Dylan sat at the kitchen table with his eyes out the window when his alarm went off for the second time. He stood up and went into the living room, leaving the kitchen light on since he knew he’d return. None of the lights in the rest of the house were on but he navigated his way through without stubbing any toes. When he reached his bedroom he looked at the bed, took a deep breath, and then headed back into the kitchen.
For as long as he could remember he had had trouble with sleeping. Long bouts of insomnia followed by full days of sleeping would see his weight fluctuate and his health head more downward than upward. His doctor read him the riot act, saying if he didn’t get into a normal routine and eat better he would get worse faster. Trouble was, no matter how many sleep supplements he took or how many walks through the woods he endured late at night, nothing would put him to sleep except for pure exhaustion.
He stopped at the fridge and grabbed a beer before returning to his seat. The stagnant summer heat didn’t help any when it came to making him comfortable enough to sleep, and as soon as he sat the beer on the table it began to sweat. His wooden table had rings bubbled up in various spots, even though a stack of coasters sat on the stand next to him. Most of the time he was too out of it to care.
It was a Wednesday night and Dylan had been awake for four consecutive days. He defined a day awake as not sleeping for more than thirty minutes in that twenty four hour span. The people that worked the convenience store around the corner from him always knew when an insomnia cycle would start by the particular shopping run he did. A carton of cigarettes, four cases of beer and two bottles of whiskey. Usually by day six all of the whiskey and half of the beer would be gone, not to mention most of the carton of cigarettes, and by the morning of the seventh day he’d switch to the other part of the cycle.
Three in the morning rolled around and he’d gone through half of the first case of beer he’d purchased the night before. He was on day three of his current cycle and it felt like it was going to last longer than the others. Although, he got so little sleep that it usually always felt longer than the last time. He’d go through a slew of alcohol in hopes of getting drunk and passing out, but he would just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling until he sobered up again. Rinse, repeat.
His boss, a plump-but-spritely man named Gavin, usually did his best to work around his issue. He would work him as much as he could and schedule his days off around the time he would sleep. Most of the time it worked pretty well, barring an accident with a forklift. On Dylan’s last day of his first work week he was being trained on how to operate the lift to reorder pallets, at least until he came to the end of his cycle and fell asleep at the wheel. It took him a bit of effort to convince Gavin he wasn’t drunk, but since there was no damage, with a full explanation he was pardoned.
Workdays were filled with nonstop movement. He was an inventory manager for a big box store, which meant he had to coordinate deliveries and make sure the right products were rotated and taken out to the floor for stocking. The job required a lot of detail, which was something anyone who knew him would wonder how he managed. His inability to sleep and tendency to over-drink didn’t make him the most dependable person.
Closer to four AM his phone rang. He checked his watch and then the clock on the wall above the small TV that sat on the kitchen counter to make sure they were the same, then reached behind him to answer.
“Oh good, you’re up,” said a female voice, “I thought you might have been asleep.” His friend Ruth laughed at her own attempt at humor.
“You know me,” said Dylan. He lit a cigarette and stayed silent.
“Want some company?” asked Ruth, her voice raw as if she had been yelling considerably.
Dylan licked his lips and stared up at the dingy light in the middle of the kitchen ceiling. The globe was dirty and cast an orange-yellow glow across the room, giving it a sickly feel that one might associate with heatstroke. “Sure, I guess. If you want to.”
“Good, I’ll be there shortly.”
He hung up the phone and looked out the window, even though it was too dark to see anything. Ruth didn’t drive either, so he wouldn’t be able to see any headlights coming toward him. His place was built into the side of a hill, a small string of apartments that sat side by side, each mirroring the one next to it. He liked that he could climb up the side of the hill by his back door and walk up onto the roof. Sometimes when it was nice out he would take some of his beers onto the roof and sit on the edge with his legs hanging off while he drank.
The apartments were on a pretty desolate stretch of road between two towns, neither of which were very big, which meant that his surroundings were perfect to nurture the introvert. Lots of woods and power lines and nothing else. The closest houses were about three quarters of a mile away on each side, which led to the only downside: his neighbors. Since they were far from town and separated from the other houses, the apartment people relied on each other for items and, worse for Dylan, company.
A few sips into his third beer of the night came a knock at the door, and the resulting opening and closing noises. The big door and kitchen window were both open to coax a breeze, but the building wasn’t far from the tree line so they rarely enjoyed that relief. Ruth walked into the kitchen, cigarette in hand, and sat in the chair opposite Dylan. She placed her purse on the floor and her cigarettes on the counter, along with a half-full bottle of rum.
“Ain’t seen ya in a while,” she said.
“Ain’t been around in a while,” Dylan replied. He grabbed the big ashtray and dumped it in the bedroom-sized trash can to his left. “Having a little more trouble than usual lately.”
“People have been asking about you at the Eagles.” Ruth got up and grabbed two glasses from the dish drainer and sat back down. “I keep telling them that you’ll be back soon, but you’re makin’ me out to be a liar, damnit.”
Ruth was an ex-biker chick, and the ex part really played into her attitude. Riding was her life, at least until her husband left her in Vegas. A trip across the country and he left her on the complete opposite coast with no money and no one to call. He felt sorry for her and was even irrationally upset at the man he had never met, until she finished her story and explained the he left because he found out she had gotten drunk and slept with someone in exchange for cocaine.
One of their first nights drinking together was a tell-all, and he learned that Ruth was a lot like him in many aspects. She had trouble sleeping quite often, but it was mostly because of her drug use, and her expensive habit made it hard for her to scrape by. She pulled a meager paycheck as a waitress at the Eagles, but not many of the clientèle would be considered good tippers. Or even regular tippers on most occasions. He tried to leave her a few extra bucks when he could.
She poured two fingers worth in each glass and slid the second one to him, and he accepted it with a raise of the glass. He took a good pull and breathed out quickly to ease the burn, then sipped his beer as a backer.
“Calvin still there?” he asked.
“Yeah, but him and Gus go to the American Legion on Wednesdays now for the pool tournaments.”
Closing in on their sixties wasn’t something any of them liked to think about, but it was usually something they always talked about. Someone was getting sick or had some kind of pain, whether it be physical or emotional. Coping with the deterioration of their bodies was one thing, but the loss of their memories was a different animal. Gathering at the local establishments for a round or two of nine ball was the only thing a lot of them had to look forward to.
Dylan maintained the grounds for a sum that was taken off his rent, but some of the other guys weren’t as lucky. They either dealt with mobility issues or lived with their children, or else in an assisted living home. Quite a few of them were war vets, and a fair number worked together at the GM plants when the rustbelt was really taking off. Dylan thought he could see the memories in some of their eyes on occasion, a flash of a smile when they’d see an old Ford in good condition, but the smile was replaced with age as quickly as the vehicle had come and gone.
Ruth sipped her drink and coughed a little, then went to the fridge for a beer. She wiped her mouth on the back of her sleeve before she cracked the can and took a healthy pull. “I hear they’re gonna be tearin’ down the old Kallinger place on 47.”
“Figured they would,” said Dylan, pulling another cigarette out of his pack. As he did Ruth did as well. “Got kids squatting in there. Spray painting, doing drugs.”
“Can’t blame ‘em,” said Ruth.
Dylan cleared his throat and cracked his knuckles. “What do you say we get this show started, then?” he asked.
“Let’s do it.”
Ruth stood up and grabbed her bottle, glass and can then scooped up Dylan’s drinks so he could grab more out of the fridge. He grabbed the rest of the case he’d opened up previously and they went out back to climb on the roof. Once they were settled into their usual spot, over the kitchen window with their legs hanging off the edge, Dylan finished his whole glass in one slug and drained the rest of his can. Ruth did the same.
They watched as two cars went by in the span of three hours. The crickets were loud in their ears, the chirps echoing off the trees and bouncing off the pavement between vehicles. Ruth reached over and grabbed Dylan’s hand and held it in her own. He didn’t mind. The feeling of having his fingers intertwined with someone else’s was in itself calming and slightly irritating. He liked the idea of being close with someone, but it was never something that happened in his life. Work got in the way or relationships failed because of his inability to sleep like a normal person. After the third failed try he resolved to go it alone.
“When’s the last time you slept?” Ruth asked, replacing her empty can with a full one by switching their places in the case. The caring tone eased her smoke-torn throat and made her sound more feminine than usual.
“Few days ago,” said Dylan. “Before that I only slept for about ten hours instead of the normal twenty five or thirty. I’m not sure what’s up.”
Ruth’s hand squeezed his and they both drank. The sun was coming up quickly and the tops of the trees were dusted with a light blue, the same color of Ruth’s eye shadow. She was the younger one of their lodge group, checking in at forty nine, but she dressed like she was still in her twenties. Dylan wondered if maybe they could have been an item if they’d met at the right time, but between her messy divorce and his inability to connect fully with another person, they were content as drinking buddies.
Two beers turned into four, which turned into eight. The bottle of rum was mostly gone, save for a sip lingering at the bottom. Ruth sat cross-legged and ashed her cigarette in a nearly empty beer can, the hissing sound of hots being snuffed out by liquid the only noise between them aside from their breathing. The one thing Dylan liked the most about drinking with Ruth was that he didn’t have to talk. His neighbors always wanted to ask him about family or work or whatever was in the news, but Ruth just let things sit. He appreciated that.
They watched a deer cross into the parking lot, sniff around a bit and then head left into the trees. Ruth watched it closely, following it’s movements with her whole body instead of just her eyes. A loud coughing came from their other side, raspy and full-bodied, then trailed off a few moments later. The rapidly lightening sky revealed a thick layer of clouds that looked like they might bring rain later on in the day.
“I have to work in three hours,” Dylan said as he finished the beer in his hand and stood up. “I should probably make some coffee and take a shower so I don’t smell like a liquor cabinet when I go in.”
Ruth stood up next to him and dusted her skirt off, then collected the glasses and bottle. “You hop in the shower and I’ll start the coffee.”