by Steve Gergley

Just after eleven I’m on my back in bed, lights off, sleep mask on, sheet aligned with blanket aligned with comforter aligned with soft blue blanket on top, neck relaxed, hands resting on lap, entire body still, pulse throbbing between last toes on left foot, I’m not going bald, I’m not going bald, I’m not going—lower back starting to tingle, eyes fluttering behind sleep mask, deep breath in, hold for one, two, three, okay, exhale slowly, sharp crackle in ceiling, pink and brown lightning behind eyelids, palms starting to sweat, can feel lots of time passing, will not think about morning, still many hours away, will fall asleep soon, will be rested and alert for tomorrow, no need to worry, will make great impression on new boss, will not freeze up while talking to first caller, will not get dry mouth and drink too much water and exceed allotted pee breaks, will not forget words when line stops ringing, will not sit speechless in cubicle while caller yells into phone about how inconsiderate I am, about how much of a bloodsucking parasite I am, about how I’m trying to profit off the sickness and hardship of others, nope, will not mind, will not let them get to me, will calmly ask for insurance and date of birth and move on, will not let them ruin my life again, both away from them and with, sitting in my cubicle, trapped on the other side of their anger, eating their misdirected shit, nope, will not absorb it anymore, will be iron, bedrock, that stuff they coat cooking pans with to make the eggs slide off easy, I’ll be that stuff, the green stuff on the bottom of that crappy pan Mom ordered off the TV for me four Christmases in a row, oh God Mom, when was the last time I called her, oh Christ, what kind of a person am I, can’t remember when I last called my own mother, hands way too hot now, have to slide out from under covers, patter of animal footsteps near window, hope they don’t get into the basement again, oh yeah Mom, have to remember to call her tomorrow, should tell her about my first day at the new call center, that’ll cheer her up, she’ll enjoy hearing about that, well hopefully but who knows, depends how she’s doing, bad day or good, hope it’s not a bad one, can’t handle those anymore, all that misplaced anger, her confusion of past and present, her mistaking me for Sonny again, that ass, that patch of human pond scum, that little rat who screwed her over but is still somehow her favorite, that sneaky—if I’m a bad person and a bad son and a parasite then what does that make him, that snake, that thief, that serial liar who would con his own damn mother to—ha ha, would, that’s a laugh, very funny, would, more like did, more like did and then lied about it to his brother’s face, that tightly packed ball of excrement, that—where the hell is that little weasel even living these days anyway, is he still up in Maine, that coward, or is he—Jesus I’m fully awake now, Christ what a disaster, can’t be thinking about this stuff right now, have to relax, have to calm down, have to clear the mind of all thoughts, all worries, all the mental garbage that prevents relaxation, have to—yes, will do that, will pick up the mantra where I left off, just need to stay focused, deep breath, hold, one, two, I’m not going bald, I’m not going bald, imagine the lake, silver blue water all around, glowing white moon shining above, the coast far away, nothing but woods and trees, a dense forest of elms lining the water, barely visible, elms and oaks and dogwoods, way off in the distance, miles and miles, just me and the canoe and no one else, floating along, me on my back in the canoe, I’m alone but not sad, not like Sunday nights, God I hate that time, hate it so much, worst part of the week by far, so depressing and lonely, so hard to keep the bad thoughts out, those dreams of running away, of escaping all this shit, of merging onto the highway and leaving it all behind, all this unhappiness and fear, all this—can’t think about that now, just have to relax, clear the mind, I’m in the canoe, water bubbling below, the rest of the world quiet, huge black sky above, just me and no one else, relax, relax, legs starting to ache, feet going numb, will have to reposition soon, God I hate this, why can’t I just fall asleep, been up since before seven, just go to goddamn sleep, please just let me sleep, that goddamn Sonny, I bet that little tapeworm is sleeping like a baby right now, always has, ever since we were kids, never had trouble falling asleep, that little con artist, always snoring a minute after Mom hit the lights, and there I’d be, dead awake on the top bunk, staring at those glow-in-the-dark stars, the plastic ones we stuck to the ceiling with putty, my mind racing a hundred miles per hour, thoughts flying in every direction, him snoring and sighing in his sleep, dead to the world, comfortable and content, so ridiculous and unfair, as if he had any right to sleep like that, what with the tricks he always played on our friends, and on me, and on Mom and Dad, that little bastard, oh Jesus what a disaster, what a mess, don’t want to imagine how much time has passed since I got in bed, what a stupid waste, very counter-intuitive this sleep thing is, try but don’t try to fall asleep, try too hard and you’ll wake yourself up, very stupid and unfair, makes no sense, but can’t think about that now, just have to relax, clear the head, remember the mantra, I’m not going bald, I’m not going bald, I’m not—will be fine tomorrow, will do good, will call Mom after, won’t worry about her slipping mind, can’t use that as an excuse anymore, she deserves to hear from her son, the one who actually cares about her, even if she doesn’t remember me, even if she thinks I’m Sonny, can’t blame her for that, it’s just the disease talking, just that awful goddamn—it’s not her fault, I need to be more patient with her, more patient with everyone really, maybe then I wouldn’t have to deal with this three times a year, this nighttime garbage, these first-day jitters, this cold-sweat anxiety, maybe then I’d be able to hold a job for more than three months at a time, but can’t think about that now, have to relax, have to clear my head, deep breath in, hold, one, two, I’m not going bald, I’m in the canoe, I’m alone, the lake is around me, I’m alone, I’m not going bald, the moon is above, the water is below, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m

Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, NY. His fiction has appeared in The Fiction Pool, Typishly, and the Eunoia Review. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music.