Writing is nothing more than a guided dream. Jorge Luis Borges
Yet again I awake before the sun shows on the horizon. A full bladder compels me to rise from the comfort of bed and sacrifice an easy return to sleep. I have lain awake before, constant twists and turns seeking the position to foster a night’s rest. I prefer to not think about how often my hip or shoulder adjusted just this way or that yet failed to settle me into the cushion of the mattress.
I am awake. I toy with getting up for the toilet, but the bladder is not yet fully pressing against the pelvic wall into discomfort. Eventually I drag one leg across the bed toward the floor in quest of standing and walking the short distance to the toilet.
Normally such a simple motion is achievable but on this night, my leg resists, pulling in opposition, as if my foot or ankle is stuck. I prop myself up to peer into the dark. The recently purchased bed sheet, chosen for its periwinkle blue color, wraps around my ankle like a Beduoin head scarf worn by desert dwellers as protection from sun, sand, and wind. My wrap, however, does not come loose. I pull at the folds of material, both the areas that drape lazily around my skin as well as the sturdy knots. Each time I try to free my ankle, the hold tightens further like a snake squeezing its muscled body against its prey.
Perhaps, I think, sluggishness from a fitful sleep is interfering with what should be a simple enough untwisting. Sitting up, I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths before tackling the tie again. I point my foot balletically, but my form, despite an easy flex, somehow worsens the hold. My toes have begun to tingle, my calves warming, and my bladder chooses now to up its insistence upon emptying. I contract the appropriate sphincter.
Again I attempt to loosen the material. My fingers pry at the knot, one finger, then another digging into the sheet like an archeologist hoping for an ancient treasure, but the material refuses to give, sealed, it seems, by glue, a rambunctious dream forgotten, or gnarled fate. I am perspiring, in mild panic, not because I believe I’m chained to my bed forever, but because a task that should be simple isn’t providing a clear path to a solution. This shouldn’t be so, I argue. What’s happening? It’s not like the sheet is welded in place.
I recall a pair of scissors in the top drawer of my dresser and shimmy to the side of the bed and attempt to stand. The bed sheet tugs against my reach, refusing with its every fiber. I give it a hardy tug-of-war yank, enough to weaken its threads and pull every hospital fold out from its tidy wedge under the mattress, and I manage to place one triumphant foot on the floor. Progress, I think, as I wipe perspiration from my brow. As I reach toward the drawer, my celebratory wipe quickly erodes into something odd, odder than what is already happening. I am elevating, my toes grazing the floor, the downward press of my weight gone. Unsure if my assessment is accurate, I look in the mirror. The reflection of my chin, then neck, then chest appear in the polished glass. Eventually, gravity’s law which I typically abide by, messes with my ability to see myself at all as I hover well above the reflective plane. I look down to the sheet, the strained strand of material anchoring my body as I close in on the ceiling like a helium filled party balloon.
Soon enough my head knocks against the ceiling, an upward pull pressing, nearly flattening my head against the unyielding plaster. The ceiling is cool, a momentary comfort to my body heated by my struggle with bed, unfinished sleep, and my refusal to accept what is taking place. It’s then that the plaster softens and flakes, littering the bed like a ticker tape parade but without a decent commemorative reason. When chunks of painted gypsum fall, I fret about the chore of sweeping and vacuuming the unwanted flurry. It doesn’t occur to me that I’ll have to hire a contractor to fix the structural damage as well.
The upward pull continues, and I realize that my entire being is about to breach the ceiling to the attic. There awaits a blanket of pink insulation, a necessity for cold climes, but also hazardous filler, any contact with its fibers precipitating an immediate itchy rash that not even a good shower scrub relieves. I do not store my suitcases in the attic precisely to avoid contact. I am now thankful for the knotted sheet, queen size, not large enough to sacrifice me to the sharp tendrils of home insulation.
My gratitude is short-lived however as my entire head breaks through the ceiling. Fortunately my head pokes through at a gap in the insulation and meets a dusty spider web that mats with my hair, typically a bothersome encounter but now a welcome replacement. My shoulders break through the ceiling soon after.
I wonder how much longer this can go on and what awaits me. Surely, with the low thread count of the cotton sheets, this has to be the end. It’s not. It’s then that my head hits the rafters of the roof, the wood splinters, and the shingles one by one fall to the side and slip off the edge of the roof into the azaleas below.
My body elevates above the house, high enough for me to see the flag at my mailbox, the crooked line of bushes, and the walkway to the front door winding around to the back and to the shed, patterns there all along only now perceived. It’s then, too, that the bed breaks through the roof, shingles avalanching to the unsuspecting bushes. I am rising higher and higher into the starry sky into an unfamiliar emptiness. I’m hoping that one of my insomniac neighbors will step out onto their porch, happen to look up, and somehow offer a hand. Use your ladder and fireplace poker, I imagine myself yelling. But the nearby houses remain dark, their inhabitants blessed with uninterrupted sleep.
I am alone in my upward floating, a balloon drifting in the sea of the sky, a singular being without neighbors or community, not even a mocking bird or screech owl to keep me company. Just me and my blue sheet, bed in tow, my tether to familiarity. Despite the likely welt on my skin, I am grateful for the firm hold upon my ankle. I wonder how high above the tree line I may rise without the weight of the bedframe and mattress keeping me earthbound. At what height does oxygen become sparse? What altitude no longer supports breathing?
These thoughts frighten me enough to bend over and grab the sheet with both hands and pull myself down to the bed although the difference between down and up, cardinal points, and other usual direction takes on new meaning in the vast space of the sky. Isn’t up and down contextual? Am I, for instance, above Earth or below? Here in the dark float of night, far from carports, traffic signals, and email, my usual referents are out of sight. If gravity no longer dictates, has another force taken over? If I can float unscathed, what else is possible? Too many questions for a mid-evening sleeplessness. I manage to lower myself to the bed, align my body with the mattress, straighten, then pull the sheet up to my shoulders. I am missing my pillow, perhaps fallen to the bedroom floor or resting against a plumbing vent on the roof. I turn my head sideways and welcome the dream about to greet me.
Cheryl Pallant is the author of several poetry books, most recently Continental Drifts (Blaze Vox Books, NY 2012). Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in numerous print and online journals such as Fence, Confrontation, and Oxford Magazine. Cafe Irreal published two stories,"A Touchy Situation" and "When the Curtain Falls" in early issues. She teaches at University of Richmond in Virginia.