The Red and the Black

Four days without sleep made Henry paranoid. He duct taped his blinds closed and glued forks to his doorframe. The walls looked disproportionate, so he wrapped himself in a blanket and struggled to hide under the bed. He managed to squeeze his head under the bed frame, where he wept for nine hours before breaking out in a cold sweat.

Five days without sleep released Henry’s dormant anger. He smashed the burned out bulb that had hung, quite innocently, above his head, and threw the chair against the wall when he stepped on the glass.

He raged and roared within his studio apartment, which gradually began to swing and sway the sixth day when Henry’s hallucinations sank into his skull. The thick red bricks of his darkened walls shifted under his gaze. Dazed, he collapsed on the floor and saw the carpeting buckle, forming a soft wave. He breathed in as much air as he could take and let the wave tuck under his body and lift him up like a giant jellyfish. The forks fell from their post and attacked him on the ground, causing him to roll around in the shattered glass.

On the seventh day he slept, cut and corrupt.

Henry relied on sleeping pills mostly because he couldn’t quite stomach the taste of Nyquil. But the pills were no problem. He liked the way the smooth capsules felt against his teeth, and would go as so far as to pop a few and let them dissolve on his tongue. The bitterness dripped down his throat and spread out over his gums, a grainy layer of sleep that would get stuck in the back of his throat if he didn’t force himself to swallow soon enough. He would stay awake as long as possible, watching I Love Lucy reruns, anchored and immobilized in his bed, his eyes stretched taught open. When the pills kicked in, his frozen eyes would inadvertently well up with tears that would melt down the side of his face and catch in his ears. Then Henry would curl into a ball, pressing his knees up to his fat gut, and let navy waves of sleep wash over him. It was not a sound sleep, rather an empty void of nothingness that overtook his body every night. Henry wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t creating dreams and letting his cells repair while his brain rested. He was lifeless and numb, cutting out hours of his life at a time, shutting his body all but completely off. Essentially, Henry was doing the equivalent of what a drug addict might do to destroy his mind without the fashionable euphoria or weight loss.

In fact, all those sleeping pills did to Henry’s metabolism was help him retain water. His two chins quickly collected their third, and his cheeks grew into paunchy paper bags. Henry’s heavy chest sagged like an old woman’s, though his nipples remained shriveled bits of clay. Fat gathered at his sides and weighed him down in bed, allowing for several broken springs that would stab him in his sleep, though he could never quite understand why his gut was covered in black blueberry bruises.

In the morning Henry would wake with his eyes sealed shut with nasty crust. He would methodically lean over and check AM/FM alarm clock for the time. His eyes would fall on the crimson numbers. To Henry, the red and the black looked like hell. If it were before two in the afternoon, he would no doubt reach for the bottle of pills next to the clock and take one more, just for good luck, like an extra candle on a birthday cake. In his grip, the pills were mere grains of sand surrounded by his fleshy palm squeezed so tight should Henry ever venture to lick his hand he would find that it, too, was bitter. And then, splash, Henry would fall headfirst back into the pool of sleep. And if he had had any friends, they would have seen him drowning in it.


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