The sleepwalker will often have little or no memory of the event.
Franny has heard all the stories about sleepwalkers. A woman in France once painted a masterpiece in her sleep. A man in Edmonton drove ten miles to pick up milk and only woke up when the cashier told him he had the incorrect change. Each night, she falls asleep and her things are in the right place, but when she wakes up, everything is different. Franny has woken up with her botany books off her shelf and dog-eared at different places, or her housecoat circling through the washing machine in the basement when she knows she left it on the hook in the bathroom upstairs. Her door stays shut with a piece of string, tied between the doorknob and her bed. In the morning, it’s been cut cleanly in half.
Tonight, Franny finds herself sitting straight up at the end of her bed. She has a vague memory of her lips forming words, but to whom? She doesn’t know. Franny pictures what someone would see if they came into her room and found her sitting there, feet planted firmly on the hardwood and her veined kneecaps showing beneath the hem of her nightgown. They might assume she was praying, forming the bulky shapes of words with her lips. Rooted to her quilted bedcover, she tries to mentally place herself back in her bedroom, settling into the softness of the bed and the chill in the air through her open window. The window was shut when she went to sleep. She reminds herself that she is not wearing a ball gown in an antique theatre. She is not seated at a restaurant to celebrate her birthday. Her body is not upright in a chair, hands clicking away at a typewriter. She unsticks her legs from the quilt and crawls back under the covers which have cooled in her absence. A toenail catches the threads of her sheets when she shifts underneath; she’ll try to remember to trim it tomorrow.
Psychological interventions have included psychoanalysis, hypnosis, scheduled or anticipatory waking, relaxation training, management of aggressive feelings, sleep hygiene, or electric shock therapy.
Greg and Franny met in the autumn of ‘97 when he worked as a leaf blower for the University of Toronto. She was on her way to the library when she saw him cutting across the field with the leaf blower strapped to his back. A hose and cables were wrapped around his midsection and he wore an old pair of lab goggles for protection. Franny watched him for a few minutes, noting the flecks and leaves stuck in his hair, the patches of sweat spreading across his back. She had just begun a teacher-training program after finishing her degree in botany. When she’d finished her placements and fall turned to winter, there were barely any leaves left to blow. She spoke to him. He moved in with her three months later.
She finished her program, but hadn’t taught in a classroom before discovering that she was pregnant. She lined the pregnancy tests up on the bathroom counter and couldn’t help but think, I am germinating; I have a seed in me. She slept in the baby’s room for months after the birth, sitting upright in an armchair by her daughter’s crib. In the night, she had to keep her hand on the baby’s stomach or else she would cry. Franny closed her eyes and pretended to sleep in the hope that the baby might sleep too.
Franny and Greg have two daughters, Helen and Kate, who are seven and nine. Kate wants to be an astronaut and Helen wants to be a writer. They eat their sugary cereal each morning and Franny picks at her cuticles, knowing that she won’t stop picking until she bleeds. Greg reads the obituaries.
Night terrors are a disorder related to sleep walking. They tend to run in families.
The coffee maker chugs to life, dripping watery specks into the cracked carafe. Franny keeps their coffee frozen in sealed containers because she believes that the cold keeps it fresh. Greg sits at the kitchen table, a clean mug in front of him with World’s Best Dad screened across the ceramic, but the letters curve under his rough fingers so that only est Dad is visible. His other hand props a newspaper open to the obituaries. While his bran flakes soak in the milk, he runs a fingertip along the inked lines of the newspaper and mutters to himself. When the coffee maker beeps, Franny reaches across the table to fill his mug and tries to remember the night before. A few grounds snuck through the filter, but Greg doesn’t see them floating along the surface of his coffee. She takes a piece of brown bread from the freezer for her breakfast. Greg folds his paper and dips a spoon into his bowl. One speck of a flake migrates to his lip and trembles a little.
Franny scrapes the bottom of a peanut butter jar with a spoon as the toaster pops. She tries to spread what’s left of the peanut butter on her toast, but most of it is gone or is slicked to her fingers. She wipes her hands on her housecoat and takes a bite of toast- soggy in the middle from thawing in the toaster. Franny notices a hole in the shoulder of his sleep shirt, a patch of greying skin showing through. Before, Franny would have stitched it closed. He sips his coffee and delicately licks his unshaven upper lip, nearly catching the stray bran flake.
“Do the kids ever say anything to you about my sleepwalking?”
He stares at the flakes floating in the bowl.
“Greg, do you know that I sleepwalk?”
He puts down his spoon. He pauses to swallow his mouthful.
“You nearly climbed out the hotel window on our honeymoon. I’m not likely to forget pulling you back in through the curtains.”
He laughs. She chews her toast, tasting only the thinnest coating of peanut butter.
Before the kids stumble into the kitchen, Greg says, “You should probably see someone about that. It might be hereditary.”
The kids enter still sleepy in their pajamas. They sit around the table with a wilting branch of wisteria in the centre.
Sleepwalkers should talk to their doctors or a sleep specialist about ways to prevent injury during an episode and about possible underlying illnesses.
For the first few years of their marriage, Greg bought flowers to put in the vase on the kitchen table. He used to bring daisies, yellow roses, and dahlias wrapped in brown paper. Now, he cuts branches from the wisteria plant that climbs the outer walls of their house. They wilt within a day or two and release a heady smell that reminds Franny of her grandmother’s house. Once they’ve wilted, she throws them into the compost where they stay until the bins are emptied on Sunday. While other routines have changed, Friday nights are still family dinners and they sit around the wilting wisteria branch to tell the same stories and laugh at the same jokes. They sit around the table and laugh with their mouths full of food. It reminds Franny of when she was a girl and had to walk by clusters of men outside bars and barbershops. They would laugh collectively and Franny would feel herself shrink, walking as quickly as she could to get away.
She reads the ingredients on the frozen pizza box, trying to memorize and recite them back to herself. Wheat flour, water, rye flour, bacterial cultures, salt. They can continue the conversation without her.
“Do you have to read everything, Franny? Come and join us.”
They laugh and she watches the pizza in the oven, cheese bubbling and breaking in the heat.
Remove any sharp or breakable objects from the area near the bed, install gates on stairways, and lock the doors and windows in your home.
She is staring at the hole in his sleep shirt, large enough for a finger to fit through but not large enough for him to notice or replace it.
“I don’t want flowers anymore, Greg.”
He sits up on the couch and repeats her words, but Franny is hearing them for the first time. He phrases the words like a question he doesn’t understand. Franny has no memory of leaving her room, or of gripping the railing as she came down the stairs, or of putting the kettle on to make the cup of tea she holds in her hands. The alarm clock on the coffee table says 2:09 AM. Franny notices the curvature of his body moulded into the couch cushions.
“I don’t know what that means, Franny,” he says as he rubs the heels of his hands against his eyes.
She sits on the edge of the couch and hands him the cup of tea. Greg stifles a yawn with a tense jaw, then sips from the mug she holds out to him. Franny thinks he looks like a child under the afghan that’s large enough for all four of them. The fabric tucks into the folds and cracks of the small leather couch. After a few minutes of silence, he puts the empty mug on the floor and lies back down. He watches as Franny places a hand on his stomach. He feels her palm, formless and warm from the cup of tea she brought. He keeps his eyes open for a few moments and then settles into sleep with a predictable pattern of breathing.
Franny was five years old the first time it happened. She left her bed, trailing a blanket behind her and woke up on her front lawn staring up at the chestnut tree. Her mother had heard the front door open and saw Franny through the cracks in her venetian blinds. She coaxed her daughter back inside and made her a cup of tea, wrapping her in a blanket from the hall closet that smelled like cedar and mothballs. The blanket that Franny had taken outside was covered in burs that pricked her fingers when she’d tried to pull them off. Miniscule beads of blood formed and spread on her fingertips before her mother took it away. Her mother had put stronger locks on the windows and doors, but in the end it wasn’t important. That was the last time Franny sleepwalked until her honeymoon.
Amy LeBlanc holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature and creative writing from the University of Calgary. She is currently non-fiction editor at filling Station magazine. Her work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear in Room, Prairie Fire, Contemporary Verse 2, Geez, and EVENT among others. Amy won the 2018 BrainStorm Poetry Contest for her poem ‘Swell’. She is the author of two chapbooks, most recently “Ladybird, Ladybird” published with Anstruther Press in August 2018. She will be attending an Emerging Writers Intensive at the Banff Centre for the Arts in October 2018.