This is a quick little flash piece because I’m still mired in moving, and also one that stays on the literary side of things, not wandering into the speculative. Nonetheless, I like it, and what it has to say about connection and communication in relationships.
Talking in the Night
It started like this: Mona turned over in the bed, trying to find the cool edge of sleep. She let out a little groan of frustration and her husband patted her shoulder, caught half-awake, half-asleep himself. She whimpered as though she’d awoken from nightmare and he pulled her close, buried her in his overflowing warmth.
After that sometimes she tested him with that little noise. Sometimes he was too asleep but sometimes he held her, reassuring as the shore holding a wave, feeling it leave and return, leave and return, regular as his breathing.
“You make noises in your sleep,” he said at breakfast. “Are you having nightmares?”
“Every once in a while,” she said. She studied him. How would he react if he thought she were suffering nightmares, that life was stressing her, eroding her, creeping into sleep to make it as uneasy as a coffee-less morning? “Often.”
He left before she did and when she went out through the frosty parking lot, she found he’d scraped the ice off her car for her.
Sometimes she woke and spoke words into the night, hoping he’d decipher them. “No” and “yes” and “please please please.” He slid his arms around her, stroked her back, but never replied. Sometimes later he slipped from bed and went to watch TV, sitting on the couch in his robe, lost and unknowable while the sports channel buzzed facts and figures while she lay in the other room wondering what he was thinking.
One night, she said, “Yes” and he repeated it, giving it a question’s inflection. She held her breath, didn’t answer and they both lay there, listening to each other pretend to dream.
He spoke first, the next night, and said, “Please.” It was her turn to repeat it, pitch it upward, trying to elicit the next word. This time it was his turn not to answer.
It could have laid quiet after that forever. She could have abandoned the night speech, he could have chosen in turn not to pick it up. Their horizons could have been sleepless and silent.
But the next night he spoke and told her about the time his father had taken him fishing and the hook had ripped into his thumb and his father had said men don’t cry. The story went out into the blackness and coiled near the ceiling, peering down at them as though they were dolls in a bed, plastic and supine.
She answered with a story half-remembered of cigar ash and a grandfather and they went on telling memories they’d never spoken before to anyone, the things that they would have dreamed if they were sleeping.
And so they didn’t sleep. And so they talked till dawn and the day that was theirs as it had never been before.
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In recent news, Rappacini’s Crow as well as All the Pretty Little Mermaids both made Ellen Datlow’s longlist for the year’s best horror and my collaboration with Mike Resnick, The Mermaid Club, will be appearing in Conspiracy. Other upcoming work includes appearances in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Abyss & Apex, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
If you’re in Baltimore at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, please stop by the SFWA booth and say hi!