by Patricia Russo
“No,” she said again, patiently. “Not the dreams. Only the sleep.” She wore a biscuit-colored linen jacket and a calf-length skirt; her silk blouse was blood-red. The restaurant’s diffuse lighting turned it a dull brick.
He paged through the menu for the fourth time.
The waitress asked if they were ready to order yet. He shook his head. “Another screwdriver,” she said.
“That’s your third.” He was drinking tomato juice with a twist of lemon.
“You’re driving. Aren’t you?”
The waitress smiled and swept away her empty glass. The busboy came and meticulously topped off her water.
“Four hours?” he asked.
“Yes. Why can’t you ever just make up your mind?” They’d been going over and over it for days. “It’s a fair offer. You’re not utilizing those hours. You whine all the time about how much you could accomplish if only you didn’t have to sleep.”
“I don’t whine.” He sat very stiffly. He wore a black t-shirt, black denim shorts, black sneakers. He took a sip of tomato juice, winced, removed the slice of lemon and squeezed it into the drink. Several wet spots appeared on his chest. “I’m not sure I understand. For how long?”
“Let’s try a couple of months, see how it goes. No, on second thought, three months. That would be more convenient, to pay you quarterly.”
The restaurant was nearly empty. It was a new place, two blocks and a couple of turns off the highway, with excessively high expectations, given the neighborhood. Because he’d been late picking her up, they’d arrived just in time for the last seating. When the waitress returned with her fresh drink, she said, “The bar’ll be closing in ten minutes.” The waitress looked at him, but he was busily scrubbing the front of his shirt with a napkin.
She said, “Thanks for the heads up. Okay, bring me another in ten minutes.” Not even glancing at the menu, she ordered an appetizer, main course, and chose a salad dressing.
“And for the gentleman?”
“I guess the chicken. This one.” He pointed.
“Would the gentleman care for an appetizer?”
He flipped back a few pages. “I don’t know. What’s this?”
From across the table, she leaned forward and pulled the menu down. “Squid in cream,” she translated. “If you just want the gist of it.” The waitress smiled.
“Squid. In. Cream.”
“Forget it. Can we get more bread?”
“Certainly, sir.” The waitress collected the menus and strolled off.
“She better not forget I got another one of these coming.”
“I hate it when you drink,” he said.
“I only do it when I’m with you.” She said it to make him wince. “Cuts the boredom.”
“I thought I was amusing. You said that’s why you went out with me.”
“Oh, you’re quite amusing.”
He looked away. She took a long drink,
set the glass down carefully on its coaster. He scratched his beard. He
“I applied for two jobs this week,” he said.
“Good for you.”
“Thanks for helping me with my resume.”
She’d written it. Stock boy, cashier monkey. She nodded. The fucking screwdrivers were ninety-five per cent orange juice, and the other five percent ice.
“So,” she said. “Four hours of your sleep, that you toss and turn through and bitch about afterwards. You get four extra hours a day. You can study, read comic books, play video games, masturbate, whatever you want. Work on that bondage website you keep talking about.”
“It was going to have a spider theme, wasn’t it? Webs and spiders. Very…classy.”
He hissed through bared teeth.
“Oh, relax. Your mother’s not here.” He lived with her. Of course. “Bondage Spider, weren’t you going to call it? Come into my web, my pretty little fly?”
“Shut up about that. I’m not telling you again.”
She smiled. Once he’d offered to tie her a little, just her wrists, just so she could see what it was like, and she said fine, go ahead, but after he dug out something that looked like a cat’s cradle in black elastic from the bottom of a drawer, he’d chickened out.
She nodded. Finished her drink. Tried not to smirk. “Sorry.”
He ate a roll. “Why do you want my sleep?”
“It doesn’t have to be yours. Anyone’s will do. I thought you’d appreciate the fact that I asked you first, instead of getting all pissy about it. Appreciate the money, anyway.”
“But how come?”
“I want to sleep twelve hours a day. We’re all due eight, right? So my eight plus your four.” She refrained from saying, do the math. He had never made it through pre-calc in community college, despite five attempts.
“But I don’t get why.”
“Because,” she said, “I have come to the conclusion that spending twelve hours a day asleep is the optimum way to get through life. Pain is minimized, activity concentrated. Boredom reduced, subjective time sped up. And not least, I’d have a firm fifty-fifty shot of dying in my sleep.”
“You’re only forty.”
“Still.” He was twenty-eight. The beard made him look older.
The food came, and her last screwdriver. He stared at his chicken-something with dismay. “This wasn’t exactly what I expected.”
“Taste it before you complain.”
He laid a sliver on his tongue, masticated it with care, then sighed and forked up a bigger chunk. “Not the dreams, though.”
“No. You can keep them. I have enough of my own.”
“But what’s going to happen to them?”
“What do you care? You say you never remember your dreams anyway.”
“I heard,” he said, jiggling his leg, so that his bare knee knocked against the underside of the table, making silverware jump and liquids ripple, “sometimes they get loose.”
“Urban legend,” she snapped. “Sit like a person. You’re in public.”
They were the last customers in the restaurant. The staff had disappeared into the kitchen. Once in a while the busboy peeked out to check on their progress.
“I’ll have a contract drawn up,” she said. “Your sister can look it over before you sign.” She signaled the busboy, who immediately nodded. She selected a credit card from the biscuit-colored case in her purse.
“I’m not finished,” he said.
“They want to close up,” she said. “Let’s not inconvenience these people any further.”
“I’m not finished.” He vibrated in the chair. “Do you think they’ll wrap it up for me?”
“This is not that kind of place. How about this. I’ll buy you an ice cream on the way home.”
In the car, she let him drone on about
red mercury and Masons in the government, rubbed her eyes and looked forward
to a peanut butter parfait, wondered how long it would be before he caught
on that she would not let him fuck her, ever, rejoiced in the twelve
hours of sleep daily that she was soon to own, and bet herself anything
that when his dreams did seep out of their four hour boundary conditions
to escape into the wild, no one in the world would notice, least of all