She never slept. That’s what she said. That’s what she believed. I go to bed. I lie down. I close my eyes, but I don’t sleep. It’s my active imagination, my life of the mind. It’s as if I’m at the picture shows all night. I don’t sleep.
She did look tired, haggard, worn. She’d always been thin, but now there were folds of skin lapped in the hollows of her cheeks and curtains of flesh hung at the rim of her hands and arms. Thinking she didn’t sleep depleted her, they said, and the short, summer nights made it worse.
May said it was her belief that she didn’t sleep that wore her out. She slept. Everybody slept.
Jane said it was her diet—too much coffee.
Helen said they were both wrong. If Mother would just get a little exercise, then she’d have some reason to feel tired and would get enjoyment and real relaxation from going to bed.
It’s spiritual, Juliana said. We all know she’s never given a moment’s thought to the condition of her soul.
Rachel said nothing. Her four sisters had an answer for everything, particularly about their favorite problem, Mother, the insomniac. Yes, Mother looked like hell, but she was nearly 70 years old. What did they expect from 70?
On Monday, May dropped off Watery Depths, a CD compilation of the hypnotic sound of lapping water on beaches around the world.
On Tuesday, Jane left a variety pack of soothing herbal teas, artfully arranged in a pine straw basket with a card that said “All you have to do today is breathe in, breathe out.”
On Wednesday, Helen gave her a month’s trial membership at Curves.
On Thursday, Juliana brought her the meditations of Meister Eckhardt.
On Friday, Rachel dropped off a three-speed, oscillating fan.
Saturday morning she looked at the clock, 5:32, and threw an arm over her eyes. She hadn’t slept. Not at all. She’d spent the night in calculus class again, probably her least favorite nighttime activity, nightmare, whatever you want to call it. It really wasn’t a nightmare or even a dream because she was there, really there, the whole night long, sitting in that desk, understanding nothing as shy Miss Ripley droned on. The class was boring and humiliating at the same time. She had been in that class, in that desk, too often of late. She’d find a way to eliminate calculus class from her nighttime possibilities. She’d rather be anywhere else—naked on a bus was a summer favorite—initially embarrassing but comfortable on a July night.
She got up, went in the kitchen, and made coffee—French roast, fine grind. Jane’s array of teas were on the kitchen table. “Nice try,” she said.
Juliana had turned down a corner in Meister Eckhardt: "If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it’s enough.”
“Thank you, Juliana,” she said out loud.
The Curves gift certificate was under a magnet on the refrigerator. “Thank you, Helen,” she said.
It was hot, already over 80, no wonder she didn't sleep. She turned on the fan. “Thank you, Rachel,” she said.
She picked up the CD, Watery Depths, between her thumb and forefinger and held it out like something long dead. The title waved together: Watery Depths, Watery Depths, Watery Depths, $19.95. Well, hell, May had paid almost 20 dollars for it—she better try it. “Thank you, May,” she said and slipped it in her CD player, poured a mug of coffee, and, as the fan blew across her face, she read the name of each packet of tea before dropping it in the Salvation Army donation bag she kept for her daughters’ gifts:
Zen thé vert
The Curves certificate with her name neatly excised from the “a gift for” line went next. She popped out Watery Depths before it trickled to a close, slid it in its blurry blue cover, and placed it on the Curves certificate. She dropped Meister Eckhardt on top, said “thank you” again, and closed the bag.
She'd keep the fan; it would feel good on her naked body when she got on the bus tonight.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran