Sleep On, Sleep Off

Good Morning II.jpg

Photography by Brad Garber

The mattress is hard against my back, as if I am strapped in and held against it. A train crashes by, rattling the glass on my nightstand, the clear liquid sluicing with the aftershocks. I hope no one is on the tracks. I bring the brim to my lips and spit a mist of vodka.

My brother used to say that you shouldn’t drink water at bedtime. Before he was taken away.

The pharmacy sign blinks from the windows. Somewhere across the canyons of neon, he’s harnessed into a hospital bed, shouting and lashing in a Seroquel slumber. Tomorrow he’ll wake up, eyes roving around the room for a rope or a razor. Always the worst in the morning. He may try to rip his restraints—teeth slicing into zip ties. The nurse for the understaffed, under-cleaned, underfunded psych ward will put an end to his escape attempt. I hope she won’t have to put him under.

My stomach throbs. I stand, stagger to the bathroom, and kneel over the bowl. I vomit. One of his toothbrushes dangles above my head, the bristles taunting me. Jittery and drunk as ever, I return to bed.

I will sleep on it, or sleep it off. Either way, I cannot stay awake much longer. Tomorrow I have work to do, groceries to buy, laundry to fold, and a brother to visit. I need the sleep.

Over the past few nights, I’ve tried everything. Reading, leaving the lights on, slow breathing, counting sheep, now alcohol. Nothing works. A birdcall splits the silence; the magpies are already up.

HENRY HIETALA is a recent graduate of Macalester College with a degree in Creative Writing. His work has been published in Medusa’s Laugh Press, Chanter, and The Spark. He was a finalist for the Nick Adams Short Story Contest.

BRAD GARBER has shown his drawings, photographs, mixed media and paintings since 1997, in the Portland and Lake Oswego, Oregon area. His art and photographs have made it onto the front covers of Vine Leaves 2014 Anthology and N Magazine, and in Gravel Magazine, Cargo Literary, Jokes Literary, The Tishman Review, Shuf Poetry, Meat for Tea, Mud Season Review, Third Wednesday, Foliate Oak and many other literary publications.