If I Should Fall Asleep by Cassia Gaden Gilmartin
short story

It’s nine o’clock, evening but not yet night, and the sky is the colour of peaches. Colours, rather. A pinkish red in the high places and yellow nearer the horizon, as if the sun’s split open and leaked all over the sky.

I told my family I was going home to sleep. They’re still at the pub, but I begged off, saying I felt a migraine coming. They were there for my sake, cleaving tight to me since the funeral to pull me through my grief, but they let me go. They had no reason to doubt me. My Allie was always prone to headaches. Like mother, like daughter. Now I think I do feel one coming, to save me from the lie by making it a truth. I fumble through the kitchen cupboard for a Solpadeine. Of course there’s none. I took the last one days ago.

I was desperate to withdraw to my own home, but I don’t know what to do here. I left the curtains open in hope of more bad weather, longing to watch the trees shake in a storm, but it’s quiet now. I thought the room would feel lighter, anyway, without the dreary weight of those curtains straining for the floor. It feels as heavy as it always does. Rows of ornaments stare down from the bookshelves: a wooden carving of two dancers, a circle of clay figures holding half-formed hands, a purple glass bowl. All of them collected on holidays, none of the holidays my own. So many gifts from friends who’d been away, souvenirs handed over for Christmas or my birthday. I can’t remember where they came from.

Nothing to do but make tea and go to bed. I stick the kettle under the tap, but turn the tap on too hard. Water sprays everywhere. I put the kettle down beside the sink and let my fingers curl around the counter, knuckles whitening. I don’t trust these hands.

My eyes fix on the windowsill, where old flowers sit all dried out. I should have thrown them out last night, but convinced myself they’d last a little longer. Anemones. Always my favourite. We should have used these at the funeral. The ones I chose looked like they were cut from velvet, speaking of age and luxury but not of youth. They were pink and yellow like this sunset, the colours of something overripe and about to fade or rot. A sin to have chosen them when there are so many flowers outside. It suits her, I think, to have died in springtime.

They were pink and yellow like this sunset, the colours of something overripe and about to fade or rot. A sin to have chosen them when there are so many flowers outside. It suits her, I think, to have died in springtime.

I’d like to call Katherine. She got her bit right. I let her pick the music, and she chose my Allie’s favourite songs. All nasal voices crooning lyrics I couldn’t make out, drowned out by major chords. Songs that sounded, to my ears, as if they were trying too hard.

But I mustn’t call. Katherine hurried home after the service, and I could see from the hard set of her shoulders that she didn’t want to talk. She doesn’t cower when she’s scared. She stands up so straight it looks like she might snap in two. I found that out the first time Allie brought her over, when they’d only been together for a month. Even then she looked like she would fight me to the death if she had to. I didn’t want to fight because I saw that I’d already lost.

She prefers to go by Kat. I should have remembered that sooner. It’s been so long since I spoke to her, or to Allie. A year since the two of them walked out my door, hand in hand, their fingers bound in matching silver rings. Four days since Kat called in tears to tell me about the bottle of pills on Allie’s bedside locker, and the empty notepad where there should have been a note.

I’ve dialled her number before I can tell myself to stop. The phone’s at my ear, cradled in my treacherous hand.

“Hello?”

She doesn’t sound angry. That surprises me, until I realise she doesn’t know who’s calling. I should have known she wouldn’t have my number. Her voice is hoarse. She’s too tired to talk, I think, and this call will stick in my mind as another crime against her.

“It’s Eileen.”

“I can’t talk to you right now. I’m sorry.” But she doesn’t hang up.

“I just wanted to make sure you’re alright.”

“I’m not.” She’s standing up straight now, at the other end of the phone line. I can sense it.

“Neither are you, I’ll bet.”

“Allie would want us to talk.”

“You haven’t seen her in months. How the hell do you know what she’d want?”

She’s wrong. I haven’t talked to my daughter in months, but I have seen her. I was on my way to a pro-life rally in Merrion Square. She stood across the street, frozen in the middle of her shopping, weighed down by plastic bags in both hands. Her clothes were red and purple like anemones.

“I’m sorry. I’ll call another time.” I should hang up and go to bed, but I can’t. I don’t want to sleep. I want to work out the details: how long it took, for Allie, before living without me became the norm and the sight of my face a disturbance. The exact date on which we drifted so far apart that seeing me across the street could make her freeze like that. If I knew that date, I’d mark it in red in my diary, this year and every year from now.

I know Kat blames me, but the knowledge that there’s blame isn’t enough. I want details, measurements: the depth of the blame, its height and width, its consistency. An outline of my guilt, to hold it in place. To keep it from spilling over.

I know Kat blames me, but the knowledge that there’s blame isn’t enough. I want details, measurements: the depth of the blame, its height and width, its consistency. An outline of my guilt, to hold it in place.

“I’ll let you get some sleep.” It’s a stupid thing to say. I know that as soon as I’ve said it. It’s nine o’clock; normal people aren’t ready to sleep yet. Just those of us who feel that it’s the only thing left to do. But I thought that Kat sounded tired. And that, if I said something kind, she might be willing to pick up when I call again.

“No point. I’m used to talking ’til two or three. That’s what Allie always wanted to do.”

I feel that the words are meant to alienate me. I want more than anything to know what my daughter talked about at two in the morning. What was on her mind all these nights, what it was that kept her from her sleep. I feel sure, for a moment, that Kat wants me to ask, just so she can refuse to answer. I say nothing. She can’t cut me off if I don’t ask questions. I tell myself it’s enough to know that Allie couldn’t sleep and now neither can I. That she’s passed these troubled nights on to me, a kind of reverse inheritance. It makes me feel closer to her.

Talking all night. For those of us afraid to dream, perhaps that would be the best thing to do. Just talk on and on until we know for sure there’s nothing left to say.

“What was that name she used to give to things?” Kat asks. It surprises me to hear her speak again. I thought she was done with talking. “I can’t remember.” Her voice is small now, so small that it sounds like Allie’s. Allie’s voice was always softer. “The car, toys, things like that.”

“Abigail. Why?”

“I feel like I heard it somewhere recently.”

“They used it for one of the storms.”

The first time she used it was for a plastic doll I gave her. She was never the kind of girl who liked dolls but, just once, we played with it together. We dressed it in pink and yellow, the colours of peaches. A baby should have a Daddy, I told her. For that role we used her favourite teddy bear. I said that one day she’d meet the man of her dreams. She already had, she said, and hugged the bear, laughing. Allie always wanted kids, growing up. But she didn’t want a man, in truth, and all I could think was that no man meant no kids either.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Kat says.

I think of the doll, dressed up in what I thought were my favourite colours until tonight. It will stick in my head all night, I know, and I don’t want her to leave me like this. I want to ask whether she noticed, in the middle of the black that surrounded us this morning, a drop of red dangling at my throat. I wore the necklace they sent for my birthday last year, stuffed inside the envelope with the card. They said the necklace was from that holiday they’d been on, to the place with the volcanoes. It was made from lava and jasper. They both signed the card.

“Tomorrow,” I repeat, my voice blank, as if tomorrow’s a shadowy fiction that will never become real.

I put down the phone and boil the kettle. Look around at the dried-up flowers, the heavy curtains, the rows of souvenirs from everywhere that isn’t home. It’s turning dark outside. I finish making the tea. It’s just me now and I don’t want to sleep. It would feel like giving up on something. I pick up the phone and dial Allie’s old number. Listen to the steady beeping, the same sound over and over.

It rings for so long I think it will never stop. There is no answer.

If I should fall asleep

illustration by Avital Yomdin

Cassia Gaden Gilmartin is a student of Creative Writing at Trinity College Dublin. Her work has appeared in Eunoia Review, The Bookends Review and Down in the Dirt.

Avital Yomdin is also part of #TheGalleryProject.

1 Response

  1. Verena says:

    Thank you Cassia for sharing this story!

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