Asleep, Asleep

Eliza Smith

Once there was a girl who was so tired of her waking life that she decided to sleep instead. When she told her parents of her decision, they were very upset. What about your tennis lessons? They asked. French? Chinese? Sewing? Embroidery? What about those things? Don’t you want to learn them? You can’t even make petit fours yet!

But the girl just yawned and patted her mouth and said she was off to bed. In her sewing lessons she had made deep black curtains to cover her windows. She had also sewn herself a black silk mask to cover her eyes. She drew her heavy blinds and darkness swallowed her room. She slipped into her grey sheets and put on her mask and closed her eyes in sleep.

The sleep was magical. The girl didn’t grow thinner, colder, or sweaty. She existed in sleep as she might have in death; the only evidence of her life was the rising and falling of her chest and the occasional toss of her limbs as she turned onto her back or her side.

Eventually word spread that there was a girl sleeping on the brink of death. News stations came with their camera crews and set up in her bedroom. They clattered their equipment, loud and booming, but the girl only tugged a pillow closer to her middle or let out a deep sigh. They reported day and night, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Get Out of Bed.

Boys from all over the country came to wake her with a kiss. Doctors came too, to feel the thump-ti-ump of her quiet pulse. Psychics came to press their temples to hers to listen to her dreams. But no kisses roused her; the force of her life only confounded the doctors; the mediums claimed the girl’s sleep was dark and dreamless.

The girl never aged. She remained, at least outwardly, young and unwrinkled. All around her, though, time passed. Her parents grew old and sold the house to move to the coast. The next family to take over the house let her keep her room, accepting the sleeping girl as one might agree with an old wall sconce or a caught latch. The new children would play games with the sleeping girl, jumping out at her with yells and screams, molding her arms in funny angles, curling beside the breathing lump of her, in deep sleep.

Eventually the family moved out and the house stood empty for many years. Then the city decided to tear it down to make room for a new highway. Just before they demolished the house the workmen walked through the rooms and found the girl in her upstairs bedroom, asleep.

Not wanting to risk waking her, the workmen carved out her room and shipped it in a large crate to the big city’s museum. The curators made an exhibit just for the girl. Eventually the museum outgrew her, and the director had her moved to the basement. There she slept on, quiet and barely breathing, amongst the mummies and the stuffed birds and the presidential portraits. And there she stayed, content and glad as any sleeping person could be, for the basement was dark and dry and soundless and unfrequented.

After many years the museum lost its funding and closed its doors. It auctioned off the contents of its stores, including the sleeping girl. The ringleader of a little-known circus bid for her and won. He hauled her off to his campground where he built a special trailer for her, the walls painted black and the windows covered in ebony wood. When he toured the country, the ringleader would charge five dollars a head for audience members to peek at her through little holes in the trailer walls. They would whisper to each other in amazement: the girl was centuries old, preserved in sleep! And then the ringleader would hurry them along before they grew tired of her.

The girl became famous again as the ringleader’s most prized act. He toured the country with her alone, leaving his tattooed woman and alligator man and his menagerie of lions and crooked-necked giraffes behind. Eventually, though, as the ringleader had feared, the country lost interest in the sleeping girl. She didn’t do anything! the audience said.

He still dragged her from small town to small town, earning what he could off her sleeping body. One night as the ringleader drove through the flat middle of the country, his truck broke down. Being a bad man, selfish and terrible, he left the sleeping girl in her trailer on the side of the road as he thumbed for a ride to the next city.

The planes stretched every which way around the sleeping girl’s trailer. Cars passed quickly, never stopping to see what was inside the black, wheeled box. In a few days the sky turned green and grey as a bruise and a great funnel of cloud and wind wounds its way down from the horizon. The tornado caught the trailer and the truck, wrenched them apart as it sucked them into its vortex.

The girl’s blinds ripped from the windows, the walls of her room flew off in different directions, and she was torn from her bed in a great gust. She flew to the middle of the storm where it was quiet and still. She floated there, hovering and weightless, still asleep. The tornado wrapped her and carried her in the great swirl of its being, moving forward, never slowing, just rocking and cradling her, twisting against the horizon to the ins and outs of her slow, dull breaths. Some say it never will stop. It will keep plowing over earth and sea, at least until the girl is ready to wake.