The Hours Before

“Adulthood changed everything. Bedtime meant another kind of giving up.” An offering of flash fiction which ponders humanity’s ill-fated campaign against time…

by: Su Mielke

Remember sleep?

Remember when bedtime meant a gentle winding down. A gradual darkening. A calmness, even a joy, over seven hours of nothingness? A void free of obligations, of concerns, of work. You rolled halfway onto one side and then the other, tucking yourself in, mummying your arms tight against your body. You were a kid again when you did this. A comforting surrender of your meager freedoms. 

Adulthood changed everything. Bedtime meant another kind of giving up. You let go of the day, set it aside until tomorrow. Disappear to a place where time can’t find you. Tomorrow you’ll make the tough decisions. Tomorrow you’ll go through the papers, make sure they’re notarized, make sure the family understands his choices. Those seven hours belong to no one.

Remember what it was like to not wake up in the middle of the night for no reason? You hear the phone ring now, even when it’s silent. The tone you chose months ago when he was gaining strength, because it made you nostalgic for that old Disney cartoon you watched every Halloween. One skeleton played the bones of another like a xylophone. The ringtone reminded you of carefree times; the memory reminded you both of laughter. You know he only smiled on cue, wasn’t even hearing you tell the story. But when you woke up at 3:13am you thought: when you meet again beyond the stars, this moment will come back to you and you’ll share the joke as if you told it yesterday, the decades of separation erased.

You stand in a shaft of pearl moonlight staring. Cherish this moment, how easy to breathe in the night air, feel each second tick by devoid of sound.

The nurses said it would be only hours, but that was hours ago. Sleep was something to keep you busy until the bones rattled. 

Being awake makes you sleepy. The couch is as good a bed as any. 

The wind gusts stronger here than in the bedroom. If you tread lightly you can imagine you hear the ocean. You fall asleep pretending, dangling between rest and tumult, fully dressed but for the shoes. 

The crow wakes you before you recognize the sound, your heart racing while your body freezes to the couch cushions. 

Another caw, a confirmation.

When’s the last time you heard a crow?

Three caws, two. Three, two. 

You looked up every symptom hoping your Armchair PhD would uncover something the doctors forgot. 

You don’t need to look up what the crow stands for. 

You hear again your old ringtone, the shrill one you felt in your teeth, that sounded like an ambulance siren. The one he insisted you change so he could enjoy these last few days, these meager freedoms.

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