Around midnight on October 5th Mrs. Gladman began her preparations for bed. This was not unusual. The fact that the bed was in a room at the end of the hall was not unusual. Nor that she loved this room. In one long night there were fourteen sleeps, such longing for time and three trips to the bathroom. There was this partial body. I might have tripped over it. In the morning, everyone was confused.
Mrs. Gladman owned her home.
Mrs. Gladman slept five hours a night; and she did not count them. I miss her.
Months before, my friend had told me to introduce myself to her. At the time I did not know anything about dreams. People walk out into the morning from a dream and connect the dream to things. They say "this is the front of the house, the decision I have made; I live right next door to it." Or some see themselves seated in the diner down the street and turn away. Mrs. Gladman held approximations of all her neighbors; she did not sweat them. She knew them.
In bed Mrs. Gladman did not think about property.
My cousin is the ex-lover of Mrs. Gladman's third brother's downstairs neighbor, who liked to eat meat. I saw him yesterday. He did not say much.
On the night of fourteen sleeps I had not been afraid of the dark. I was lying there in thought when all this heat came. I must tell people about this heat. If I am thinking in bed and suddenly it is warm, then there is not much I can do about it. I could stop thinking and push the covers to the bottom of the bed but my lover would hate that.
Mrs. Gladman liked my lover. We all got along together. This is the kind of neighborhood where the women get along. Seņora Hernandez likes us. The old lady on the corner likes us, and likes the prostitutes. They make us cookies. I don't know where the prostitutes were on the night of fourteen sleeps.
In the night of fourteen sleeping I thought I met my twin. I had been afraid to fall asleep when she came in--just to borrow something. Our interaction was quick. She wanted my lighter. I told her where it was. She said "are you cold." I said "no." She said "good" and closed the door. I was on the eighth sleep.
The first sleep, where the eyes are involved--gives one time to look around. I usually say that I am seeing myself when I am asleep, but don't really mean that. I mean that I am first sleeping.
Mrs. Gladman was the elder and would eventually come to lead everything. Now that she is gone neighbors console themselves in sleep.
There was a fire in the store, the green one on the corner. And a crowd outside. Eleven days in the city, it is too hot to lie down. Women sweat and drink tea. My lover talks to her Mom.
The neighborhood gets excited to put out a fire. Fires do not scare us.
This is the story of the person who is second sleeping. She has gotten up for a glass of water, felt her way back by the wall, lost sight of her room. She has been asleep for an hour; hears a change in the weather. There is a climate outside, some showers. Her lover moves closer. The lover has got to pee, gets up and walks across the hall. The window at the end of the hall, completely dark. She thinks the moon is above the house and so I cannot see it. Goes back to bed. The old woman wakes up, does not wear her slippers. Sees that they are straight but does not wear them. She goes to the window, rocks in her chair five times. Gets up. There is a plant hanging on the far wall; she feels its leaves. Mrs. Gladman gets up, breathes on the window.
After everybody swept sand into the fire, Seņora Hernandez had a barbecue. I was tired but I ate. Soon there were rumors circulating about the new people.
The family next door owns a restaurant. Not that anyone I know has ever been. I like their food. I could like their food, but not the fact that they own it. Anybody owning food has been understood. Food owning happens to a large fridge, and people get rich.
They said that the Grandmother of the new family took too much meat at the barbecue, but I do not remember. It was a beautiful night, I was in love.
Those who are first sleeping know there are thirteen more to go. Mrs. Gladman was not the kind of woman who would count them.
As my neighbors' tempers rose I was nowhere to be found. People like me know our place after a fire: we have to eat and then quickly go to bed.
In my mind, all this temperature. I was going to garner it.
The body lying on the floor was thought to be a half pint body. Figures walking away. Sleep not the same.
In the ninth sleep the lover always fails to arrive. Or if not the lover, friends from the house over there. Sweet people dreaming through the ninth because they think they feel something. In the morning, their minds at rest.
On the night of fourteen sleeping, the old woman on the corner pretended to be at rest. Neighbors would walk by and want to talk to her, but see she was asleep.
People need to speak at twilight and so knock on my door.
That night I was having rice for dinner. It was good, but needed something. I put on my sweatshirt and went out to get it. Then something strange happened. I turned the corner and forgot where I was going.
When I came back I found this brief note attached to my door. I looked around me but saw no one.
All the women whose names fall under 's' in the phone book sleep soundly. Mrs. Gladman would say these things at night. They stand up straight, she would say.
The note on my door was written by Mrs. Gladman. I think the note on my door was written by her. Later I would reword it in my sixth sleep.
My lover wakes up. She is in a heavy sweat--had had too much coffee at dinner. In her sixth sleep she is not sleepy. She is irritable. Turns her back to me, does not breathe, faces me, will not open her eyes. Turns her back again. Awake now, I sit up in bed and lean against the wall. I know that in my sixth sleep I am to rescue her. Between the lover's legs and then the lover rests.
The note eventually said everything about dreaming. After eighteen rewrites I mailed it to my friends thinking I had stumbled upon something.
When women walk down the street the old woman on the corner yells at them and Seņora Hernandez yells at the old woman. Because she is yelling my downstairs neighbor begins to yell.
Then a man comes running out of the corner store. He wants to be in the middle of something. He rushes out, finds nothing. The people in this neighborhood do not yell from the street. I want to tell him. They pick their teeth from the window.
Mrs. Gladman taught me to detail life completely. Now I can discern any situation and give assistance to the people in need.
The afternoon of the night of fourteen sleeps I was feeling the need to calculate. In one week I had had two long nights, a short morning, and a rainy one. I had walked down the street and become startled by a mural just painted there and upset that it was still wet. I had had no nocturnal episodes.
A person so tired that she cannot learn puts too much relish on things. I am usually with her.
This is a list of motions one does not make in her second sleep, such that it is more her third.
Something has settled in me when I am third sleeping. Almost on top of the lover. I am so tired. Almost the lover's body. I have to wake up and kiss her but I am too tired. This is really comfortable. The lover is away; but her body knows me. I want to kiss it. In my third sleep I am trying to mumble something about kissing. In this sleep I sound funny.
Mrs. Gladman gave us lessons on the third Friday. She would later come to be known by them.
The night of fourteen sleeps, I had been learning the seventh lesson when the phone rang. I went out of the room to answer it. This was before dinner and after the neighborhood tea.
The point at which I returned marked the beginning of the partial body. A person makes a chart in her room; the room bears a resemblance to the chart. Inside of the chart is the periphery of the person's body. She places the chart against the wall and stares at it. Half of the body falls.
I walked into the room and then quickly out of it. Not sleepy yet I did not want to be there.
The neighborhood keeps itself busy in mystery. Seņora Hernandez puts her fingers in things. I like to jog by people's houses and glimpse them, while Dr. Calloway sits at his desk.
In the hour before twilight four people have their curtains drawn. The old woman on the corner does not have curtains when I jog by.
On the night of fourteen sleeps Dr. Calloway was not sitting at his desk. And Mrs. Gladman did not like him. Other people said they were out of town, but could not remember where they'd gone.
A neighborhood with a lake beneath it was reported in the news. They thought the lake might be a river and that the river might encourage rowing. The neighborhood fell under the ordinance next to us and an unnamed man wanted to buy it. That was the other day on somebody's stoop.
The day before that my neighbor Shirley said she would bring the newspaper by. The married women on the left hand side of the street like to stay ahead of the married men on the right. The short dykes tend to head toward the middle.
On any given day, friends spot me crossing the street. Later they call to talk about it. They say there is something suspect in the way I linger--but that they are too involved to see it--or know that they are seeing it. Mrs. Gladman, sweeping, could see it.
That night of fourteen sleeps made everybody a suspect. Now neighbors sag with distrust. They worry about it in their sleep. They worry that they had done something in their sleep.
I remember small things about many people when I am tenth sleeping. In this sleep I don't worry about them; I love them. In the middle of the night I wake the lover and make lengthy suggestions to her. I tell her she should quit her job, that I think she is dynamic, that I think I am in love with her. She is moved but really sleepy. I am fully awake in my tenth sleep and everyone I know comes to mind.
A mother thinks of her daughter in a quiet night. Wants to write her a note. She sees herself in the daughter and feels good about it. Once every two hundred and eighty sleeps the person's mind clears. The places of things make sense. She thinks, I am alive and so all these things.
In the tenth sleep I remember every detail of my mother.
Mrs. Gladman was not my mother, but she looked like her.
Seņora Hernandez also looked like her and a little like my dad. My downstairs neighbor walks a bit like my mother, but staggers much like herself.
Every evening after nine at least five people are staggering. Then they close their door.
The mystery brought to the neighborhood did not divide us. We were ready for a struggle and on a warm night welcomed it. But only when the night was warm.
Last night I woke from the fifth dream of my eleventh sleep in which I needed to investigate something. When I am a detective in my sleep I wake up knowing things. Two years ago I misplaced my favorite book, this morning I found it. But not Mrs. Gladman.
The search makes us tired. The mind gives up on things. I bleach my coffee filters, make frequent calls to my lover. When a neighborhood loses its center, there is no refuge. The people stay indoors, or if they have spent their lives indoors they begin to wander the street.
On the street today this old woman leaning.
A stout man walks by her. He looks at me. I think I know him from somewhere.
Another man turns the corner.
The old woman tries to trip him but moves too slow.
Then it turns out that they're together.
He waits while she goes to the corner store.
I decide to wait with him, but with my head down.
People who are outside with their heads down seem depressed about something. Nice passers-by would like to approach them. Because there are so many people in a city with their heads down, nice people start to get mad. A young girl walked by mad at me. She does not know Mrs. Gladman. There are eleven of us on equidistant corners in this city who are sad and looking for her. Mrs. Gladman is in us, but nowhere to be found.
Then we go home and sleep.
On every twenty-third night--those doors that dreamers open and close to something, people dying inside. Everybody wakes knowing nothing. I wake having learned a little more about my lover but not a thing about myself. In the morning she makes me coffee. We try to talk about it. The one tells the other: I want to exchange what you know about me for what I have gained on you. Everyone wants to ask each other what they have learned about Mrs. Gladman, but she is the only one that nobody knows.
Mrs. Gladman had interesting ideas on sleep and even more on between sleep though she was reluctant to talk about them. Now that she is gone my neighbor Shirley thinks it's her job to recount them. Because she cannot recall what was never given to her, she tries to get it out of me, stops by during the day. Where on the night of fourteen sleeps I put cream in my tea, today I am having only sugar--I say that to her and--this whole thing has changed me--but it does not bring us closer.
Mrs. Gladman's disappearance was a premonition, though I do not remember who felt it. Everyone wants to say they have felt it. In my sleep, some say, I have had the premonition, until the premonition becomes rumored and five days later insight.
Five days later. The phone rings. I think. It's nearing dawn. I think.
Out of bed now there is minimal commotion. Down the street old people getting up. In thirty-five years I will be getting up, but today.
Later, a person stands at her window wanting to know what's going on. A child running by outside turns to me.
As after a major flood, the people returning home are thought "new" by the neighborhood. This morning I opened my shades thinking I'm not new as I watched my neighbor Shirley pick her weeds.
Bio: Renee Gladman was born in Atlanta, GA, in 1971 and now makes her home in San Francisco, CA. She edited Clamour, a magazine of innovative writing that emphasized the work of women of color. Her own writing has appeared in publications around the U.S., most recently the Anthology of New (American) Poets (Talisman House), Tinfish, and Proliferation. She is the author of Arlem, a chapbook published by Idiom Books in 1996 and Not Right Now, from Second Story Books, 1998. Four, a collection of prose work, is forthcoming from Kelsey St. Press.
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