You wake up in the middle of the night. It’s hot, the air stale, swirling sluggishly beneath the whining silhouette of a ceiling fan. The covers have been kicked to the floor, and yet still it feels as though your bed clings like a damp breath, sheets sticking to skin. But it was not this discomfort that awoke you. No, it was that thought rising, again, from the back of your mind amid a dream—that notion, that self awareness, that cue to a lack of privacy. You are not alone tonight. You haven’t been for years.
Sometimes you ignore it, that shadow overlapping your bedpost from the window. It’s late and all you wish is to return to sleep, return to a place of ignorance. But tonight, you are playful; an interest arises to start a conversation with him—with Benoit. After all, the two of you have not spoken since—no, not since you started taking Abilify. And, that’s right, you forgot to take it before going to sleep two-nights-in-a-row. You’ve let him in, left the door ajar, and it would only be rude to leave him to his corner, perched on a stool, a gargoyle of a man—a statuesque nineteenth century British dandy, to be exact, wrapped in wool and tweed, with eyes as large and alive as nuggets of coal—they scan beyond you, perhaps through you, listless and knowing.
“Benoit,” you croak, the dried cracks on your lips threatening to split. A dry mouth and numb tongue are reminders of that nightmare which rung round your neck.
“What a delicious dream you were having,” he replies. You see him blink, that harrowing innocence is kind to his features. Or perhaps the other way around. “I was wondering when we might get back to it?”
“I need a glass of water,” you announce, sliding off the bed. The pads of your feet brush through dust as you plod to the door, groping in the darkness haphazardly for the knob. With a contemptuous amount of glee and vigor, he stirs from his seat and grins—and this grin, you know, means he has missed this, has missed you.
“Debilify,” he’ll call it, if ever you reach into the medicine cabinet, and you’ll both laugh because you know it’s true. You know the madness is what you want, is what you prefer to swim though day in and day out—despite its difficulty, its horrors, its viscous maladies—because above all, it is entertaining. Reality, un-embellished, is terrifying. And bland and unbearable. Unbearable because it must be born alone in an eerily vacant mind.
“Let’s get that glass of water,” He says, disappearing down the hallway with such energy. You can hear his steps descend the stairs and leak into the living room, and you wonder what it all means. What must it mean? Do you own a thousand faces? Are you fragmented, an entity dominant in a singular vessel; or are you haunted—a lure for ghosts, yes, ghosts because that is what they must be; lest you be merely a hemorrhaging vein in the cosmic imagination of some Divine that has ascribed, to you, the task of care-taking for a most voracious and witty incubus, whom you so dare to call your only friend.
She replaced the VHS to the shelf and, after lingering for a second, opened the door.
There she did not find the wizards or witches described in that story. Not even a fairy or faun.
Instead, her late husband stood beside her bed, with squinted eyes and a partial smile.
He had the same brown skin in tight wrinkles, the way of those who have lived years in the sun, and was wearing his old pinstriped grey suit.
“Why don’t we go for a walk,” he said, and took her hand.
The day was unusually beautiful for the rainy season. Blue broke out of the sky in a fury and rolled on the ground like a wet dog. The grass was slightly cyan, the trees a sapphire, the stone path to their garden was iris. Blue had never been more yellow.
“How have you been?” he asked finally as they crossed the street beside the Italian restaurant where they used to share lasagna every Thursday night. They would meet at six after their long days: his adding numbers at the municipality office and hers over her weaving, waiting for him. She learned during that time that love makes one a wonderful multi-tasker; she had gained the incredible ability to do everything she used to but also think of him the entire time.
“Tired,” she said. “A bit lonely.”
He nodded. “Me too.”
They passed the corner where they had first danced together, fifty minutes past her curfew. They did a slow salsa under a flickering streetlamp, his skin gaining a golden glow from the light. Right foot back, right foot forward, left foot forward, left foot back. He mirrored her movements always a half step behind, almost tripping on the uneven cobblestone. He never lifted his eyes from her feet except to flash a sheepish grin as an apology for his missteps. But he was a quick learner, and by the time he had asked her to marry him he was able to spin her into ochos and conquistalas.
They continued to the middle of the plaza and stretched out on a bench, oblivious to the tourists with sunblocked noses and vendors trailing them with their songs of discounts and deals.
“It’s good to see these stone walls,” he said.
Before, when they were still honeymooners, he had spoken endlessly of his love for the city. Of the way it spread out on the mountains like points of a large star, and then at night how the illuminated windows shimmered like a reflection of the dotted black sky above. Of the bars with blue doors that you must knock on three times for entry, of the falafel stand that doesn’t open till midnight and can only be found after a few rounds of drinks, of the women with mahogany skin, long black braids tied halfway down their back, and rainbow skirts. She had worried at times that he loved the city more than her.
The sun began to bark at them with real temperament, and they decided to retreat to the shade of their apartment.
She slid into the space on the sofa next to him, allowing herself to rest her head against his shoulder and close her eyes. After a minute he rose and picked up her VHS from the shelf across the room.
“Disappearing into one of your imaginary worlds again?” he teased, examining the cover. He had always thought her fantasy movies a bit childish.
“Only when I have to,” she whispered, rubbing her eyes as she watched him return to their room.