He awoke, entangled in her hair, her arms, her legs. The bed sheets were wound and woven about them like conjoined bandages.
When they fell asleep, her resting on his chest, they gradually rolled over to each other’s own side of the bed. Hers being the left, his the right. At an undetermined hour in the night she had a coughing fit which woke her. Through sick filmy eyes she glanced over at him, lying on his side. He was facing the wall, away from her. She took comfort in the slow in and out of his breathing, and the way his shoulder rose and fell. As the coughing subsided she rolled back into her favorite sleep position, heaving one of her classic heavy sighs. A sigh that took the angry shoving of the world from against her shoulders, bolstered it up high over her head, and then slammed it down into them again like a meteor. His shoulder rose and fell, rose and fell, and then it altogether stopped just as her eyes fluttered closed. The black flowers of unconsciousness began to bloom across her sky. The sudden ceasing of movement and breathing sounds from beside her caused the flowers to dissipate, almost instantly. Her own breathing quickened. Flushed with anxiety, she reached out to him in the dark. Though his outline remained clear, she thought her hand would never reach him. Along his side she gripped, pulling herself closer to him. In that they created a spoon shape, there in the large draping bed they had slept in for the better half of five years.
Close enough to feel his breathing against her body, she felt none. No heave, no sigh, no sound at all. She ran a finger to his face to find his lips. The panic was now real, and now in full presence. He didn’t appear to be passing or taking in any air from his mouth or nostrils. Her growing knowledge of the oncoming events that would transpire, all this discovered, in the dark of the room. Calling out his name, calling out for help, screaming for help, screaming in the hall, screaming in the phone, screaming to the gods. “Gods please wake up!”
She climbed on top of him, hair falling all down around her face, impeding her vision and adding to the panic in her chest. Straddling him, she pushed her mane behind her ears in a maddened rush, and peered down into his face. He lay still, head angled outward, eyes seemingly closed (and here she was sure to find them open), his mouth slightly agape. Peaceful really, but for the lack of life he exuded. The stillness in the room began to suffocate her. She called his name and shook him a little, placing a small hand on each shoulder. Nothing. She shook a little harder, now crying and speaking his name in little whinnies like a child. She began to plead and rocked back and forth on top of him, hair fallen back into her face, sticking to the tears and snot like a grotesque mask.
She pushed and prodded at his flesh. Any silhouette their bodies may have cast implied a very different impression of this moment. One she would have given anything to trade for. She started coughing again, and knew no more.
He awoke from a fresh nightmare, sweaty and confused. She slept on her stomach facing him. Her arms were at her sides, dark hair hiding most of her face as she breathed. He watched her awhile, content in the fact that at least one of them was sleeping well tonight. His thoughts became milky and he began to turn to his right, to try to sleep again. Her arm coiled around his chest, clutching him tightly and slightly desperately. He allowed her. He would be asleep soon and she would roll back over again as she often did through the night. Harder she clung. He felt her nails digging into his side. He tried to shove her off but her vice was true and sure, like she was holding onto him for dear life. Tighter she squeezed, now snaking her leg over him too. He shook at her, softly hissing at her to let go. “Please, let go!” She held strong and soundless, crushing him in the circle of her limbs. His body filled with air, hot and fast-moving. Up and out, past his lips and into the dark room he gasped the last of it, and was still.
She held on.
They took turns, waking and sleeping. Never once being aware at the same moment. You could even say they were neither one of them present in each other’s company at the same time. They checked one another’s breath and fended each other off as they fought the other where they were. The sheets began to twine. The air, if you could imagine, smelled faintly of sulfur and dry ice. The way you often heard the smell of space described.
The night moved on, passing through time kept in sync with the stains of stars and the moon, that was slowly replaced by the heart of the sun.
He awoke to the blinking of her eyelashes on his chest. He told her he had dreamed that they were one, bound by lengths of silk, and where his legs ended, hers began. It’s a routine occurrence, the nightmares. They have tormented him ever since he was a small boy. Over time he learned to accept them, and the fact that he could not cease their arrival, which came as near as his head was to his pillow. Another crutch to be carried until death. We learn to cope and cradle, and carry on ever as we always have. Living each day with the dull knowing that every time we go to sleep there is the chance to be awakened by our own screaming.