I’m Only Sleeping
Love found me here in my room, lying dead in my papers and dust. She knelt and touched my face and said, “Awake, now. You are only sleeping.”
I believed her and opened my eyes. But then the door closed and I was alone. I listened to her footsteps fading on the stairs, imagined the rush of wind as she let herself out onto the street. A bird flew past my window. A bell on a bicycle rang, followed by a young boy’s shout. A newspaper landed on the step. The old man who lived below laughed, then began spading the earth near the foundation of the house.
An hour later, my landlady knocked on the door. I didn’t answer, so she let herself in. When she saw me on the floor, she asked me in that sarcastic way she has if I was finally dead. I told her no, I was only sleeping. She knelt and touched my face and said, “You are cold as sin.”
I believed her and closed my eyes. I listened to her pretend to clean my room. She was always afraid to touch anything, would have loved to set the place on fire. Her broom swished past my head, first this side, then the other, its bristles leaving dirt tracks on the manuscript pages I was using as a pillow. An ant rattled by, its tiny trunk filled with its belongings.
The morning came and went. At one o’clock, my best friend’s sister knocked on the door. She knelt and touched my face and said, “It’s so nice to find you in.”
I believed her and opened my eyes. When I did, she asked me if I would like to get married. She asked me every day, and every day I said yes. “No,” I said. “I hope you understand.” It was a little joke we had. Then she kissed me and I closed my eyes. I heard her say, “What is this you are reading?” and then listened as she began picking up papers from the floor, seemingly at random. “Not reading,” I said. “Writing.” She tapped the pages together and countered wisely, “Aren’t they the same?”
In the scented dusk, a knock came at the door. My best friend knelt and touched my face and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know who you were.”
I believed him and opened my eyes. Since I had seen him last — it might have been a day, a week, an hour — he had grown old and gray. He picked up the pages his sister had put in order and left by my side. After reading the last one, he said at first he thought I had written a poem, but then he had changed his mind. He fell into a mournful silence. “What will I do,” he said, “now that you are dead?” I told him I was not dead, that I was only sleeping. This made him laugh bitterly. He crumpled the pages in his hand and tossed them aside.
I believed him and closed my eyes.
In the middle of the night, a knock came at the door. It was the old man who lived below. He knelt and touched my face and said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, my little one, your coffin is waiting in the hall.”
I did not believe him, but I could not open my eyes. Then I spoke and said, “It isn’t true, I am only sleeping.”
“That is nothing but a fable,” he said. “Your coffin is waiting in the hall.”
I told him no, that Love herself had found me lying on the floor. After I repeated the kind words she’d said, he smiled sadly and shook his head.
I told him about my landlady, and my best friend’s sister, and our intention to marry. I told him about my friend. The old man said, “No, none of it is real.”
I told him about the bird by my window, the bell on the shouting boy’s bicycle, and the newspaper that had landed on the step. The old man said again, “No, none of it is real.”
As politely as I could, I reminded him of how he had been spading the earth by the foundation of the house. After a long silence, he said, “That alone is true.” Then he lifted me up in his strong brown hands and carried me away.
Eternity came and went.
It might have been a day, a week, an hour, when Love found me here in my room, lying dead in my papers and dust. She knelt and touched my face and said, “Awake, now. You are only sleeping.”
I believed her. I opened my eyes. This time, she did not leave.
March 25, 2005
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