Somewhere in the murk of her deep sleep, Cate heard her husband Jeff’s voice, no more than a mumble. She tried to ask him what he wanted, what he said, but her mouth was filled with gum and cotton and no words could get out. Cate heard him again in the dark of her mind, his voice louder, but the words still mashed together into gibberish. She realized that her eyes were closed and she tried to open them, but the lids were too heavy. They’d only stay open for a fuzzy split second before snapping closed again. Cate tried to move, but it was like trying to swim in too-thick pudding. Her arms felt weighted; her legs felt like they were filled with cement. Cate continued to struggle to get out of her sleep so she could free Jeff from his. He was talking non-stop now, the words rushed and smeared, getting louder and louder.
Jeff cried out, a wordless yelp, and it yanked Cate into consciousness.
She rolled over and sat up just in time to catch Jeff’s right fist in her chest. Cate gasped, more in shock than in pain, and grabbed her husband’s arm, holding it tightly to her bosom while he tried to flail away from her.
Here we go again, she thought.
Jeff wasn’t talking anymore; he was growling a thick, guttural noise that gave Cate goose bumps. In the dimness of the bedroom, just a bit of light from the gas station down the block bleeding through the blinds, Cate saw Jeff ball up his left hand. For a second, Cate thought he was just fisting the blankets. That second of misassumption cost her.
His left hand flung up and smashed into his own face.
Jeff gasped and sat up, eyes wide, blood trickling from one nostril. He was fully awake now and he clutched his nose with the hand that had just inflicted the damage.
Cate let go of Jeff’s arm and it fell to her lap like he’d forgotten it was attached. She rolled away from him and grabbed the box of tissues from her nightstand. Jeff didn’t have a nightstand anymore, not since it was discovered that he’d throw things in his sleep if he could reach them. His alarm clock sat on the floor and even there it wasn’t always safe.
Cate pulled three tissues from the box and handed them to Jeff.
“Here. Tilt your head back a little and pinch hard. That should stop the bleeding.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Thanks.” Jeff’s voice was muffled behind his hand, the irritation in it directed at himself, not his wife. He took the tissues.
Jeff pulled his hand away to apply the tissues and Cate saw that his nose and mouth clear down to his chin were smeared with blood. She was horrified the first time this happened. Tonight she was just tired.
“What happened?” he asked.
Cate answered him with a heavy sigh.
“You were fighting in your sleep. Again. I took a right hook to the boob and you jabbed yourself in the face.”
“Did I say who I was fighting?” Jeff checked the nosebleed then quickly reapplied the tissues.
“Not that I heard. I slept through the prelude to the beating. By the time I woke up, you were just growling.”
“Yeah.” Cate handed him another tissue and Jeff added it to the bloody ones, not wanting to let up on the pressure. “Maybe you were dreaming that you were the Cowardly Lion. You put ‘em up and knocked yourself out.”
“You remember anything from your dream?”
“Nope. Just a fist coming at my face and then waking up when it hit me. When I hit me.” Jeff shrugged. “No clue what that was about. Can’t remember anything before that.” Jeff checked his nose again. “I think it stopped.”
“Good. You’d better clean yourself up before you go back to sleep. You look like you’ve been taking part in some vampire ritual.”
“Does that turn you on?” Jeff asked, giving her a playful, bloody grin.
“Oh yeah, baby,” Cate said, smiling back. She gave him a little shove. “Go.”
“Okay. But when I come back, I’m going to kiss your boo boo.”
Cate woke up the next night for no reason. No, there was a reason. Jeff was going through one of his spells again and when he did, Cate didn’t sleep as well.
She rolled over and started to drift back to sleep when she realized that it was the first time during the entire night that she had woken up. Jeff had been quiet all night. Opening her eyes and squinting, she made out the numbers on the clock, the red blur forming into a coherent time.
For a few sleep fuzzy seconds, Cate thought they were in the clear. Relief tickled at her brain, but Cate couldn’t give into it just yet. She rolled back a bit, looking over her shoulder, to check on her husband.
Jeff was sitting up.
Cate rubbed her eyes, trying to massage out the rest of the sleep that was clouding her vision. “Jeff?” she asked, her voice thick with sleep and confusion.
Cate sat up, the movement jostling Jeff a little. She looked at him in the dim light, leaning forward, almost bending in half to see his face. Jeff’s head hung down to his chest like his neck was broken, his eyes closed and his mouth open a little. His hands rested limp in his lap. His legs were crossed. She heard him breathing, slow and easy, through his mouth.
Jeff was sleeping sitting up.
Cate stared at her husband. Jeff had done a lot of things and ended up sleeping in a lot of strange positions over the years. Once she woke up to find him sleeping across the bed with his head and pillow in the windowsill. But this…this was new.
She touched his arm, a little tentatively at first, fingers just brushing the bare skin below the sleeve of his t-shirt. His skin was hot and dry.
“Jeff?” Her voice was about as hesitant as her touch.
He didn’t move.
Cate watched him for a moment, her fingers tracing light patterns on his skin. With a little anxiety creeping up her spine and leaving a trail of goose flesh in its wake, Cate took hold of her husband’s bicep. Watching him intently, she gave him a shake.
Jeff’s head bounced and his breathing hiccupped once, but then returned to the sleep rhythm.
Cate shook him again.
“Jeff? Jeff, wake up. You’re…”
Cate wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence. “Wake up, you’re sleeping sitting up,” sounded ridiculous. It was true, but still sounded stupid. Jeff was sleeping hard, too. She stared at her husband. He looked like a dead man prop in a haunted house.
Cate shivered at the thought.
Throwing the covers off of her legs, Cate got out of bed. She stood looking at her husband for a minute, then walked to the end of the bed, stopped, and looked at him again. A vicious chill ran through her and Cate couldn’t tell if it was the night air or the heebie jeebies.
Cate tiptoed around to Jeff’s side of the bed, watching him the whole time. She kept expecting him to jerk awake and grab her. Cate almost wanted that. He’d wake up and grab her, she’d wet herself, they’d both laugh for different reasons, and then they’d go back to sleeping like a normal married couple.
But Jeff didn’t move.
Cate walked up to him, stopping just a step away. She wiped her hand on her pajama pants, amazed at the stain of sweat it left on the fabric. Cate touched Jeff’s shoulder with two fingers. Jeff slept on.
Holding her breath, Cate gave Jeff a little nudge.
Jeff fell back to the bed, head to his chest until his shoulders hit the pillow. His head thumped back softly. Jeff grunted and stretched out his legs, then rolled over. Within seconds, his breathing fell back into a smooth, relaxed rhythm. His eyes didn’t open once.
Cate stood there and watched her husband sleep until another wave of shivers had her longing for the covers. She tiptoed around the bed, back to her side, and slipped under the blankets, keeping an eye on Jeff as she did. Cate lay on her side and faced her peacefully sleeping husband, his face so innocent in his slumber.
Cate fell asleep wondering what he was doing before she woke up.
The third night, Cate woke up only a couple of hours after falling asleep because Jeff was talking again.
“Listen. Listen to me.”
If only he snored, Cate thought for the hundredth time, and looked at her husband.
Jeff lay on his back, legs straight, eyes closed, hands resting on his stomach; he looked like he belonged in a coffin. Except his fingers were twitching in time with his eyelids.
“Yes, I understand what you’re saying.”
Cate listened to him talk. Judging by the pauses, Jeff was having a conversation with someone. There was a certain cadence to his speech that suggested it wasn’t a pleasant one.
“Listen. Will you just listen to me? I told you. I know. It plays tomorrow with the elephant in the garden.”
“Is that right?” Cate asked, knowing Jeff wouldn’t answer. He ranted on without her.
It wasn’t her sleep-numbed mind having trouble following the dialogue. She recognized every word he said; even this deep in sleep, he enunciated beautifully. But he put the words together without care, without meaning. It came out as a familiar gibberish.
Cate tried to laugh at the goofy sentences that kept slipping into his argument so she wouldn’t have to think about lying next to an unconscious, raving man, which was a thought she didn’t want to entertain in the dark, but she was doing it anyway.
“For Christ’s sake, Cate!”
Cate jerked at her name. It was like being dunked in ice water. She pulled the covers up to her chin, protecting her suddenly chilly flesh. He was arguing with her in his dream and aside from the weird sentences stuck in there at odd times, it sounded a lot like arguments they’d had. That connection to reality made Cate go even colder.
Jeff’s agitation grew.
“I get it. I understand what you’re saying. I really do. I give rides to scarecrows all the time. Never had a problem. No. Listen, Cate! Listen!”
The twitching in Jeff’s fingertips moved up his fingers and started creeping into his hands. His voice got louder, more irritated.
“I heard you the first twelve times. I know. I dated Bret Farve and Big Bird, too. You can stop going on about it. I completely understand.”
Jeff heaved a great sigh.
“I GET IT, CATE!” Jeff yelled, his hands gesturing at nothing, no one.
Cate cringed. Jeff opened his eyes and blinked a few times at the ceiling, his hands dropping back to his chest. He looked over at his wife and Cate stared back at him, wide-eyed.
“Huh,” he said. “Never woke myself up gesturing before.”
“You were trying very hard to make a point,” Cate told him as she pulled her arms out from underneath the covers. She wasn’t so cold when her husband was awake and making sense.
“I was talking to you. You weren’t listening,” Jeff said, frowning.
“Maybe I didn’t want to know you dated Bret Farve and Big Bird.”
Jeff’s brow furrowed. “What?”
“Nonsense kept slipping into your argument. Word salad, I think it’s called. You know. It all sounded like a sentence, but the words were all wrong. It didn’t make sense.”
“Oh. It made perfect sense in the dream. I think. I can’t really remember. I just know you were being aggravating.” He rolled over and pulled Cate close. “Maybe it was a prophetic dream,” he whispered in her ear, a smile in his voice.
Cate wanted to be annoyed, but it was hard with her back-to-normal husband snuggling up to her.
“I’m sure I could make it come true,” she said, giving his arm a light smack, trying to contain a smile of her own.
“Nah. Once is enough.”
It didn’t take long for Jeff to fall back to sleep, cuddled up against his wife.
Cate, on the other hand, kept waking up, thinking Jeff had said something.
The fourth night, Jeff slept without waking up.
The night after that, Cate did, too.
The nights were back to being peaceful, but that didn’t mean that, somewhere in the back of her mind, Cate wasn’t waiting.
Because Jeff had night terrors, but Cate was the one that suffered from them, and there was never really any peace sharing a bed with an active sleeper.