In their introductory note, Bye and Bye own up to the locale of their inspiration: their anthology sprang from conversations and plans conducted in bed. But don’t, for a yawny second, assume The Way We Sleep counts as soporific. Much more likely, it will keep you awake and reading when you should be trying to sleep.
A fresh and inventive mix of fiction, nonfiction, interviews and comics, the collection is about sleep (and sleeplessness)—but that’s not the half of it. Couples de-couple. Ghosts haunt. The Grim Reaper is a door-to-door salesman of “poorly drawn and outdated world atlases” in Cynthia Walker and Jesse Reklaw’s comic strip. As in J. Adams Oaks’s “Father Figurine,” anxious children grow more anxious at night. Their anxious adult counterparts get drunk and sleep around, as in Tim Jones-Yelvington’s “Derrick Mickelson’s Cuddle Bed for Wayward Boys.” People who can’t just relax, let go, nod off, watch resentfully as others manage that trick. In Megan Stielstra’s “A Third of Your Life,” a reference to the amount of time spent lying on mattresses, a waitress by day attempts, at night, to sleep beside Andy, a noisy sleeper.
It’s something between breathing and snoring…with a little bit of spit rolling in the back of his throat. Sometimes he whistles through his nose. I listen to this every night.
The fatigue of wakefulness—Stielstra nails it.
Also portrayed in these pages: sleepwalkers, sleeptalkers. The sleeptalking narrotor in Dakota Sexton’s “Nighttime in Gibberishtown” sleeptalks in a communal living situation memorably described as a “punk house” where:
The mold that’s smelled yet never quite seen is considerably worse; not only is it the unknown culprit to the eternal question, “How could I be so tired today?” but also the source of stink in bedrooms, flooded landings, and a somewhat nauseating mixture of mildew and pee that seems to purvey any punk house bathroom where individuals don’t actually flush the toilets. Our punk house is definitely that kind of punk house.
In Pamela Balluck’s “Jugs,” the narrator, recovering from breast reduction surgery, finds herself saddled with a boyfriend who is “squeamish” about sleeping with her, “body-to-body close” but, at the same time, wants her “there with him.”
We’re conflicted, we sleepers and would-be sleepers. However much we may like the idea of sharing a bed with someone, that share in practice is often less a source of pleasure and comfort than displeasure and discomfort. In Roxane Gay’s “We Cannot Be More Than We Are,” the narrator tolerates—but just—the lover who uses her bath towel, won’t go home at night and “always lies on (her) side of the bed,” making her feels as if she’s “in a stranger’s bed.” Despite her preference for a dark bedroom, the narrator complains, “At night, the light…beams into my bedroom through the curtains. It shines on us, and shows me what we are and what he hopes we will be and everything I don’t want from him.”
Sharon Goldner reminds us that there’s always someone else in bed with us (in our heads). Chattering away in Marlene’s head while she’s having sex with Alan is “The Excellent Actor David Strathairn.” Strathairn, which is to say Marlene, critiques Alan’s performance thus: “He clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. His hands are all wrong…. The expression on his face; is that a grimace or is that ecstasy?”
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In Catriona Wright’s lovely “Inlaid Olive Trees,” a father, lending a hand, assembles the bed his OCD daughter, Kate, was conceived in, inherited and has now moved with her to a new apartment. The effort, for Dad, involves more than heavy lifting. [End Page 28]
Together, Kate and I lift the mattress onto the bed. Afterwards I raise my hand to my chest, hoping to coax...