Sleep. Heavy as guilt, heavy as duty. It swamps. It suffocates. It rests like a great weight, pressing upon me so that I cannot think, rise, lift an eyelid. I see myself on the narrow bed, in the small cabin I share with several friends, with my boyfriend. They tried to wake me, and I struggled to oblige but could not force my way to waking. The effort had me rolling off the bed, falling to the floor in a tangle of sheets and blanket, where I remain, submerged in sleep.
My friends move about the cramped cabin space gathering objects — towels, buckets, hats. They are concerned for me, but the ship has reached port and docked. They have places to go, things to do; they are eager to go ashore. I cannot tell them it’s okay, leave me; I’ll simply sleep. Out of a sense of guilt or responsibility, one of them calls the ship’s physician, who arrives promptly. Instead of examining me, however, the doctor proceeds to massage my boyfriend. I see all through the narrowest slit of my eyelids, through the lattice of eyelashes. He lies face down on the bed opposite me, and she has straddled his back, leaned in close, hands upon his shoulders, head dipped low enough to whisper in his ear. What does she say? He smiles, oblivious to her aims, to my neglect. I cannot voice my upset.
They leave — my boyfriend and the others. As the door closes softly on their exit, I realize one friend remains. She elects to stay behind with me, to watch over me. In my heap of blankets and inert limbs on the floor, I am overwhelmed with silent gratitude. My friend can’t lift me, so she grasps the tangle of blankets, drags me to the cabin’s center. She talks to me, encourages me to wake, demands that I wake. She shakes my shoulders, gently at first, then with increasing agitation and insistence. She slaps me. It stings. I want her to stop, to leave me alone. In frustration, she looks away…and must recall the fairy tale of “Sleeping Beauty”. Slowly, she turns and regards me for a long moment. I see decisiveness flicker in her eyes. Even in my sleep-slurred state, I feel a prick of alarm. She unbuttons her blouse, puckers her lips, and leans over me…and, to our mutual surprise, I manage to emerge from labyrinthine slumber before she can kiss me. I’m uncertain if she is as relieved as I.
Although I am now awake, I am far from alert — a fog fills me, edges my peripheries. My dutiful friend begins to neaten the cabin. She gathers the drift of linens from the floor, remakes beds, straightens dressers, table and chairs. Kneeling on the floor together, we pick up tiny pieces of Lego and return them to rigid plastic bins. Neither of us speaks.
“Submerged” — C.Birde, 10/19/15