When he awakens, it’s still dark. Far from light. It always is. This isn’t her fault. The sleep problem started years before. What the past troubles were are faded and gone, as is always the way with those things. They erode and are forgotten. Were they ever so big? They were and now they are not.
Today, though, as has been for so many days that he can barely recall a time before, he thinks of her. Before his eyes have even widened to the blackness of the room.
Emotions flow like a spring-full river — swift and turning. From happy to thrilled to confused. Then a grayness that may or may not be sadness. And none of these make sense. Because none of this makes sense.
Night-warmed sheet pulled to the side, he turns and rises in one motion, but as his feet touch the soft carpet a thought pricks his brain. It’s the same thought as yesterday at this moment. As the day before. “Can I please just think about something else?”
He cannot. How could he? When you’ve been gifted a miracle you accept and love it. Except, no one is prepared for a miracle. There are no guideposts. No books to reference. This explorer is on his own. He never had a choice in the matter.
It started nearly two years ago. 20 months to the day, to be precise. Returning from work well past office hours through the bitter touch that is January, he walked blindly up the stairs of his home, mind so full of everything that it held nothing, opened the door, dropped his keys in the bowl and glided to the cabinet to pour a drink.
Living alone, you know how things should be. Should not be.
The closet door should be closed. The curtains should not be open. The kitchen as it was left. Everything where it was placed. All things predictable.
Which is why that soft glow down the hall was confusing. Too low to be a lamp wasting its life in an empty house all day. Too bright to be a candle recklessly threatening the structure for its own well-being, flickering it’s poems to an audience of no one.
Curiousness and puzzlement led him down the world’s easiest maze to an actual puzzle. That light in the corner.
No source. Auxiliary lighting on. Then off. Still no discernible cause. Just a globe of luminescence, held at the edge of the room.
Ultimately, it had been a grueling day. Hard days don’t need extra challenges. Baffling? Yes. But his thoughts went back to that well-earned gin. Ice in a shaker. Two olives. Gone in a few swallows. Let’s do this one more time.
With that bit of chemical-aided kindness, he chose to forget. To slip into the meditative buzz when the world is too much to understand and you lack the ability. And he dozed. And snored. For a couple of hours.
When he next opened his eyes, he thought, “It could be 5:00 am. Please be 5:00 am.” It wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Feeling for his phone from his nightstand, the judges revealed their answer. 2:39 am.
He already knew. January’s night paints blacker in the parts you aren’t supposed to see. And it was black. Except below the edge of the door. That orange line shouldn’t be there.
Blinking the fog of two martinis from his eyes and mind, he started to remember. What is this? And what is it going to take to fix it?
When you can’t sleep, you can’t sleep. That sounds simple, but really it’s all you want to do. Not because you want to. Rather, because you know you have to. Which makes the entire process a lot more difficult. The next option, which is a far down second place finisher, is to do something. So he did. Go sort out this weird thing.
But, of course, he didn’t. Couldn’t.
Instead he walked to the far room and found the same light. Lower in intensity? Growing brighter? It might have been his eyes adjusting.
He looked and he searched and then he quit.
And then he heard.
He’d been alone for a long time. Lonely, longer still. This voice washed through him like nothing he’d ever felt. Or, perhaps, felt so long ago that he barely recognized it. Warm and welcoming. The sound of an arm across your back. The sound of a locked gaze. He’d forgotten. Which is when he lost. After this moment — with this one common word — he was gone.
What was once a small gradient sphere started to stretch. First upwards, then down. Then pulling apart at the middle. It had been weeks since she’d uttered that first sound, but now he could see her as well as hear her. He didn’t need to see. Her words were enough.
Who are you? “Me.”
Are you real? “Are you?”
Am I going crazy? “We all are.”
She flowed like a pulsing October moon. Deep, slow, rhythmic. Rich. And they talked. Him, telling his stories about childhood, work, the woman acting up that day at the grocery store. Hers, more veiled. How was she here? Why was she here? No direct answers. Anecdotes and slight of hand. It’s not hard to distract the mesmerized.
Mostly, she was golden orange. Sometimes, a hotter yellow. He learned that this was a tell. It could be that she was excited. It could be that she was upset. It wasn’t easy to ascertain until she spoke. But, thankfully, she spoke freely.
When she spoke it was clear — she loved him. He loved her.
He loved her? He did. Does.
She saw the hidden parts. She knew deeply and offered freely. And she touched the areas hidden within his tight fist.
But she couldn’t touch. Physically touch. If he tried to place his fingers on her, the cloud would sway. Part from his reach. A smoke ring from a man that’s mastered the art of the cigar.
Still, so close.
How can you? How can you love someone when you can’t flip that final button at the bottom of your shirt and love them. When they can’t for you? How can you walk away from “perfect,” when it isn’t?
He doesn’t know.
So he trods across the floor, down the hallway to his dream. Because it’s got to be a dream, right? And tries yet again to figure out if this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone, or the worst.