The Luxury of Sleep
a short story
Clarissa carried the breakfast tray into the bedroom where
she assumed I was fast asleep. She smoothed down the blankets on the
right-hand side of
the bed--do all women sleep on that side, analogous to the right side
of the brain which rules the attributes of intuitiveness and subjective
behaviour? -- and placed the tray onto the covers. I could smell the
sharp aroma of the coffee, the butter sinking into the warm toast, and
the wake-up tang of the orange juice. The mattress indented when she
sat down and I could feel her fingers trace her love across my bare
arm that lay exposed outside the blanket. I could almost hear her mouth
open as she deliberated whether to wake me up. Then I fell asleep.
I can't remember the first time that I pretended to be asleep. No
doubt it was in childhood, a safety mechanism triggering the despatch
of the dinosaurs and other monsters that were congregating around the
edges of my bed, but I can remember when pretending to sleep grew into
In my late twenties I developed insomnia -- or at least, I believed
that I had. The fact was that there were long periods of time spent
trying to fall into slumber, punctuated by equally arduous waking moments
throughout the night, meaning that each morning I awoke exhausted as
though I had been battling with one of those self-same monsters from
Internet sites and visits to the doctor gave rise to several possible
solutions. The most common were to take a warm bath prior to going to
bed, to avoid any product containing caffeine (coffee, chocolate, cola
-- all the c words), to keep the bed as a place for sleep rather
than for watching television, reading or doing crosswords. Sex or masturbation
often seemed to help, but I didn't always have the opportunity to indulge
in the former, and the latter was permeated with such a deep sense of
loneliness that I rarely touched myself unless it became imperative
that I did so.
Counting sheep seemed like an urban myth. What can be more active
than a procession of woolly animals leaping over a fence? And my dynamic
imagination always found a way to trip the sheep as they approached
the hurdle, or had them pole-vault it, or perform somersaults, or some
such ridiculous acrobatics. When I got really tired, I sent a farmer
out into the field with a shotgun.
The lack of sleep began to affect my work, my dreams, and my relationships.
Invariably anyone I went to bed with became disturbed by my own disturbances,
to the point of exasperation. Heidi, Dawn, Nicole...all were lost to
the demon that perpetrated midnight wakefulness. I became so desperate
to regain control over my sleep patterns that every bedtime was fraught
with the fear of not being able to lose consciousness. Which, of course,
exacerbated the problem immeasurably.
I can feel Clarissa now. Her lips are by my ear and she's gently trying
to nudge me from my reveries. I think I'm genuinely asleep this time,
and my befuddled imagination cannot distinguish between Clarissa really
licking around the lobe of my right ear or a sleep-fuelled desire that
she might be. Whatever, whether dream-induced or natural, it does prove
that I've remained a physical body. Whether she can actually see me
or not is another question.
The lack of a steady girlfriend compounded by my tiredness at work
which was affecting my heartfelt promotional prospects, led me to increasingly
bizarre attempts to regulate my sleep. I rearranged my bedroom furniture
so that my head faced North when prone on my pillow, thus aligning my
body with the magnetic fields of the planet and bringing my energies
in harmony with those of the Earth. I closed my eyes imagining the most
peaceful place I could visualize. A vista of bright green hills populated
by cedar trees gently swaying in a cool summer breeze. This latter method
almost worked until the field became invaded by sheep attempting to
jump over a fence that I had somehow projected into the corner of the
From envisaging somewhere peaceful I tried the alternative of visualising
somewhere boring, but the production line at the meat packing factory
parcelling sides of mutton gave me too much satisfaction to be really
tedious. I enjoyed the job, and frequently put in for overtime.
One of my most successful remedies was stomach rubbing, a formula
that soothed the digestive system to bring about a deeper relaxation.
Lying on my back, I would place my hand over my navel, and then begin
to make small circles as I gently glided my hand over my stomach. The
idea was to gradually increase the circles until my palm reached the
outer edge of my stomach, and then to decrease them until I reached
my navel again. This worked for a period of four or five nights, as
I slipped out of consciousness and into a blissful dreaming, until I
read that food material moves through the colon in a clockwise direction
and that you should make all your circles clockwise if you have trouble
with constipation. Counter-clockwise circles could alleviate diarrhoea.
I subsequently became so focussed on the direction of my circles that
sleep became impossible.
Eventually though, despite all the aborted attempts, I found the definitive
answer to my insomnia and I never became troubled by it again. Although,
and this was inevitable in hindsight, this led only to a greater and
more destructive obsession.
"You fell asleep."
"You know you did." Clarissa slipped the fingers of her left hand
through my hair that had been thinning of late. "Your coffee's cold."
"I like it cold."
"I'll warm it up."
She moved away from the bed and took the tray with her. I glanced
across to the digital clock on the bedside cabinet that showed the time
as 08:43. Illuminated clocks were supposed to be eradicated from an
insomniac's bedroom, as they inevitably drew the eye towards their display
during the unholy hours of the night, but since I was cured I had invited
them back into my house again. I enjoyed their accuracy.
I had been seeing Clarissa for six months and she spent most nights
with me in my terraced house. Things were on track for life. There were
a few details to sort through, such as whether to rent out her apartment
or to sell it or to move in there ourselves and rent out my house, but
there seemed a permanency to our relationship which meant that there
was no hurry to rush into anything in fear that it might not last.
I hadn't revealed to her my insomniac past which seemed irrelevant
to my present, but then I also hadn't revealed to her those obsessions
which ran through my waking hours either. Sometimes I felt guilty about
that. But then I also made her complicit in my secrets every time we
shared a bed. Surely it was only a matter of time before everything
came to light all by itself?
I could hear Clarissa's footfalls on the stairs and I deliberated
whether to pretend to sleep again, then realised that it was rather
childish and the chances of me actually drifting off were so remote
that it would be a pointless exercise.
Pretending to sleep. That's something all children do in order to
avoid the nighttime terrors that accumulate in the shadows once a parent
has left the room. But that isn't the only connection between what I
do and the innocence of children. They also believe that they are invisible
when they can't see themselves.
And then there are the cats.
In the 1960's experiments abounded over the nature of sleep.
Of what causes us to sleep, of the distinctions between light and deep
sleep, of whether animals dream in colour, and other suchlike musings.
It became widely accepted that evidence of deep sleep, described as
paradoxical sleep, occurred most regularly in those animals higher along
the evolutionary chain. Michel Jouvet's experiments with tortoises,
for example, suggested that reptiles in general were only capable of
light sleep. Among birds, however, the instances increased; albeit still
negligible compared to mammals. In pigeons periods of paradoxical sleep
lasted no longer than 15 seconds, and made up only 0.5 percent of the
total sleeping time, as opposed to the 20 or 30 percent of the higher
mammals. It seemed then that paradoxical sleep was a rather late evolutionary
development, which then raised questions over why we needed it in the
Studies were undertaken which involved cutting the brainstems of cats
at certain points along their length. Depending on whereabouts the knife
fell, cats would either exhibit no signs of paradoxical sleep or would
still fall into a deep sleep evidenced by the disappearance of tonus
in the muscles of the neck. From this it appeared that the controlling
structures for paradoxical sleep were located in the dorsal part of
the pons (a broad mass of chiefly transverse nerve fibres conspicuous
on the ventral surface of the brain at the anterior end of the medulla
oblongata), which give rise to the spontaneous excitations that travel
mainly to the brain's visual tracts. It seems possible that it is this
excitation that is related to the formation of the images that one sees
I had inevitably become interested in such experiments following the
discovery of my cure for insomnia. Firstly my dreaming had increased
due to the uninterrupted nature of my sleep patterns, but also because
I had decided to investigate whether any experiments had been conducted
on subjects such as myself who had found a way between the conscious
and unconscious states. And a lot of that determined on whether I would
reveal what had happened to myself to the rest of the world.
Clarissa entered the bedroom with a plate of fresh toast and a steaming
cup of coffee.
"Just the way you like it," she said, with such a lovely smile that
I drew myself away from the covers and awkwardly kissed her as she tried
to balance the tray on the bed.
"I love you," I told her.
"I love you too," she kneejerked back; but it was a genuine reaction
and it made me smile as she had done.
"So, what are we going to do this Saturday morning," she asked.
"I think we should go to PetMall," I said. "I've decided that I want
She clasped her hands in delight and gave a little squeal. "I love
cats, but I'm not allowed one in my apartment. I didn't realise you
had an affection for them."
I didn't. Not particularly anyway. Her obvious joy stabbed me with
a pang of guilt. I just hoped that I'd be able to bring the cat back
from wherever it went to after the experiment.
Like most things it was quite simple once I'd thought of
it, and was an extension of some of the insomniac-beating systems that
I'd tried in the past. Thinking of a peaceful or a boring place, focussing
on sheep or other repetitive tasks, all these were intended to condition
the brain to keep to a common path and not allow the imaginative scope
that stimuli such as books or television prior to sleeping would imbue
it with. One evening, laying on my back--as suggested for a good nights
sleep because it allows all your internal organs to rest properly--I
imagined myself floating up and off the bed, out of the room, and across
the street towards Beacon Hill which was a local landmark I could see
from my window. This had a negative effect, however, because I couldn't
stop myself from interposing other people into my waking dream and their
amazed reactions to a body buoyant in the air above them, which then
kept me awake.
There was only one solution to that. Make myself invisible.
The studies with cats had suggested that differing electrical impulses
in the cortex and subcortical structures occurred during periods of
light and deep sleep. Electrical impulses cause reverberation. Stepping
out of the scientific theory for a second I postulated that at some
point those reverberations could be the same frequency as those at which
the air vibrated around me. It was a short deduction from there which
involved the manipulation of those electrical impulses to bring about
a certain state of existence; to tap into the elusive period which exists
between consciousness and unconsciousness before we finally drift off
into sleep -- and then instead of following it through, to shift sideways
and enter a new sphere of being.
Lying on my bed, experiencing the last ditch attempt feeling of trying
to conquer my insomnia without really trying to think about it, I imagined
my body gradually turning insubstantial and becoming more ethereal,
my skin, organs, biological make-up melting away. I had closed my eyes,
realising that we're invisible to ourselves when we do so, and that
by regarding my body I could only trash my imaginings, when -- in a
state of deluxe relaxation -- I fell into the deepest sleep that I had
experienced for several years.
Continuous recordings around the clock in a soundproofed cage show
that cats spend about 35 percent of the time in a 24-hour day in a state
of wakefulness, 50 percent in light sleep and 15 percent in paradoxical
sleep. In most cases the three states follow a regular cycle from wakefulness
to light sleep to paradoxical sleep to wakefulness again. An adult cat
never goes directly from wakefulness into paradoxical sleep. Therefore
it appears that the two states of sleep have well-defined and clearly
distinct electrical signatures. All is fine and well when nature's pattern
is adhered to, but what I increasingly wanted to know was whether I
was indeed invisible when I had my eyes closed and wasn't able to view
myself, and that led me to investigate what happens when such natural
sleep patterns were interrupted. Or, more specifically, when states
resembling insomnia are introduced in cats.
PetMall was busy for a Saturday morning, although I guess
I hadn't really expected it not to be. Hoards of children congregated
around the rabbit and guinea pig enclosure, poking fingers through chickenwire
despite demonstrations from parents that the animals might bite. Looking
at their faces made me relish the irony that I'd eaten guinea pig once
in Peru. It tasted like a cross between rabbit and chicken, and whilst
I wasn't averse to trying it again, I'd already decided that I wouldn't
get my supplies at the local pet store.
Clarissa gingerly held the fingers of my left hand with the fingers
of her right hand. I liked the security that she felt by not needing
to clasp my hand tightly, and again I got an awareness that we were
destined to remain together for a very long period of time. Then I got
that creeping sensation of unease when I remembered the reason why we
were in PetMall in the first place, and I sought out a stronger grip
on her fingers myself. I wondered how Clarissa would feel if she knew
I was intending to make the kitten that she was now regarding affectionately,
The apparatus had already been installed in the spare room which I
kept locked with a key and the excuse -- should I need it -- that there
was so much stuff in there it was in danger of falling out should curiosity
strike Clarissa into opening the door. Not that it resembled the lab
of some would-be Frankenstein. On a level tabletop I had set up a small
pedestal in a pool of water with the pedestal barely topping the water
surface. It was here that I would deprive paradoxical sleep in the kitten
that Clarissa was now taking towards the checkout, a smile across her
face similar to the one that I had kissed earlier in the morning, and
one that I hoped would continue throughout the remainder of our lives
For a child, the playing of hide and seek walks a tightrope between
exhilaration and fear, with the terror of discovery barely tempered
by the knowledge that it is often a parent who is doing the finding,
and therefore of no threat to their existence. Yet the act of hiding
is often so obvious as to be farcical, usually with the complicit understanding
that should the parent see the child they must acknowledge that they
cannot actually see them at all. In some cases, hiding can be as simple
as the child holding their hands in front of their own eyes. By not
seeing, one achieves the act of not being seen.
As I conquered insomnia each evening by making myself invisible
I became increasingly of the opinion that I was actually invisible.
Yet to open my eyes would destroy the illusion, and I always drifted
into sleep with the utmost belief that I had achieved an insubstantial
state. Without that belief, I probably wouldn't have slept. And as a
by-product of this, my dreams became vivid, more real. As though I had
in fact stepped out of the corporealness of my body and entered into
a new, unexplored zone.
In the experiments conducted by Michel Jouvet and others, cats were
placed on small pedestals surrounded by water. Each time the cat slipped
into paradoxical sleep its neck muscles relaxed and caused the animal's
head to drop into the water and wake itself up. Cats that had been deprived
of such paradoxical sleep for periods of several weeks showed no profound
disturbances, apart from a modest speeding up of the heart rate. This
was the fact that I found the most interesting, because I equated the
speeding up of the heart rate to the reverberation of the electrical
impulses within our bodies and the air surrounding us. What the notes
from the experiments failed to state was whether any cats disappeared
during the studies. I had no doubts that the suppression of such information
was for political purposes, and was not surprised to find that it wasn't
covered by any of the websites that I visited.
Of course, if it was a lack of deep sleep which created the circumstances
by which increased heart rates could cause such a slight shift in our
body's alignment with the molecules in the air beside us that we could
slip within them and become invisible, then that didn't necessarily
explain how becoming invisible had cured my insomnia rather than
enhanced it. That was why I needed the cat, and latterly, why I needed
"I want you to watch something," I said, a few days after
the cat had disappeared.
Clarissa was mooching about the house, looking a little despondent,
and because I knew it was the cat she was grieving over I felt that
I had no option but to let her into my research.
"Shouldn't you be off to work," she said. "McDonald's will miss you,
I grimaced and continued: "This is a little more important than the
late shift for once. I want you to watch me fall asleep."
"Exciting stuff, huh?"
"Seriously exciting stuff," I said.
The day the kitten had disappeared I had wired it up to a machine that
measures heartbeats. The computer it was attached to automatically took
a reading when it became invisible (at the push of a button from me,
after I'd kept vigil for three days and was close to a insomnia-nostalgia
trip), and re-calculated the heartbeat proportionately to determine
the rate that a human heart would need to beat to reproduce the same
reaction. The same apparatus, plus a little contraption to induce the
heebees into me to increase my own heartbeat, was now wired up beside
"Just what is this?" Clarissa said, when she saw what I'd been up to.
"Nothing to worry about," I said. "It's perfectly safe. I need you
to be an innocent bystander, that's all."
"This is sexual, isn't it?" A smile took shape around her lips, although
I knew she realised it went deeper than that.
"It isn't that simple," I said.
I brought one of the chairs up from the kitchen and placed it beside
the bed. "All you have to do is sit there and observe," I said. "And
under no circumstances should you touch anything."
"So it is dangerous."
"Only if you touch something."
She put her hands underneath her thighs and sat still.
I kissed her mouth and she closed her eyes. I wondered whether she
was invoking a state of invisibility. Then I moved onto the bed and
reached across to the dial that would gradually induce an electrical
current through my body. I switched it on.
I closed my eyes. I released the tension around my closed eyes and
I kept my breathing still. My arms lay beside my body and I imagined
them slowly losing their substance, seeing through the skin, the muscle,
the capillaries, the bone. My legs followed suit. Then my chest, my
head. Just at the moment when I achieved the apex of my imaginings and
would ordinarily drift off into sleep I got the weird sensation of the
electricity humming through my body and I heard Clarissa say: "Oh my
I'm pretending to sleep. I hear Clarissa come upstairs with
the breakfast tray and I can smell the distinct aroma of fresh coffee
and the warm fragrance of bagels or possibly croissants in the air.
I think that if I close my eyes then she won't see me, but that's a
pathetic fallacy because I know she can't see me anyway. I feel her
presence as she sits down beside me on the bed, and smell her perfume
as she leans over me, almost engulfing me with her scent. Smell is the
sense most directly linked to memory, and I wonder whether she is sniffing
me in, remembering how I used to look from the olfactory stimuli that
I exude. When she kisses me her mouth hits my cheek rather harshly,
and she apologises, tries to follow a line from my cheek towards my
ear but ends up tonguing my left nostril instead. She soon realises
her mistake and I open my eyes, see her facing away from me on the bed.
My hand reaches out and caresses the area beneath her shoulder blades
that she used to love me touching so much. Now I can feel her muscles
stiffen. I sigh and open my mouth, but the three words that I want to
say just won't come. How can they in the face of such selfish behaviour?
Instead I reach for my toast but my hand hits the object that has just
leapt up onto the bed. The kitten mews and knocks over the orange juice
and just for a moment its shape is defined by the moisture spilt onto
There are tears on Clarissa's face. As they are on mine should someone
have the ability to see them.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
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