The Way We Sleep, an anthology of prose, comics, interviews, all about how we spend our time in and around beds was published this month by Chicago's Curbside Splendor. Currently on a "blog tour" to promote the book, editors C. James Bye and Jessa Bye stop by Hobart for a preview of the book in the form of an excerpt from Becky Margolis' "Soak." After that, enjoy an exclusive playlist with comments by the editors themsevles.
by Becky Margolis
Lucy wished she had taken something before they left, something to help her sleep and maybe a better book. There were no TVs where they were going, and Lucy had only brought the latest from her book club—the one that her sister urged her to join, and which she was now regretting—a novel about conjoined vampire twins. She’d been stuck on page ten for the last week.
“It’s so windy,” Lucy said.
“That’s just the sound of the car moving,” Mitchell said. “It’s not windy at all.”
“It’s really my least favorite type of weather. I wish it were snowing instead.”
Mitchell kept his eyes on the road. “It doesn’t snow in June," he said. "Not as long as I’ve lived here.”
Lucy and Mitchell were going away for the weekend, but no, they were not going to get married. At some point, last week, or last month, or last summer, Lucy had decided this. So, now what were they doing? They were taking a romantic trip, a few hours out of town, to Wild Horse Hot Springs Resort. It was a historic place, built in the 1940’s and, according to their guidebook, featured ‘leisurely vacations of the yesteryear.’ They would spend the weekend soaking—like something dehydrated: beans or instant soup, water seeping in through their pores and the bottoms of their feet. Lucy imagined that they would emerge from the pool as versions of themselves fifty years from now, wrinkled and senile. Wrinkles so deep you could hoard raisins between them, or cherry pits.
Lucy pressed her face against the window, watching the empty rolling hills—like chubby, freckled knees—as they sped along the curvy two-lane highway, hugging the river. They passed the occasional car heading in the opposite direction and a few abandoned trucks littered along the side of the road. As they drove, the towns grew farther and farther apart and then seemed to disappear entirely. There were herds of cattle sprinkled sparingly across the landscape, dashed here as if on second thought, and even they looked spooked and disoriented.
“The mineral water in these pools can cure anything,” Lucy said. “That’s what I read on the website. Headaches, cancer—they have testimonials from customers.”
“It’s called advertising,” Mitchell said.
Lucy didn’t say anything more about the water after that, or the weather. These silences, when they first started cropping up in conversations not too long ago, used to bother Lucy, but lately she had begun to revel in them. She allowed the silence to fester, uninterrupted. It was a test of endurance, really—like trying to run to the next telephone pole before collapsing; holding your breath underwater until your lungs burst.
Who would you be, if you were in the story?
The one that’s beautiful in an interesting sort of way: choppy haircut, misplaced freckles. Isn’t she the one with the cat? Or is it a guinea pig?
Lucy can never remember the details right, which gets her into trouble. The other women—her sister’s friends—accuse her of skimming, of pilfering these books for parakeets and broken furnaces and clever lines of dialogue. They suspect her of being a lazy reader. A book club thief. A sensationalist! They think she will go home and say to Mitchell: “Honey, I love you but when you touch me I crumble into a million pieces. Then you take the pieces, fry them in a pan, and eat me. Please don’t eat me.”
To be honest, Lucy would never steal something like that. Her sister and her friends are mistaken. The fact is, her life is already complicated enough as is. But the facts have a way of mixing themselves up. So to avoid any conflict, Lucy says, instead: I would be the last letter on every page.
They arrived finally at the town of Wild Horse. Signs along the highway declared its attractions: Healing waters! Live music! Espresso! The main strip featured a convenience store, a casino, a couple of restaurants and an out-of-business antiques shop. And on top of a small hill at the edge of town sat the resort, a faded pink, stucco building with two swimming pools in front, an empty field behind, and a bar next door, marked by a sign that read, Get your beer here. There were no horses to be seen, wild or otherwise. The place looked mostly deserted, just two or three other cars besides theirs in the parking lot, and for a moment—with the wind howling wildly like that, and the thick gray sky, and the woman at the front desk who must have been a direct descendent of the wife from The Shining, it was the teeth really—Lucy wondered if they'd made some fatal mistake by coming here.
“Looks like you folks got here just before the weather,” said the woman at the desk, as she handed them the room key. “Good timing.”
“What’s that smell?” Mitchell said. He raised his hand and swirled it around, as if to refer to the mild scent of rotten eggs hovering in the air.
“That’s the bacteria in the water, converting to sulfur,” the woman said.
Mitchell nodded, though he looked uncertain.
“The water in the pools here comes up from very deep inside the earth,” she added.
“How deep?” Lucy said.
The woman smiled, showing off her large teeth, and said quietly, almost in a whisper, “As deep as a volcano.”
Lucy didn’t know what that meant. But she liked the sound of it. She pictured an underground river being pushed up through the dirt by bubbling lava—rivers on fire. “Does that make the water more potent?” she asked.
The woman shrugged. “Not sure,” she said. “But people swear by it—have since the beginning of time.” She paused and flicked her pencil against her palm. “You’ll get used to the smell. Don’t worry.”
They walked back out to the car, grabbed their bags and went to find their room. Lucy opened the door and they stepped inside. “I don’t want to wear my bikini out there,” she said. “Everyone’s going to look at me like I’m a whale.”
Lucy had been growing, expanding from the waist out, right through her jeans and out of her dresses. She was filling herself with ice cream sandwiches and personal pan pizzas and Oreo cookies. A long time vegetarian, Lucy was now eating meat: burgers, hot dogs, bologna, whatever she could get. It had been a sudden transformation, just in the last six months or so, and Lucy believed she might have doubled in size, tripled even. But she was not scared. Lucy was intrigued by her rate of expansion, impressed even—like watching the way something molded if you left it out too long: where did that stuff come from?
“Maybe you’re pregnant,” her sister suggested.
“That’s physically impossible,” Lucy said.
One time, last year, Lucy had been pregnant for eight weeks, but her sister did not know this. During that time Lucy had felt as if there was some kind of magical sea urchin inside her, an urgent, dangerous secret. But when she learned that the baby had no heartbeat—when she lay on the examining chair watching the computer screen, the sonogram of the dead thing inside her—she’d been disgusted with her body. The failure of her organs and the atrophied creature inside.
“You did the best you could,” Mitchell had said, as if he were some sort of softball coach. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“No one’s going to look at you,” Mitchell said now, digging through his backpack, spilling its contents onto the bed like some mangled, useless thing. "Where the hell is my suit?"
"You can wear mine," Lucy said. "I'm not going in. I've got to finish reading, anyway."
"I could have sworn I packed it."
“You think no one looks at me anymore?”
"I can't believe I forgot my suit.”
"Why do you keep calling it that—suit? What is it, a tux?"
"No," Mitchell said. "They're shorts."
Lucy sat down next to him on the bed. She ran her fingers over the rough, flowered comforter, tracing the seam. It was part of a mood, this comforter—maybe that's what a decorator would say—and the lace cloth on the night-stand, the dusty painting of a farm scene hanging above the vanity, the antique lamp. It all felt very forgotten, this room, this whole place, like they were here in the aftermath of a great party. The lingering presence of everyone who had slept in this bed: a king with tuberculosis, a duchess afflicted with rubella.
(conintued in The Way We Sleep)
Becky Margolis has an MFA from the University of Montana. Some of her stories can be found in Necessary Fiction, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and the Prism Review. She lives in Missoula, where she counts bears to sleep.
The Way We Sleep To Music
Editors C. James Bye & Jessa Bye discuss some of their favorite songs about sleep. Click to listen to the playlist on Spotify.
1.“Sleep Through Summer” by Now Now Every Children
Jessa: I put this song on one of the mix CDs I made Casey. There were many of those back and forth when we first started dating. And then the dread and boredom set in.
2. “When You Sleep” by My Bloody Valentine
Casey: I saw My Bloody Valentine on their reunion tour at the Aragon in Chicago. It was the second loudest show I’d ever been to (more on the first loudest show later!). That night when I tried to go to bed, I actually couldn’t sleep because the buzzing in my ears was so loud.
3. “When You Sleep” by Cake
Jessa: Hey, it’s the same name as that other song. I saw Cake at Meijer Gardens in Michigan in 2007. They didn’t pay this song. But little kids were rocking out on their parents’ picnic blankets.
4. “Sleep to Dream” by Fiona Apple
Casey: We actually don’t agree a lot on our musical tastes, but Fiona Apple is someone we agree on.
5. “Asleep” by The Smiths
Jessa: The Smiths are another group we agree on. I loved this song during my late teens’ religious phase, when I willfully misinterpreted secular songs to have religious meanings, and so the lyric, “There is another world, there is a better world, there must be” must have meant there was an afterlife and God has a better place for us. See also: Bright Eyes’ “The Big Picture.”
6. “Sleep Alone” by Bat for Lashes
Casey: We saw Bat for Lashes who were playing as one of the first acts of the day at Lollapalooza in 2009. 12 in the afternoon didn’t seem like the best time to see an act like hers. But we snuck whiskey in and were drinking before. And the wind suddenly kicked up, sand was swirling in the air, and Natasha Khan’s hair was blowing dramatically, and suddenly it was the perfect atmosphere to see Bat for Lashes in.
7. “If You Can’t Sleep” by She & Him
Jessa: We listened to a lot of She & Him when we took our first vacation together to a bed and breakfast. When I have bangs, my students think I look like Zooey. Or Matilda.
8. “Goodnight Saigon” by Billy Joel
Casey: I really only picked this one because the first year Jessa and were dating Will Ferrell hosted the season finale of SNL and the last sketch of the night was just Ferrell and some other guys talking over dinner and he breaks into this song. Then each couple of lyrics more and more guest-stars—Paul Rudd, Norm MacDonald, Artie Lang, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hanks, Green Day—come out singing along and pretending to play violins or whatever. It’s amazing and they won’t rerun it or put it on Netflix because of the copyright issues. So, when you listen to this track, just imagine the glory.
9. “Good Night Goodnight” by Spiritualized
Casey: Spiritualized were the loudest show I’ve ever seen. It was Halloween in Madison, Wisconsin, I was covered in fake blood, they had a strobe light on throughout the entirety of a twenty-minute song, and the volume literally made me throw up. You wouldn’t really expect that from listening to a song like this.
Honorable Mention (“honorable” because it’s not on Spotify):
10. “Too Many Birds” by Bill Callahan
Jessa: We had this album on our CD alarm clock for probably around six months when it came out. It’s absolutely the best, most natural, and relaxing sound anyone ever could wake up too. No matter what we had to do that day, it actually felt good to wake up. You can listen to it here.
The Way We Sleep is an anthology of short stories, interviews, and comics all dealing with the way we sleep in a handsome 10 x 10, glossy coffee table style layout, 250 pages. Edited by C. James Bye and Jessa Bye, published by Curbside Splendor.
C. James Bye is the co-founder and Arts and Media editor of Knee-Jerk Magazine. He insists on being the little spoon, despite his six-foot three-and-half inch frame.
Jessa Bye was the web editor of Monkeybicycle for three years. She kicks off her socks when she sleeps, and her husband has to pick them up. Like, every single morning.