The Return of Sleeplessness

Sometimes not being able to sleep is like being in a vast department store where they’ve taken down all the exit signs. You’re in household appliances, one moment, comparing the pros and cons of two complicated coffee makers and then suddenly you’re in lingerie, still wondering whether the one you liked the look of, best, has a self-cleaning function. Unaccountably, a moment later you’re in sporting goods looking at firearms though you’ve never killed anything in your life, as far as you know. A smooth-faced young man appears at your side telling you there’s a clearance sale and you look at him and think, Oh, no, they’ve hired this guy with no back-up check and you’re pretty sure he’s that mild-mannered quiet fellow – the one who perpetually lives next door that you’d never suspect of anything like this. “These babies are just flying off the floor,” he says holding up something curved and shiny with a lot of cables and cams, and you say, “Not right now, thanks,” and slip between racks of camouflage gear, which seem to do the trick, only to find yourself in haberdashery, nervously flipping through little packets of buttons, ribbons, zippers and other notions – maybe hoping to find a great one. Then a kind elderly voice says, “I can take your measurements, dear, if you’re not sure.” And she could because she’s got a tape measure hanging around her neck, except you figure she’s blind because while she seemed to have been talking to you, she’s addressing a half-dressed dummy. Then you look in a mirror and realize it isyou and you back away, apologizing, and she says, “That’s alright, dear,” to the mirror and points you toward children’s wear but instead you end up in Lost Lyrics. It’s not any ordinary department store. “Can you hum a few bars,” asks a chipper young clerk. “I could,” you say, “but it won’t help because it’s something I wrote myself.” “Hmm,” he says. “How about: ‘This heat has no fixed address, no next of kin/So it clings, limp and wet, to your skin?’” And you say, “Yes! That’sthe one. But how does the chorus start?” and he says, “Da da dum, da da dum, dumbedy dumb.” Which is when you scream and race for the nearest escalator but it’s an up and you need a down. Wasn’t someone meeting you at six? All the escalators go up, it turns out, and you stop and sniff, hoping to smell perfume because if you were anywhere near cosmetics you’d be almost there, where the whole thing started. You run, now, up one aisle, down another until you have to stop to catch your breath only to feel someone grab your leg and when you look down there’s a small boy tugging on your pants. “Please, sir, are you my daddy?” he asks, plaintively, and you say, “Not as far as I know,” and right away there’s a weedy little manager-type peering at you through beady eyes and even beadier glasses, asking, “What’s going on here?” From the frown on his face, he looks ready to call Security, which would be great! “Please, yes! Call Security.” Because the truth is all you needis a little security: a cup of warm milk, perhaps, a teddy bear, a lullaby about all the pretty little horses – but not that one about the branch breaking and the baby plummeting to its death. Which is when a smile appears on the weedy manager’s face as if you had said out loud what you’d just thought and it’s then that you recognize him: “You were the bank examiner fella in It’s a Wonderful Life,” you say. And he says, “Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” and that’s when you notice that he’s deftly managed, somehow, to un-cling the child from your leg and is handing if off to a sweet looking couple who certainly look to be the parents of the child, although the mother says, “Do you have anything in a girl?”  Anyway, off they go and off you go, with the bank examiner leading you gently by the elbow. “This way, sir,” he says. “I think I know exactly what you’re looking for,” and he leads you to the bed department. “Are you looking for a twin?” he says, and you wonder out loud if maybe you have always wanted one. Then he chuckles at your harmless little joke and you realize he’s heard it hundreds of times before. “How about a queen,” he says, “or a king or a gatch?” You’re just about to ask him what that is, when you see, off in a far corner through a maze of mattresses, a bed with a blue comforter and a woman asleep in it who you’re almost positive is your wife. He gets you there – who knows how — and you say, “Yes, this one. This one is perfect.” You say it very quietly so as not to wake her up and the bank examiner tucks you in, pats your shoulder and says in a soothing voice, “I’ll get the lights.” And before you even have time to thank him, sure enough the lights dim and the store with all its myriad departments and diversions and upwardly mobile escalators slips away. You plump your pillow and think how lucky you were to run into that beady-eyed chap who turned out to be quite pleasant really and did, indeed, know what you wanted.  You’re just about to drift off, when the woman you’re almost positive is your wife rolls over and mutters, sleepily, “Honey? Did you remember to pick up the new coffee-maker?”

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