I don't want to sleep.
I don't want to dream.
I lay here in ultimate comfort. My bed is soft, the nightlight gentle, and gentle ambient music playing on the soft breeze of the air conditioner. I am too tired to write or pace, but I am not ready for my dreams again.
I know what I shall dream. I know of whom I shall dream.
She was beautiful. We met five years ago in Atlanta in one of those coffee and mixed drink bars that were no different in 2005 than they were throughout the previous century, and which probably had not changed much over the previous centuries. One of the barristas used to tell me, whenever he wasn't cleaning the fancy espresso machine, that he didn't think that coffee shops had changed much since the days of the Puritans. He used to go on about how when the disaffected and the bored rich used to dress in expensive black clothes and meet in smoky pubs to drink imported Eastern coffee and smoke New World tobacco while arguing about religion, poetry and politics. I don't think that all-night coffee bars had been around that long, but he may have been right.
His comforting rant was always the same. I think that his name was Jeff; I'd nod politely, order another Irish coffee and tip him, and look around for my next night's pleasure.
The late night, almost morning sky was clear and warm outside when she came in. I'd napped and freshly scrubbed off the daily sweat and latex that were my dues as an under-the-table housepainter, shaved stubble from my head and beard, and slipped on old jeans and a T-shirt that showed off what my daily evening workout did for me. She came in dressed in a loose lavender dress of something soft that clung to her full curves, minimal makeup on clear on a clear and straight face, and black hair down to her shoulders blade. Her nose and cheeks were almost angular, and I was in lust as soon as I saw her. She wasn't perfect, no one is, but I felt flushed as desire built in me.
She was reading poetry and writing some of her own. I watched her for almost ten minutes before I found the nerve to go talk to her. Usually I was not so slow; as a Buckhead regular, I was adept at the casual meeting and scoring game. I used my bright smile, bought drink, cheerful chatting: in those days of caution. I found that a carefree attitude and no-questions-asked style worked best for me when I did not want to go home alone. And when I set my mind to it I almost never went home alone.
But she seemed somehow different. I would have expected to see a demure and almost scholarly girl like her in the Highlands area, or maybe Little Five Points, but not up north, and certainly not a 2 AM. I think that was why I was a little slow on the uptake.
When she finished her latte and asked Jeff for another, I motioned to him that I would pay for it, then carefully carried my own coffee toward her table. With my best smile and full eye contact, I held out my hand.
"My friends call me Mark. Can I see your poetry?"
I didn't know much about poetry, but she seemed to appreciate my nods and short questions. Like I thought, she was lonely, and seemed to enjoy showing me what she was doing as I pointed to her handwritten pages. Her name was Jennifer, and she was 25 years old. She had just caught her live-in boyfriend cheating on her, and couldn't sleep.
After an hour or two I reached out and held her hand. "Jennifer, I can't say how much I enjoy this, but the sun is coming up soon. I'm not some sort of a vampire or other night creature, but I do need to sleep sometime this morning, or I'll pay for it at work tomorrow afternoon. I walk, since I don't live too far. Can I walk you to your car?"
She looked at me timidly. "It's OK. I'm a regular here." I raised my voice. "Jeff knows me." He nodded back from across the empty room.
When we got to her car I kissed her and she melted into me. Breathless, I pulled back afterward, one arm around her. As I brushed her hair from the straight line of her almost porcelain cheek I whispered to her.
"You don't have to go back to that bastard. My futon's big enough for two. You can stay if you'd like, no questions asked." That was my style, my modus operandi. In a day and age when everyone normally wanted a dossier on bedmates, I made my way by not doing so. I was a little careless, but I was young. And the lure of my carefree attitude, my lack of questions in that neo-Puritan age, was an aphrodisiac that I'd used to good measure.
I thought that she was going to cry. Finally she looked down and kissed my hand. "I'd like that."
We caught a cab, then walked the short distance up to my little one bedroom apartment. I'd left something playing on the CD when I left, vintage Tangerine Dream, I think, and it was still playing on repeat when I opened the door.
I kissed her again as soon as the door was closed and she kissed me back with surprising strength. Her neck was smooth and carried the lingering traces of an expensive perfume. She didn't object when I unbuttoned her top button and traced her clavicle with kisses.
We left our clothes lying by the door.
I still remember looking up at her in the nightlight's glow, sheened in passion's sweat and panting as she and I made love. In that moment I truly cared for her, and gloried in her breasts, the swell of her midriff, her hair hanging down as she bent to kiss me. She was beautiful, magnificent, and wonderful as lust and passion and loneliness drove us both to a crescendo in life's oldest dance.
She was on the pill. I hadn't used a condom; it was part of my style, and like Anna from the previous week she seemed to be a 'nice girl.' When we finished we lay entangled in each other while we gently traced the lines of each otherís faces. Finally I disentangled myself and went to the bathroom to quickly shower.
I like my showers hot and stinging; I draped a fluffy towel over myself when I finished. I knew that something was wrong when I came out.
Jennifer lay on the bed, violently convulsing and vomiting blood. Dark pools stained my sheets, spreading from her face and crotch. I didn't scream, but my hands shook so hard that I had to dial 911 three times before I got through.
Anna had given me a little gift: it was a tailored retrovirus that carried a hemorrhagic fever, sort of like Ebola, but which didn't affect men, nor some women. They now know that it has something to do with the Y-chromosome that men carry, but I don't think that they yet know why some women are carriers. I don't really understand; I was a handyman and a painter, not a biologist. It wasn't her intent, of course. We had merely been caught in that new wave of terrorist attacks on the 'promiscuous Western lifestyle.'
I was convicted of murder. My lawyer tried to argue that it was unintentional manslaughter, but the prosecution convinced the judge and jury that my lifestyle, my carefree seductions, showed that my actions were premeditated. I think that they wanted to make an example of me. That was why the sentenced me to the 'humane comfort' of the Dream Machine.
I'm halfway through my sentence. I can make it, I think. I just wish that I didn't have to relive that night every time I fall asleep.
I don't want to sleep.
I don't want to dream.
copyright December 19, 2001