Next Stop, Dreamland

The way her mouth hung open and the way her eyes were just not quite shut, the little girl looked dead. She was obviously sleeping. If it were more serious, I imagine her mother, against whom she was leaning, would have displayed considerably more alarm. Instead, she herself looked half asleep and quite at peace with whatever state her daughter was in.

It was early morning, and the poor thing had clearly not gotten enough sleep and was now sort of just passed out — hard asleep — on her mom. Ordinarily I’d think: “Cute!” But her dull, mannequin eyes peering out into empty space through the slits in her eyelids threw the picture off, like she was only imitating a human and there was just one little detail she couldn’t get right.

I was careful not to let her mother see that I was staring at her face. Those eyes! They were like glass or plastic and did not move. Not even a jitter. They must have been taking in light, and surely they were recording something, but they were essentially switched off, like burned-out lamps.

Every few minutes, a man on the other side of her, her father, I presume, poked her in the side in an evident attempt to wake her just enough to assume a more dignified pose. It wasn’t working, and he wasn’t trying very hard.

A fat braid of hair came down from the side of her head, serving as a sort of cushion, framing her broad, smooth face against the shoulder of her mother’s jacket. She’s probably a nice-looking kid — when animated — I thought.

I love that kind of heavy, total sleep, when your field of vision closes in on itself, the words on the page in front of you begin to say things that aren’t there, your eyes shut off before they are even closed, against your will, and your arms go slack, and your body slips at first, then plunges deep into unconsciousness. And how much sweeter it is to have someone to lean on. You abandon yourself with no care for your destination. Mom will wake me. You sink back until you’re enveloped in grey cotton. The storm of activity in your head dissipates. The last thing you read is carried forward into a sentence of nonsense and transmogrified into something fantastic that makes complete sense, an alternate, other sense, in that moment. When you wake up, you have a bitter taste in your mouth; you’re sweating from your scalp to your shoulders and down your spine; you have to teach yourself to move again, to lift your arm, to close your book, to stand, to step forward and off the train, and to climb the stairs toward home.


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the untallied hours

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