,” she said as it turned. The bus continued to twist through the gradual rise of the city’s elevation as Jesse, stymied, tried to find more words.“Would you like to come over to my apartment and have a cup of coffee and talk about it?” Unlike the tile floor where men helped men, or the base of the tree which had refreshed him, or the lonely Volkswagen van, or the shelter where he almost drifted away, Jesse knew of a peaceful place. Nadia seemed surprised and a little embarrassed;“Oh, I couldn’t. You need to sleep...” Jesse interrupted her“Oh, don’t worry. I just took my medication and will be to sleep soon anyway.” The comment made Nadia pause for several moments and then she spoke. “Sure.”The bus slowed and then ceased to move, and Jesse beckoned to Nadia. They both climbed down the stairs and followed a sidewalk that led past forties-built houses with three-stories and wide, wall-railing porches and dense bushes. Past tall, elm trees that towered from the street-sidewalk boulevards above them coming to the neighborhood oddity of a tall, eleven story high rise that; set at an angle to the street; angles-spiraled into the air. He ran his card past the black box of a security lock, and the glass door clicked open. They walked into the basement entryway past the air and machine sounds of the laundry room and Jesse hit the button for the elevator. The car crawled up to the seventh floor, where the doors slid open, and he led Nadia down the white, dilapidated, tile-floor hall to his apartment.Jesse unlocked the dead-bolt and the pair stepped into the disheveled, small apartment. He invited Nadia to sit on a battered green sofa across from a bed with box springs that he divested daily of sheets and blankets in the name of cleanliness. While Nadia sat, he emptied some ground coffee into the basket of a cheap espresso machine that he kept in the apartment, and mindful of the need for sleep, combined them with ground beans of decaffeinated coffee he kept in another can. While steam rattled from the machine and forced liquid into the decanter of the cheap, Krups machine, he spoke to Nadia;“So, how long ago did your husband die?”“Oh...About a year and one-half an auto accident... he was a good person.”“I bet.”“I remember we used to sit in the morning and... drink coffee.”Jesse walked into the room and saw that Nadia sat on the couch, and had begun to cry. Instead of sitting in a denim sofa-end bachelor’s chair, he walked to the couch and sat next to her, placing the coffee on the coffee table made of peach crates before them. Tears continued to quietly bleed from Nadia’s eyes, and Jesse put his hand on her back and slowly ran it back and forth between her shoulder blades. A half an hour and then an hour passed, and Jesse rose and walked to the closet.“I’m a little embarrassed,” he said, in response to which Nadia gave a small, sad laugh, “but you need to sleep.” He opened the door and reached at the spot where he kept the bedclothes on a shelf. He caught the corners of the bed, which stood in the same small room in elastic-cornered sheets and then laid the spread over it and then several blankets and went to slump in the sofa-end bachelor’s chair. Nadia stared at the coffee table myopically. Jesse was fast asleep by the time she stood and walked over to the bed.   

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