He bent farther and farther over the keyboard, his eyelids growing heavier and heavier as the hour grew later. The question of a life/work/study balance was moot in this case; his thirst for knowledge was near parasitic with the physical toll it took on him.
Through the echoing absurdities of internet rabbit-holes he searched, the long night growing longer and longer with every hot breath he took. The pounding rhythm of his heart beat in his ears like a drum until he felt that the inescapable sound would drive him mad.
A cool hand crept across his shoulder and down his chest; he jumped nearly from his chair.
“Come to bed, darling. Google will still be here tomorrow,” she said, softly closing his laptop and taking his hand to draw him up from his seat.
He nodded, the splinter of sense that she’d driven into him digging deeper until he felt more like himself again, and realized that it was well past time to join her in their bed.
She leaned down to kiss him, and the softness of her lips was enough to make up his mind.
Stanley does enjoy the wheelchair.
Kelly pressed her finger on the skip button again and again: no Chili Peppers, no Pixies, no Lil Jon. Yes. Chris Isaak sounded exactly how she felt right now. Her swollen eyes slipped closed, and her hand released her phone, letting it drop down to land softly beside her on the mattress. The lovesick lyrics rang true in her broken heart, and her breathing slowed and deepened until she was fast asleep.
The dreams came fast and thick, up mountains of deadly forests and through seas of pesky acrobats as the grandfather clock tolled the hours, one after another after another.
She woke in the early morning hours, her corduroys damp with sweat and wrinkled from being pressed into her sheets by her sleeping deadweight, a smile on her face and her tears long since dried. She rose, and seized the day.
Tabitha reach above her head and fumbled around on the wall for the light switch. When she finally found it, she opened her eyes and realized that it was daylight already, and her hand dropped back down to her bedspread. She turned her head to have a look at her Mickey Mouse alarm clock, only to note that it had not gone off as scheduled, and she would now be late for work.
The situation required a moment of deep thought: did she really need this job, or would she be able to get by without it until she found something else? A tiny voice in the back of her head warned her to play it safe, but the bigger, stronger voice beat the little one into submission, and Tabitha reached to the table to feel around for her phone so she could text her manager that she quit.
My eyes burn; I haven’t been sleeping lately. But the sound of the rain on the roof soothes me.
The alarm still goes off at the regular time, but I barely notice it anymore. It’s just another background noise that would be annoying if I were alert enough to focus on it. But I’m not, so it buzzes on, unhindered. It turns itself off after an hour. That’s why I bought it.
I haven’t been to work in weeks.
I sit on the couch watching the blank screen of my television. I stopped paying the cable bill last year because nothing on was more interesting then anything they offered. The lifelessness of the screen sucks me in.
But sometimes I watch the white noise.
The only reason I open my front door anymore is my dog. I get her food delivered, and I bring it in at night when no one else is out to see me. I can feel them watching now, like a sunburn on my exposed skin. So I avoid people. It’s fine, really. I don’t need anyone.
Maybe the thunderstorm is in my head after all. I look out the window and the street is dry, and the dandelions still bear their fluff.
I could have sworn I heard the raindrops and thunder.
Peter looks in the mirror; a stranger stares back at him. He reaches toward the face he’s never seen before and opens the medicine cabinet. Two should do it. He takes his medicine and goes back to bed, hoping to wake up in a familiar place.
Anxiety lies on his chest like a giant cat, crushing the breath from his lungs . He has to sit up, gasping for air. His hand shakes as it goes to his throat, half expecting to feel hands here choking his life away, but touches only the smooth bare skin of his own neck.
He counts breaths until he can lie down again and feign sleep for another six hours, until it’s time to get up for the day.
Letty hears Peter stir in his bathroom; she grips her pillow even more tightly, hoping against hope that he gets some rest tonight. She spent too many hours today reassuring him that the stove was off, the doors locked, and they had no appointments.
A phrase catches her mind, distracting her from thoughts of caretaking: secret emergencies. It tastes faintly of long-forgotten familiarity; perhaps something she learned in school. A poem, maybe? But it fits Peter so well, describing him to a T with only two words. Secret emergencies.
His anxiety wasn’t improving with the new medication. Letty remembers a day when they were children, playing together in the backyard that seemed to stretch for miles in every direction. As they ran through a patch of clover, Peter disturbed a bee, and it stung him on the tip of his finger. He clutched it, and they ran home together. Letty found their father, who doctored Peter’s finger.
And that was all. No panic, no days of hiding in his room. They were out playing again that same after noon. What happened to that Peter? Letty wonders, drowsing. He must have had a secret emergency that he never told me about.
In his room, Peter’s breathing slows, and soft snores escape his open mouth, free to wander the still house.
Thanks to poet William Stafford and today’s Listserve submission from Michael Brigham.