Sleep
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Sheep"
Originally featured on 02-07-2008
As part of our series "Zodiac Thriller"

12:46.

I can’t sleep. I turn on my other side so I won’t be staring at the clock radio. Fortunately it’s not that late yet; if I fall asleep right now I can get almost six and a half hours, that’s not too bad. But why is this bed so uncomfortable? Was it always this lumpy? And these sheets smell funky; when’s the last time I washed them? I put a pillow (also weird-smelling) over my face and try to will the sleep to come.

“Warm milk,” my mother suggested when I told her I was having trouble sleeping.

Actually the first thing she said was “You’re having trouble sleeping? Why? What’s the matter? Are you okay? Do you need to see a doctor?”

“No, Mom, I’m fine. It’s just some work stuff. So warm milk, huh?” I had heard that before but always thought it was kind of an old wives’ tale. Who would want to drink warm milk?

“Yes. Every time your father can’t sleep I go and heat up some milk for him, puts him right out.”

I slip out from under the covers and head for the kitchen. The last of the two percent is a little old but I pour some into a pot and turn the heat on. After a few minutes it starts bubbling and I transfer it to a cup. I blow on it then hesitantly take a sip. Not bad, better than I thought it would be. I go back to bed.

1:13.

My friend Ray told me to count sheep, another one of those almost mythological sleep techniques. To me it always seemed kind of silly.

“Why sheep?” I had asked. “Why is it always sheep?”

“Sheep work the best. Believe me, I’ve tried cats, squirrels, you name it, but nothing quite works like sheep.”

I close my eyes and start counting sheep. First I have them just lined up against a wall but I soon get confused and start counting sheep I think I already counted. Then I remember they’re supposed to be doing something like jumping over a fence. One, two, three. Wait, do sheep jump? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one jump, but these sheep are jumping like crazy. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. I think it’s actually working. I feel myself drifting…twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine…What a second! What do sheep count when they can’t sleep? Do they count people? What would keep a sheep up? Do sheep have problems, things they can’t get off their sheep minds? I’m sure they do. Maybe they know they’re getting sheared the next day. That has to be pretty traumatic, a gruff, probably bearded farmer, with a big, cold razor cutting off all your wool leaving you naked and exposed. Is there a more pathetic sight than a freshly sheared sheep? I remember going to a petting zoo when I was a kid and seeing some sheep without their wool. They were huddled together in the corner separate from the other fully-wooled sheep. They looked ashamed, embarrassed. My friends and I laughed at them.

Now I’m fully awake again, the guilt gnawing at me. How could I laugh at those poor, defenseless sheep? And what about lamb chops? Perhaps that sheep can’t get to sleep because he knows it might be his last night, that when he wakes up the next day he’ll be taken away and slaughtered, his next appearance under saran wrap at the meat counter in the supermarket.

Now I’m hungry.

“Turkey,” my ex, Jen, said. “You know how after you eat so much on Thanksgiving you feel like going right to sleep? It’s that chemical in the turkey, triptopham or whatever it’s called. That’ll put you right out.”

I go back to the kitchen and make myself a turkey sandwich with extra turkey and a side of turkey. I don’t have any mayo or anything and it’s pretty dry, but I choke it down and go back to bed.

1:34.

I’m actually feeling a little sleepy. And if I fall asleep right now, I can still get over five hours. Just as I’m about to maybe, possibly, nearly drift off, the milk and turkey perk me right up and I rush to the bathroom.

As I head back to bed, I remember what my neighbor Dan told me.

“Exercise. Try working out a little before you go to bed, you know, tire yourself out a little. That should work.”

It’s ironic that someone who would probably be classified as morbidly obese suggested exercise but I get down on my knees, move some clothes out of the way, and attempt to do some push-ups. After three I do in fact feel tired but I think it has more to do with my incredibly weak arms. Why did I choose push-ups? I probably haven’t done one since that fitness test in eighth grade. I turn over and do a few sit-ups. My stomach feels like it’s on fire. I crawl back into bed.

1:58.

I try lying on my back, left side, right side, aching stomach, fetal position, spread eagle. I turn around and put the pillow on the other side of the bed. The sheets smell worse at this end.

“Have you tried bananas?” my co-worker Rick had asked.

“No. Do they work?”

“They do for me. There’s something in ‘em that makes you sleepy. Eat a couple of those before bed, that might do it.”

I’m back in the kitchen peeling a banana. Wait a second, this is ridiculous. The milk and turkey didn’t work, why would a banana? Then I have a brainstorm: What if I combined everything? I pour more milk into the pot on the stove and take out the turkey. Once the milk is warm I dump that, three peeled-bananas, and probably half a pound of turkey into the blender. What else?

Oysters. I think I remember my brother Barry telling me oysters could help you fall asleep. I don’t have any but…I open a cabinet and scrounge around. Yeah, here they are, oyster crackers. I haven’t touched them in months and they’re probably stale, but what the hell? I empty the bag into the blender. Wait, was it sleep or sexual arousal oysters were used for? Whatever.

I set the blender to puree and it whirls and grinds. I start doing jumping jacks, the one exercise I’ve always been good at.

Once the grayish mixture looks liquefied enough, I take off the top. It doesn’t smell too good but — still jumping up and down — I move over to the cabinet to get a glass. What’s that on the floor? Only the light above the stove is on. Banana peel, I realize too late. I land on it and my legs slip out from under me. I lunge for something to hang onto and only manage to catch the blender. My forehead hits the counter incredibly hard and I crash to the floor. The milk-turkey-banana-oyster crackers concoction dumps all over me.

The cold floor is surprisingly comfortable. The clock on the oven says 2:23. I can still get four and a half hours. I finally drift off, dreaming of milky oysters doing jumping jacks over banana-shaped turkeys.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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