Two Inches Taller in Sleep
(Un voyage de sommeil dans trois parts terrifiées)
Francis J. Trautman
My name is Frank, and I am a Fool.
Right now, I am walking down a wooded a path in a city park. I am just strolling down a hill, watching the clouds as I go, on one of those warm and sunny and yet somehow dreary autumn days as one can find in the Ordinary World.
Ordinary enough, anyway, despite the fact that I do not quite remember how I found my way here.
Regardless, there seems nothing nefarious about that uncertainty at the moment, so I continue, wide-eyed and seemingly happy, or at least at ease, placid in my plaid blue shirt buttoned all the way up to the top button, and unseasonably toasty tweed jacket.
A military-surplus shoulder bag is slung jauntily over my shoulder, weighted down with books and swinging precariously back and forth as I jaunt along the path. It is liable to catch someone in the chest and send them flying into the bushes if they tried to pass close by. But no one does. A Fool such as I is given a wide berth.
That is, I am avoided by everyone except a Jack Russell terrier, which I barely notice nipping at the heels of my Stacy Adams oxfords. It is not my dog, and so I try not to pay it much heed, though by rights I ought to trip over it and tumble down the hill.
Now, reaching the edge of the ridge top I almost do stumble. But catch myself. Here the foliage has opened and a large, faceless building clearly and simply marked Library can be seen across the street below. That is as good a destination as any, of course.
As I regain my balance, I see the trail bear off to the left, but my goal, my destination is now in sight, so I scurry through the kudzu-covered hillside, leaving the dog lost in the underbrush as he attempts to follow. I am quickly down through the weeds and back on the sidewalk, not stopping to brush the snagling vines from my legs.
As I cross the busy street and close in on the library door, I find a tall Guard, as faceless as the building, is standing in my way. He is dressed sharply in red like a doorman in an elegant high-rise. This feels a bit intimidating. I will not be able to get around the man without confronting him.
Reaching the far curb, I stop to tie my shoe, undone by the kudzu, and allowing the dog to catch up with me as I stall for time to consider the situation. I pat the dog and also look up at the man in my way.
Eventually, the old Guard stops stroking his mustache and sighs heavily. And then with slow, lumbering movements, he pushes the door open for me. As soon as it is just wide enough for me to squeeze past, I do so.
But as I eagerly brush past the threshold, the Guard grabs me by the arm and hands me a white rose. He cautions.
“It’s a funny thing about all those cold-blooded animals, friend. They don’t eat that much, but when they do it’s always with a smile. A big smile.”
I do not know what to say to that, but I am conscious that I am now staring blankly back at the man in return to this .
The dog yaps. The guard smiles.
Next, the dog smiles and then the guard yaps.
One of them adds:
“Remember that as you go!”
Our Rooming House—MORNING
The Library, I guess, wasn’t all that helpful since here I am back in the rooming house where I live with my wife, Andrea. At least this is how I find myself when I nod back awake with a book in my lap.
As usual she is not well, and I sit vigil, stiffly in my tweeds in a straight chair next our bed. Andrea sleeps quietly. Her long black hair spills out over the pillow. Everything else is tucked away under long white robes and sheets that to not belie what are, despite her illnesses, voluptuous curves.
I try to go back to my book but the words swim on the page.
I don’t want to go to sleep again, but would rather be ready to minister to her when she wakes. Although soon dozing again, I am startled by a noise outside the bedroom. I look up. A strange man pokes his spike-haired head in the door and shouts “Door’s open!”
I leap up. He disappears. I fall back to the chair on pins and needle legs. I try to shake myself awake, remembering the Library Guard’s advice.
“Big smile.” I smirk to myself, “Yeah, right. Sure. I’ll remember that.”
As I rub the sleep from my eyes, I am aware the phone is ringing. It’s an old black bakelite thing on stand in the front room. Sat amongst a spill of miscellany across the tabletop:
A handful of loose change,
A letter opener,
A half-drank cup of wine.
All these things tremble and tinkle as the heavy phone Brrrrrings.
The call could only be someone from work. No one much else has the number.
I am not going to answer
In fact, I don’t care to move at all till she wakes up. From this uncomfortable position, I reach out and finger the books in my shoulder bag which lies on the bed next to her.
Somehow, I think there is some duty to her to be found in my vigil. And there might be at that. However, I am not sure absolute immobility over her unconscious form is anything but some childish idea of chivalry.
I cannot reach my bag. It’s no use, anyway. There must be something more useful I can do here than sit at her bedside. I’ve got to get some air. Pensively looking between the woman and the window and back, I eventually get up and leave the dozing woman.
Attempt to get up that is.
I’ve been sitting in the chair for some time and my legs are asleep. I push up out of the wooden chair and collapse on the floor. Painfully, impossibly tingling from the belt down. As well as the neck up. I scramble, pulling myself up atop the bed as the blood flow slowly returns to my southern half. Andrea, barely stirs as I struggle across her legs getting to my feet. And I pause as I do so to watch for her shallow breathing again.
Once I am sure she is only sleeping, my first stop is the bathroom to toy with my impossible hair in the mirror over the sink. In my sleep, it’s now frizzed up well past its usual pompadour. I’ve grown a couple good inches.
Don’t they say you grow a few inches in your sleep as your spinal column relaxes?
My spine seems as limp as always; but my head sure seems to expand as I sleep.
As I primp myself a bit, I can hear the arguing of the Landlady and her husband, an old Sailor, out in the garden. I tiptoe to the open window so I can better hear the discussion.
“Who is she, Lou?”
I can hear the Landlady bellow. The Sailor is a fainter voice, unwittingly drawn into the spat.
“No one, Maggie love. There is no one else.”
“I don’t believe you, you drunken old sot! Out all night! Coming home at this hour of the morning! Get out of here!”
I take the ensuing silence to mean the fireworks are over, and head back through my rooms and into the hallway. I am just in time to be nearly knocked down by a redheaded blur of a woman who whooshes past me. I jump back into my doorway and out of the way.
“Jesus! It’s a busy street this morning!” I say to myself before venturing to poke my head back out a second later to see if the coast is clear. I enter the hall scratching my head and resurrecting the frizzed up hair.
As I sneak down the hall, I can hear the Landlady and the Sailor arguing again. Apparently the argument had not been concluded but only moved to the other side of the house.
“Leave you? Careful! I just might!”
“I should be so lucky!”
“Why! I oughta!”
I’ll sneak out our rooming house as best I can to avoid interrupting them. It’s a cozy, white-shingled place with a red rose arbor over the door. The arbor, of course, was the selling point of the place. The thought of passing through it coming and going is enough to warm the heart a bit. It’s blooming now, dewy in the early morning sun.
Lou and Maggie’s sparring is muffled by the chirping birds and a lawnmower braying somewhere.
Doesn’t seem right to spoil such a lovely morning fighting.
But, as I close the door quietly behind me, the show continues in the front yard for the whole neighborhood to watch. The Landlady, a large woman with curlers and a muumuu, is yelling and waving arms at the Sailor, a large barrel-chested type in a ratty red bath robe, who sulks. My old friend seems shrunken under his wife’s angry barrage.
“She’s a red devil! I don’t want to see her anymore!”
“Red devil? What does that mean? Never mind. Forget it. I don’t want to argue about it!”
“Neither do I! Just keep that harpy out of my nice, clean house! You’d have her over me? Bah!”
The Landlady beams at this in victory, but is cut short by the Sailor, nodding. “What? Take her over you? Aye, I would. Gladly.”
I pretend not to notice and scuttle off around the corner. I chuckle to myself, repeating the words.
“Aye, I would. Gladly,” I giggle at the quaint, folksy talk.
I smile. A big smile. Of course.
A big, cold-blooded smile, that is.
I am walking down the street in the low rent district of the city, carrying, in addition to by usual satchel, a paper sack containing some beer and an adjustable wrench. Some policemen are nearby discussing that since it is carnival season again, almost everyone is bound to be carrying or looking for drugs. I shove the beer and wrench into my satchel.
Suddenly my bag seems very heavy and conspicuous. Though containing nothing illegal, I’m sure the cops would find it suspicious if they searched me.
I try to look nonchalant as I walk down the busy sidewalk, heavy book bag swinging. I am consciously trying to look as if I am on a lazy Sunday morning promenade or something, but I am sure I come off very deliberate and ill-at-ease. Perhaps I should head down to the river for a stroll?
At that thought, I blunder through some children chalking a hopscotch board on the sidewalk. I am nervous around kids; I haven’t been exposed to too many and my Andrea is unable to have any in her condition.
One, two, three. I hop the grid.
See?, I think to myself, I’m not a creep, kids.
Four, five six, seven.
At eight my hop almost lands me on a pair of legs strewn across the sidewalk. Someone is laying on eight. Lazy number 8. I look up to find the legs belong to the Sailor, who is lying, blubbering against a cement stoop.
“Awful! Awful!” he mutters. He still wears his old red robe. Now open and scandalously showing his faded boxers and wife beater to the neighborhood kids.
“Hey, Sailor Lou! What’s so awful?”
He clutches his chest.
“Sick! So sick!”
Concerned I kneel to look him over. “Sick like a heart attack or a stroke? Or sick like drunk and hung-over?”
In The Mountains—NIGHT
The Sailor and I are flying down a winding wooded road in a driving snow; the Sailor is at the wheel of my old black Impala.
The power is out everywhere but the Sailor drives down the darkest back road because he feels familiar enough with it. That’s what he tells me anyway and I guess I must have relinquished the keys because here we are.
I feel the tingle of danger, hair standing on end. He is going way too fast for the weather but I say nothing. I figure, he’s a tough old guy and tough old guys no how to handle a car.
A deer darts out into the road, there is no chance to brake, safely or otherwise on the icy surface.
But by some , the doe trots a few more steps which takes it to the side of the road as my car whizzes past.
Before I can offer a sigh of relief, there is a second one ahead. A brazen buck with glowing red eyes. The Sailor begins to slow a bit as more and more deer step out of the dark forest and towards the shoulder.
As we drive ever slower, more and more deer line either side of the road. There must be hundreds now.
The Sailor has taken his foot off the gas by this time and can now coast to a gentle stop. The red-eyed buck is before us again. He shakes his huge rack at us as we inch upon him, coming to a stop finally no more than three feet from the deer.
But the buck doesn’t move, he just lowers his head and makes as if he’s threatening a standoff.
Red eyes and spiky horns shinning in the headlights.
The Sailor continues to cry lying there on the stoop. I look him over and repeat even louder.
“Sick like a heart attack or a stroke? Or sick like drunk and hung-over? Do you need a doctor. Or just sleep?”
“Ugh. Probably just drunk. Let’s get you back home.”
The Sailor now laughs as I help the huge man to his feet. After cinching his robe, of course.
“A stroke? Hah! The only stroke I ever had was in Cambodia! Hee-hee!”
He coughs and laughs and looks up at me. I am puzzled.
“It’s a joke. Or advice. Or alchemy. I don’t know. It’s just something a lawyer once told me.”
He offers another phlegmy laugh-cough, summing, “The only problem is, how am I going to sleep with my wife’s hairdresser now?”
I ponder this but the man is too drunk to offer more. Lots of odd advice today.
I begin walking the towering man home, guiding him best I can. Turning a corner, we are now coming upon the downtown, city center. Here the Sailor shrugs me off and doesn’t want to go further.
“No! Don’t go past the courthouse!”
“It’s a block too late to say that.” I look around for an option, “Why not anyway?”
“But! I’ve got priors for D and D.”
“D and D?”
“Drunk and disorderly.”
“Don’t worry. We can cut through the Library and out the back door to the alley. That will put us a block from home.”
I make a slight course correction towards the Library, remembering my earlier run-in with the Guard. Thankfully, he is nowhere in sight.
I lug the Sailor up the stairs but through the glass Library doors, I can spot the Guard at a security desk inside the lobby. He has a baton now, and taps the wand into his palm as we near.
The Sailor sees this too. He hates authority figures. When the Guard takes a step closer, Lou swipes his baton. The Sailor points down at me.
“Do you remember when you were a child, Frank? I used to pick you up. All the time.” With his other hand, he points skyward with the baton. I look up as if expecting to see something. “Way over my head. Way up in the sky!”
“Yes, Lou. Yes. I remember.”
“Remember how strong I was?”
“D’ya think you could do the same for me?”
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A world-weary somnambulist must fight demons that tempt him with a variety of vices, but to defeat them his ex-lover must help him remember the simple pleasures of life. Frank may only be dreaming, but he's still got some tough choices to make. Frank hates his job. And, his wifeis a sickly drag. But, is he throwing everything headlong into lust and danger, or is he just be sleeping it all away? His old friend, the Sailor, will help him pick his way between the addictive whirlpool of crazy Spike or the inviting jaws of red-headed Iris. But only he can decide whether his hero's journey takes him back home or is the road to death.