By: Emily Brown
Song: Sleep All Summer
Artist: St. Vincent and the National (Crooked Fingers Cover)
Album: SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers
Imagine two people in a bed, not touching. It has been like this for months, an entire summer of sleeping without touching, him, lying on his back, studying the ceiling, her, as she always was, curled toward him, studying the side of his face. She doesn't know why she won't touch him. She thinks he knows why he won't touch her.
She has been talking without stopping for hours now, all her best stories, everything she has ever been, piling up in the bed between them.
He is trying to imagine her as the person she was when she met him, the younger woman who lived in a city he has never been to, walking down streets he sees as children's drawings. He thinks of these places she tells him about in pen and ink with their names underneath them.
He realizes that she has stopped talking, and is looking at him.
"I can stop, if you're tired."
"No, I was thinking. Don't stop."
She could never stop, she thinks. She would tell him every story she has ever known, if it will keep him lying next to her in this bed. She remembers the first time she lay in bed with a boy, it was someone else's boyfriend, not hers, and she was lying on the other side of him. They were watching a movie in his room, and she felt the bed sink under his weight like waves through her entire body, and suddenly her fifteen year-old self understood everything, why you would want this, why you want the intimacy of someone lying next to you more than anything else in the world.
Now he is looking at her. "Maybe we should sleep." he says.
"I can't. Could you?"
"We should, I think. I'm going to try. I'll leave the light on for you."
She thinks very, very quickly for a moment. She thinks of her body bent perpetually toward him, she thinks of the way he weighs down the bed next to her. She thinks of what she has to lose, which is at the moment is everything.
She puts her hand on his chest, unwilling to place any more of her body on him than she has to. She wishes more than anything that he had begun this instead of her.
He wishes more than anything that he had begun this instead of her. He is at a loss.
"I don't want to sleep."
"I don't know if we should do this."
Her hand is still on his chest. She thinks she should be able to feel his heart beating faster. She thinks it should definitely be beating faster.
She has planned this for a very long time now, and she can think, she is sure, of literally no other way. She keeps her hand where it is and moves closer to him.
Move, he thinks. Do something. Come up with something to do. He wants to turn and look at her face, but he thinks that if he sees her, there will be no way out of this. Maybe if he closes his eyes, she'll get up and leave. Maybe he could get up and leave. He cannot figure a way out from under her hand on his chest. He hopes, hopes more than anything, that he's not hurting her by doing this. He knows he is.
She curls her fingers. This was the wrong thing to do. She should have just ignored it. She should have slept on the couch. She should have slept on the street. He takes her hand.
"I don't know. Maybe we shouldn't - "
"You're holding my hand."
He can hear the disbelief in her voice. He wonders when their lives got to the point where it was remarkable that he would hold her hand. He is holding her hand. The first time he took her hand it was in a bar, briefly, to measure how small her fingers were against his own. They are still quite small`.
They lie on the bed, her hand held against his chest. She moves closer and puts her head on his shoulder. He can smell her hair.
"Listen", he says, "Listen, I'm not going to be better, I could change, but I'm not going to be better."
She pulls back her hand, rolls over in bed, leans toward the window.
The air conditioning is freezing, and she can draw in the condensation on the window. She automatically begins to trace a heart, and quickly turns it into a misshapen fish. What will she say to people when he leaves? Maybe something will happen on the bus tomorrow. My god, she will say, you would not believe what happened to me on the bus. An elderly man gave me a bouquet of calla lilies, and left without a word. All the houses on 14th Street are decorated with paper lanterns shaped like cups of tea. I wrestled a bear and saved a small child from certain death. He is leaving me, I knew he was leaving me, and I feel like I'm drowning, and so I drew a fish on the window.
"I thought", she starts, and chokes. She starts again.
"I thought you would fall back in love with me. I thought, if I did everything right, you would fall back in love with me."
"There's no right, it's not that you were wrong, it's that - ". He stops abruptly, and watches her face work as she tries to speak.
"Why won't you fall back in love with me?"
"I'm sorry, it's late, you should just go to sleep, we can talk about it again in the morning." Let this end, he thinks. Let this end immediately. Let her fall asleep, and stop crying, and then he can sleep, and...
"No, I'm going to stay up." Fish on the window, she thinks, Alice in the ocean of tears, her brain feels like it's going to run right out of her head in the night sky.
"I'm going to stay up.”
Emily Brown is a sometime playwright who retired to study anatomy and read comic books. She writes lists on Tumblr, and she complains about strangers on Twitter as @MissBrowntoYou.