The Sunniest Spot on all of Earth
Insomnia had begun to rule my life in more ways than several. One of these extra ways was that every gift I now received had something to do with it. From my mother, a box of herbal teas. From my roommate Charlotte, an eye-patch, the pirate kind, leftover from Halloween. This was kind of like giving a mountain hiker one shoe, but I didn't say anything. From my engaged friends Ella and Vera, a recording of them singing a lullaby, which by the end turned into a couple-y love-fest. It made me smile, but the kissing sounds fostered guilty masturbation more than they did sleep. The most unexpected help came from an old woman sitting next to me in the waiting room of the insomnia doc, who told me she had just the thing before rummaging in her purse and pulling out a dusty circular panel with a speaker built into the surface.
It's a sound machine, she said. My husband used it before he passed. I was just turning it in.
I'm sorry, I said.
Don't be, she said. It was seventeen years ago.
It's hard to let go.
What would you know about it?
I've always had a doctor phobia and so I left the office right then, hoping the sound machine was just the thing.
My roommate Charlotte was gardening when I got home. Sunflowers. Her locational choice was fitting because the left corner of our front yard was the sunniest spot on all of earth, no joke. There was even a little sign on it that was there when we moved in and who knows how long before. It read, in tiny elegant letters:
*Sunniest Spot on all of Earth*
The landlord had warned us not to stay there for more than an hour, or else we would burst into flames.
I thought this would be a good test, Charlotte said, pointing to the sunflowers.
The two of us went inside and watched the yard from our kitchen window. Charlotte estimated that there was about ten minutes to go and so we shifted and made coffee and circled the room. Back at the window, the sunflowers swayed and looked bright and did not burst into flames.
Maybe it's different with foliage, I said.
Maybe, Charlotte said. Or maybe it's all a big hoax.
That night I went to Ella and Vera's for pasta and they weren't wearing much and also they weren't shy with affection and it would have been nice to have an arousal-free dinner with them sometime but I loved them all the more for it. We had met in college, at an LGBT costume party that I'd gone to with my gay roommate Vince. They had just started dating then and Ella was dressed as a toothbrush while Vera was encased in a set of plush teeth.
What's the toothpaste? I had asked.
Um, Vera had said.
Um, Ella had said.
Love, they had both said.
By the way the word came out, soft and small, I could tell it was the first time they'd said it about each other. I like to think I prompted a massive breakthrough in the relationship.
After dinner we drank wine and sat in the living room, an unfinished sexy board game on the coffee table. I picked up one of the cards and read it aloud:
Wearing nothing but a hat, serenade your partner with a pretend flute while riding pretend horseback.
Who's writing this game? I said. Pretend clarinets are so much hotter.
Sometimes I ride a pretend camel, Vera said. Don't tell.
We laughed and then Ella and Vera took hands and looked at me with a more serious joy.
Timothy, Ella said, using my full name for effect, We need to ask you something.
I arched my eyebrows.
You know we've been thinking about a kid.
And we were wondering if you would be our baby-daddy.
I double-arched my eyebrows.
Great, I said. Who am I doing it with?
Don't be gross, Vera said.
We just want your fertilizer, Ella said.
Fine, I said. But that's like watching a porno and skipping the sex scenes.
Are you comparing our future child to the narrative aspect of pornos?
I guess I am.
You'll be a wonderful father.
Who's my baby-mama?
Ella pointed to her stomach with both hands.
At home, I put the sound machine on my nightstand and turned it on and thought about how I'd just agreed to be something I'd specifically planned never to be. The sound of ocean waves filled the room and I tried to blend all of my bad thoughts into it. I've missed so much in life. Wave. What if I'm just incapable of meaningful connection? Wave. I imagined this transference as an exposure of what the thoughts really were: pointless noise that only served to block out the helpful whispers lying below. These whispers said things like: you have not run out of time. For what exactly I did not know; the whispers avoided specificity. They were like little therapists, guiding me towards a dark that was limitless instead of encroaching. The sound machine was surprisingly effective at helping me receive them. I even reached a point of hearing you're awesome and kind of believing it. And then there was sleep.
I awoke on a beach, the ocean lapping next to me. My blankets were coated with sand, as if my bed had risen from the ground. A semi-truck was parked a little ways up the shore, and when I sat up in bed the engine roared to life and the headlights glowed in the blue dim of early morning. The truck drove towards me and I hopped out of bed in panic. The waves flowed in beneath my bare feet and retreated. The truck stopped in front of my bed and a man in what looked like a blue UPS uniform emerged from the cab. He approached me with a clipboard in hand and extended me a pen. I took it out of habit, but then said,
The man indicated a blank line at the bottom of a densely written legal page.
You're the new owner aren't you?
Overly effective sound machine.
I took another look around me, watching the water turn into white foam as it crashed into the distant bluffs.
That seems to be the case, I said.
Great, said the man. I just need your signature.
And I took the clipboard and signed my name because it seemed like the only option that entailed a continuance, as if the two of us would stand there forever if I didn't comply. The man nodded and returned to the truck, opening the back and pulling out the ramp until it hit the sand. He then got behind the bed and lifted up the side, looking over at me expectantly. After a moment of confusion, I approached the foot of the bed and lifted and the two of us carried it up the ramp and into the truck. Before he started the engine, the man asked to see my health insurance.
Oh, I said. I didn't think to bring it.
The man chuckled.
The ride back was long, but my seat came with a complimentary blanket and a fresh cup of coffee. We passed through the sleepy beach community with its up-early retirees, the highway with its morning commuters, little towns with shop owners jangling keys in just the right way to open up familiar locks. Back in the city, the man stopped in front of my house and the two of us got out and unloaded my bed. The man set his end down on the lawn and told me it was as far as he could go.
Legal stuff, he said.
The truck roared off and I stood and watched the sun finish its ascent. Most of my bed was in the safe spot of the lawn, but after a few minutes, little lines of smoke began to rise from my pillow.
Since Charlotte was still asleep and I had nothing else to do, I made her a breakfast of French toast and a banana. The French toast took ten minutes to bake and the banana took a couple seconds to peel and slightly over ten minutes after I'd arrived home I went and knocked on Charlotte's bedroom door. Her voice was the kind of groggy that followed an unnatural wake-up and it said something like,
I heard the sheets ruffle within and the door opened to reveal a frizzy-haired, old gym-shorts clad Charlotte. I presented the plate of French toast and peeled banana and smiled with all my teeth showing which felt weird because I never did that.
Why? She asked.
I never see you pre-shower, I said. I wanted to break that wall.
I liked that wall.
Well, I said. It's shattered.
Let's put a window in at least.
One curtain that only covers half the glass.
I stuck my hand out and we shook on it, then Charlotte went to eat breakfast in the kitchen.
That afternoon, I went to the sperm donation clinic and they led me into a back room with porn mags and adult movies; I looked forward to telling my kid about the true setting of their origins. It felt like a rare opportunity in which I could masturbate to Ella and Vera guilt-free, in fact it almost seemed appropriate, and so I shunned the stimuli and imagined a familiar fantasy involving the two of them and toothpaste and the whole thing was over rather quickly. My sperm was put into a freezer with my initials marked on the cup and before leaving I added some other words too.
To: Ella's Baby Orchard
I hadn't gotten around to moving my bed back inside, and so I curled up in my sleeping bag that night and put the sound machine on the storm setting and the imposing finality of the day's actions was dulled through booming thunder and a touch of rain. The whispers told me that I would find love. The whispers told me that my one weird tooth that stuck out further than the others would not impede this. The whispers said: you have not run out of time.
I awoke in the hallway of a mansion, paintings of stern and mustached men lining the walls. From outside I could hear the thunder, rain pittering against the windows. It seemed I was alone, and so I crawled out of my sleeping bag and wandered the candle-lit corridors of the mansion, passing through the formal dining room with silverware all prepared on the table, the kitchen with its clean and organized counters, the bedrooms with sheets tucked in, all of it like a grand hotel that had never kept a guest. Sitting before the fire in the drawing room, I spotted the man who had picked me up yesterday, again in his blue shirt and shorts, texting on his phone. I cleared my throat in the doorway and said,
Guess I'm ready.
And he nodded and rose and we left the mansion and got into the van parked out front.
The drive back took the entire day. As the man explained, the closest thunder storm had been 814 miles from my house.
You'd save us both a lot of trouble by sticking with the cricket setting, he said.
Why the mansion? I asked.
Don't ask me; that's kind of on you.
Given the distance, this ride came with complimentary meals from several fast-food restaurants and a limit of three bathroom breaks to be used at my discretion. We spent most of the time in silence and it was fairly awkward except there was this one song on the radio that both of us got into and for a second I fancied we were bonding.
How long have you been doing this? I tried.
Too long, the man said.
You have any kids?
The answer seemed strange, and then I realized that I would soon be able to give the same response.
When I finally got home, the house was dark and the air was heavy and stagnant, as if having broken an ethereal leg. The moon cast a spotlight of pale silver on the lawn, and within the glow there lie a pile of grey ashes. I approached and sat beside it and spent a few minutes there with Charlotte's remains. I felt surrounded by an unfamiliar sort of silence, the kind that existed without the usual assurance of sound occurring elsewhere. I went inside and retrieved a mason jar and scooped some of Charlotte's ashes into it, then placed it on my bedside table and set the sound machine to white noise. The whispers didn't come, and neither did sleep. After an hour, I gave up and opened my eyes. Ears filled with the low and constant hum of white noise, I realized the problem; the machine couldn't take me where I already was.
Around four in the morning, I took a jog through the neighborhood. Street lamps glowed amber above the empty streets, their quiet buzzing the only sound to be heard. In a few blocks, I stopped in front of Ella and Vera's house, noticing that the kitchen light was on. I could see Vera at the table within, wrapped in a tattered red blanket, drinking out of one of the mugs I had gotten them for their five-year anniversary. This was the mug with the toothbrush on it, which should have been Ella's, but I supposed such role-changing was bound to happen once in a while. I hopped up the steps to their front door and gave it four gentle knocks. The door clicked open and Vera stood wearily before me. Little lines of steam rose from her cup and she turned around and said there were a couple drips left.
I sat in the kitchen with Vera and took miniature sips of my shallower-than-shallow cup of coffee. Our unease about the future went unsaid, but was understood simply by our presence at the table, and I just sat for a while, soaking in the comfort of a mutual uncertainty. Finally I said,
I won't be able to drop by after three a.m. anymore will I?
Probably not, Vera conceded.
I shook my head.
Why did I do this?
The fridge hummed low in the corner. I began to shiver and Vera rose and squeezed into my chair and stretched the blanket over both of our heads.
Oh, I said. Yeah.
The blanket was old and frayed and torn in several spots and its cover turned the kitchen light above into dark red clouds and peaking circles of sun.
Is Ella asleep? I asked.
Below a pile of baby books, she said. Literally.
I got up and drifted into their bedroom. Vera followed. The bedside table lamp was still aglow, Ella sleeping soundly with her reading glasses on, a precarious pile of paperbacks rising from her stomach, leaning this way and that while somehow maintaining position, as if all of them were off in just the right way. Vera and I circled around the bed, stomping our feet here and there and leaning over the sheets to blow on the stack. The books wobbled but stayed standing. We looked at each other across the mattress and nodded, then closed our eyes and jumped onto the bed.