Tonight Jane forgets how to sleep.
She folds herself like an origami swan in layers of blankets.
Closes her eyes against the streetlights.
Listens to the sounds of sleep from the neighbouring apartments, the sound of her old building settling down for the night.
Counts backwards from 100.
Loses count at 84.
Tries to catch sleep, but when she approaches it from behind it turns and splits her in two with an instrument she can't recall the name of. It's sharp, but it doesn't hurt. What hurts is the feeling of her two new selves closing in on her, trying to squeeze her out.
She opens her eyes and watches the shadows on the wall.
Unfolds herself from her swaddling.
Moves to the bathroom.
Leaves the lights off.
Turns the shower on.
Stands beneath the water as it pounds on her.
Watches the frosted window. There is a police car somewhere beyond. Its lights flash red and blue and combine into some other colour Jane forgets the name of. Forgetting has become easier than remembering tonight. It doesn't bother Jane. It is another illusive thing, like sleep. Like a sharp and shining instrument with no name.
She dresses and leaves the house. There's no point in staying where she's not wanted. Tonight Jane walks the naked streets. She walks but never tires. My feet are barely touching the ground, she thinks.
There is a shop on the corner that serves stale donuts and coffee. The whole place is covered in a giant piece of curved glass. It's beautiful on the outside, putrid on the inside. The night gives it a glowing smile.
A bell chimes when she enters and nobody turns to look. Nobody but John.
Tonight John has also forgotten things like sleep and the names of colours and even how to eat. But he hasn't forgotten Jane because how could you forget something you've just learned?
John sees Jane. Her length, her paleness, her stark simplicity beneath the fluorescent lights.
Jane sees John. His length, his darkness, his solid weight on the torn vinyl stool.
I've forgotten how to sleep, Jane says as she slips onto the stool next to John.
I've forgotten how to eat, John replies.
We could be faces in a painting and people would hear our voices, but no one would know which of us was speaking.
Try this, John hands Jane half a cruller.
She holds it to her face.
Puts it down.
I don't know what to do with it, Jane crosses her legs so they jut like wings beneath the counter.
What if we forget how to forget?
Jane and John fiddle with their coffee mugs.
Fold the napkin into a small square.
Forget to blink until their eyes dry out.
Lick their lips and notice the air tastes of old coffee.
We should do something about our situation, John says.
We should liberate ourselves from sleeplessness. Remind ourselves what it means to be tired.
Jane rises from her stool and it spins when she stands.
Follow me, she says and moves towards the bathroom.
The bathroom is old and rotten. It drips and stinks and is painted the colour of mud. Jane lets John slam her against the door, it sounds like a heavy thunk. They hold their lips close together, smell the scent of each other through the viscous reek of the bathroom. They are frozen with no hint of tension.
There is nothing to him.
Nothing to her.
His hands are poised above her breasts, her fingers reaching for his belt. But there is only silence and memory loss.
Who are you? Jane asks.
I don't know, John replies.
They leave the bathroom and Jane keeps walking.
Out the door and the bell chimes.
Along the street and it's starting to rain in thin chilled lines. The street lights catch in the drops and they wink like stars.
Jane hums a song with a tune she can't remember.
Kicks a phone booth in an imitation of frustration.
Huddles in a doorway to watch the rain as it falls and falls.
It's falling, a voice says from below. Tonight the voice sounds like something from a dream, but Jane is sure she isn't dreaming, it's the only thing she's sure of.
I just wish things were a little more clear, she says.
She looks down in the dark and sees that the voice is nothing but a pile of blankets in the corner.
Things are never clear. I ate an apple yesterday, you must be envious, the voice says.
I would be if I could remember the taste of an apple. Or what envy felt like.
Do you remember the way home?
No. Not anymore. But I'm sure I'll get there at some point.
Is this your home? Jane wraps her arms around herself like the blankets on her bed, like the blankets in the corner. Her arms are wings now and the feathers tickle her sensitive folds.
The view is nice.
Jane gazes out over the vista of streetlights and garbage cans.
Digs into her pocket, searching, searching.
Pulls out her keys and tosses them at the pile of blankets.
If you find your way home first, sleep all the way until morning and tell me about it.
The keys jingle as they are absorbed into the deepest crevices of the corner.
Jane walks on.
The rain dries up and her footsteps make marks on the pavement that vanish before they can even appear. Maybe I have never touched the ground, maybe I misunderstood walking, she thinks.
The doors of the hospital are brightly lit and slide open as if they know Jane. As if she has only been gone a moment and they remember her face. The smell of the place is vaguely familiar, but she can't quite place it.
She follows the black line on the floor.
Through emergency with aching waits and soaking eyes.
Down the halls with electrical machinations and soft moans issuing from behind barely open doors.
Jane is thinking of sleep tonight.
It is something she wants. Something she needs and has not forgotten the shape of.
Jane has not forgotten how the two selves of her conspired to eject her from the only place she really wanted to be. She still feels the sting of it.
She tries to name the things in her path.
Points at them and opens her mouth.
Pushes air from her lungs and tries to sound out the words.
Eyes stare at her from behind glass windows as she walks in tandem with the black line, slim finger pointing, pale lips moving, intoning a chant from a time no one remembers. Jane has forgotten the tune, the word, the motion of memory.
The black line goes down.
Thick jagged stairs.
Floor after floor until the surface of the earth is just a feeling above.
The line leads Jane down.
The scent of the air changes into something even more familiar. I think I'm going home, Jane thinks.
It's dark where the black line leads, and cool as the rain was against her flesh. She pushes through a metal door and it swings in and out as it closes behind her. Swishing like a whisper or a hush.
The door swishes when she enters and nobody turns to look. Nobody but John.
John is lying now, feigning sleep. His long body is laid bare on the cold metal of a table.
His body is open, like pages of a colouring book.
Jane moves to the table and looks at his chart.
Do you remember who you are? Jane asks.
I remember who you are now and that's more important. John strains his eyes looking at her, because they are the only part of him that can move.
Did you remember how to sleep?
I'm envious, I think.
I bet you can remember if you try. John's eyes move to the table beside him, empty but for a white sheet that's pale as Jane's skin and thin as a first glaze of snow.
She follows his gaze.
Moves over to the table.
Slips under the sheet and lies with her arms and legs jutting upwards like mountains.
I could be an angel or a ghost, Jane says.
I wish I was a leaf. The colour of something that I remember from childhood, John replies.
I don't remember childhood.
Maybe that's because you haven't just learned it. We never remember things we haven't just learned.
Like the colour of a leaf?
Or the taste of a donut.
Or how to sleep.
Jane closes her eyes.
Imagines the colour of the police lights on the window in the shower.
Listens to the sound of vacuous silence in the room around her.
Counts backwards from 100.
Other two selves are gone. Nothing left behind. Nothing stopping her from remembering. She can just focus on the shape in the distance, of something she forget before but is clear to her now.
Tonight Jane remembers how to sleep.
is a writer from Canada where she lives and works with her awesome husband Ben Badger. Star is currently in the process of seeking publication for her novels while she continues to write, play and frolic on the beach. Her work can be found in Black Treacle
, Lantern Magazine
and Grim Corps
. She was recently long listed for both the 2014 CBC Creative Nonfiction prize and the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. She was a 2013 winner of the Fringe Contest at Eden Mills Writer's Festival as well as winning an honourable mention in the Friends of Merril Short Story Contest 2014.