A. Suiter Clarke
Elise could not get back to sleep. She squirmed deeper into her blankets, trying to ignore the feeling that she might burst if she didn’t run to the bathroom. It was one of life’s great miseries, to be both longing to go back to sleep and desperate to use the toilet at the same time. She tried to ‘envision relaxation’ like her therapist had directed her: green forests, quiet fields, sunsets on the beach, soft rain, a rushing brook.
Damn. She really needed the toilet now. With a groan, she heaved herself out of bed. On the way, she stubbed her toe on the black baby grand piano and would have crumpled to the floor except that it would have caused an embarrassing accident, so she hobbled to the bathroom with tears in her eyes.
It was more trouble than it was worth, the thing. Taking up half her flat, a constant source of dust, and woefully underplayed since her brother had moved out of the place across the hall. She could play, but she never found time in her schedule for it. To her shame, the piano was now more a home for her carelessly tossed aside coats than anything else.
After washing her hands, Elise made her way back to her bed, her pace slow and careful to avoid the piano, as if it might reach out and trip her again. She settled back under the covers, pulled the blankets around her body and cuddled one of her pillows. On her bedside table, the digital clock read 5:43a.m. in bright red. Seventeen more minutes to sleep. The day ahead stretched out before her interminably: back-to-back meetings with clients in the morning, a presentation downtown in the afternoon, and somehow a homemade dinner for her boyfriend that evening as a last-ditch effort to keep him around.
With another groan, Elise buried her face in the pillow. “Can’t I just stay here all day?”
The covers seemed to tighten around her and she smiled. But then the sheets wound around her ankles and wrists, and as she tried to sit up, her blanket flattened itself over her body, holding her down. What a strange dream. Elise blinked and tried to rub her eyes, but her hands were pinned to the bed. She struggled for a few minutes. Her alarm went off soon after, a ringtone that she had found relaxing when she first picked it out, but now may as well have been Chopin’s Funeral March for the way it signaled doom.
The alarm kept repeating itself, but she couldn’t reach it with her hands so she stretched her body out over the side of the bed, just barely able to reach her iPhone. Using her nose to swipe the entry key, she disabled the alarm. In the process, she also managed to push the phone off the table and onto the floor, where it stayed intact despite the fantastically thin carpet, but went far out of reach.
“All right, this isn’t funny,” she said aloud, even though she wasn’t sure the bed could actually hear her. It seemed to have pretty firm control over its ability to move, though, so she wasn’t about to disregard anything. “I have to go to work.”
The blankets did not respond.
This was a result of stress. Work was stressful. Her relationship was stressful. Stubbing her toe was stressful. Surely she was having a lucid dream, or some sort of hallucination. Maybe she had a brain tumor or schizophrenia, and wouldn’t that be better than actually believing her bed was holding her captive?
Elise tried pulling at the sheets around her ankles, but the ones around her wrists wouldn’t allow her to move that far. She collapsed back on the pillow with a huff. Maybe if she…
“I wish I could get out of bed,” she said, quite clearly. She even blinked, like Jeannie. Would have put one arm on top of the other like her too if she’d been able. Still, the sheets did not loosen their grip.
For the first few hours of the morning, she shimmied, shoved, and otherwise wiggled her body around on the bed with no luck. She called for help, tried to pound against her wall to alert her neighbors, and finally resorted to threatening to set the bed on fire if it didn’t let her go, which just made her feel foolish. The blankets and sheets would not release their prisoner. Her phone buzzed all the while with calls from her no-doubt irate supervisors, wondering where she could be on such an important day.
Resigned to her ridiculous fate, Elise finally settled back against her pillows and stared at the wall. Sam must have been one of those calls by now too. She could see the sun through a crack in her heavy purple drapes. It was past noon, and he was meant to call over lunch to let her know what time he would be by. Maybe he would get worried that she wasn’t answering and come over to rescue her from the bed. That wasn’t likely, though. She had a bad habit of ignoring his phone calls while she worked.
Sometimes she wondered why she was still with Sam. Or rather, she wondered why he was still with her. She worked sixty-odd hours per week, and was known to fall asleep on the couch in her pencil skirt and heels just minutes after arriving home. She rarely cooked anything but frozen Weight Watchers dinners, relied on a housekeeper for her laundry and cleaning, and refused to let Sam pay for her on their dates. He knew better by now than to be offended. It was just who she was, working for what was hers. Still, she could see in his eyes that little twinge of hurt every now and then, like when he surprised her with a homemade, candlelit dinner a month ago and she responded by saying she was really craving pizza.
Why was she like that, anyway? He liked to surprise her, to do nice things for her. Most women would kill for that, and instead it just made her feel tremendously guilty.
Her phone rang again. Elise stared at it, vibrating around on the floor. It looked tired. Oh, for God’s sake, was she going to start to personify everything now?
This had to be a dream. She started trying to think of the last thing that seemed real. Probably the pain in her toe from stubbing it on the piano. Sam tended to play every now and then, too, usually while Elise did her paperwork after she got back from the office. He would sit at the bench and watch her, while she acted like she didn’t realize. She would pretend she couldn’t feel his eyes on her while she worked. She would usually finish around 1:00am, yawn unattractively, and crawl into bed. He would join her, wrap his arms around her, and kiss the back of her neck because that was all she offered to him.
If this was, in fact, a dream, where did she hope it started? This morning, when she woke up? Six months ago, when she got her promotion and her life became a constant running game? A year ago when she met Sam? No, she didn’t want that to be a dream, she decided. She had put him through hell the last few months, but she had been good to him once, and he was good to her still.
There was a sudden hot feeling in her eyes. Tears pushed out of the corners, dripping down her cheeks and nose. It was the first time in half a year that she had given herself time to think about her life, and the results were nauseating.
She cried until her pillow was soaked, got up, and went to the bathroom for a tissue. It was only when she was finished and had a glass of water that she realized she’d been able to get out of bed. However, the sheets were still wrapped around her ankle, and as soon as she tried to reach for her phone, she was yanked back onto the mattress. It didn’t even bother her anymore. With a crumpled tissue in hand, she huddled under the covers and fell asleep.
Sam’s voice swept her out of a deep sleep.
“Elise, are you okay? Were you robbed?”
Elise blinked, meeting his gaze. His eyes kept darting around the room. Why did they keep darting around the room? She sat up and gasped because it looked like an earthquake had hit. All her belongings were strewn across the floor, the drawers to her bureau hanging open, her clothes dripping over the sides.
“What happened?” Her voice just barely scraped through her swollen throat. She felt hung-over from crying.
“You tell me! I came in and you were tied to your bed with the sheets,” Sam told her, one hand on the side of her face. His thumb stroked across her cheek. “Were you robbed? Your boss called and said you missed work. Are you all right? What happened?”
Everything came charging back to her at once: tripping over the piano, the wish, being held in bed by her blankets, missing work, realizing how much she hated the way her life was. She jumped on Sam, arms wrapped around his neck and legs around his waist in the tightest hug possible. His body tensed for a moment before relaxing into her touch. His hands slid up and down her back.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re all right.”
Had the whole thing been a dream? It didn’t really matter, she supposed. They could hardly fire her at work if the story was that she’d been tied to her bed and robbed.
“What are you thinking about?” Sam asked.
Her chin resting on his shoulder, she said, “Dinner.”
On the rumpled bed, she could have sworn she saw the blanket shift.
A. Suiter Clarke is an avid reader, writer and traveler. She has been published by Kingston University Press and River Ram Press, and writes a monthly guest blog for the latter. Thoughts about life in Australia, life as a writer, and good books to devour can be found on her website: asuiterclarke.com. She is currently writing her second novel and seeking representation for her first.