Things That Keep Us Up At Night


“Are you getting up?” I asked my wife.

She was still in bed, facing away from me.  I knew she was awake. Her body moved under the covers.

“Are you getting up? Can I turn the alarm off?”

She slowly turned over, weighted under the dog and the winter comforter. She stared out the window. The dog shifted. The covers were rumpled and falling off on her side. No wonder I woke up cold, no wonder I was up all night.

“I’m getting up,” she said.

I swiped the alarm on my phone. I slipped out of my boxers and went to the bathroom, turned on the shower. Outside was gray—not like rain, but cold. We were too high up to know if it was windy; no trees, no way of knowing. I’d look online. Crap, phone was in the bedroom. I quickly walked back and grabbed it.

My wife was in the middle of the bed, eyes shut.

“You said you were getting up,” I said loudly. Steam poured out, and I reminded myself to check the weather. I got in the shower. It was warm. I reached for the soap, but all that was left was a thin sliver that fell off the dish and slipped down the drain as soon as I touched it.

“You didn’t get a new bar of soap!” Goddam it. I got out and grabbed a new one. “Now I got the floor all wet! When you finish the soap, get a new bar,” I shouted over the fan and the water.

I hopped back in, running the new bar over my arms, chest, torso, legs. I scrubbed my feet with my nails. I thought about touching myself but couldn’t relax. I squeezed face scrub on my palm and worked it into my forehead and cheeks. The menthol tingled. Mondays, I used the medicated shampoo, for dry scalp. It smelled like a hot summer road. She hated the smell. I don’t mind it as much. I rinsed, turned off the water, and grabbed a towel. I rubbed down my thighs, my calves, and feet and flipped the towel on my back to dry the skin I couldn’t reach.

I got out and grabbed the mouthwash under the sink. I faced the mirror and saw a vague, cloudy shape. I wiped it with a towel, but the fog returned. I spit and pulled out a length of floss. I unplugged my razor and shaved my face, cleaned the back of my neck. I popped a zit, or what felt like a zit, on my chin. I put on deodorant and tied the towel around my waist.

I thought I heard voices or something from the bedroom. I ignored it anyway.

I opened the door, and the steam poured. I was instantly cold.

She wasn’t up. “Hey, get up. You need to get up. Maggie.

“I know,” she said, quietly.

“So? Come on. Alice needs to go out.” I went over to my closet. I hated when she didn’t get up. She complained afterwards that she slept in.

“I know.” She looked out the window. She was acting sad. But she didn’t sound sad—more like defeated or angry. She didn’t want to get up. I didn’t know what was wrong.

My closet was open, hers closed. It was one of those that slides across. It sucks. Especially when we’re both in a hurry. When my wife was working, it was a pain in the ass. Now she doesn’t need her clothes, not in the morning anyway. I come home, and sometimes she’s still in her pajamas. Watching TV in the bedroom, Alice on her legs. She says she feels stronger in the bedroom.

A month ago, she asked me to wake her up. She said it would help. “OK,” I said, “but you have to get up yourself. I’m not responsible for getting you up.” “Fine,” she said. “I can get up if you wake me up.” We are trying it. It works more or less. But some days, she just won’t get up. She says Maggie holds her down, but that is nonsense.

I looked in my closet at the neatly pressed suits and shirts. They faced the same way, same hangers, and similar colors lined up—all variations of white, blue, a few pink. My felt-lined boxes, keeping the cufflinks and watches tarnish free. I took a long, deep breath. It was cold. The routine brought me great calm.

We used to have fun with the door. She’d go into her closet (you can walk in a few feet), and I’d slide it shut slowly, so she didn’t notice until I’d shut her in. She laughed and pounded, “Let me out!” And I’d pretend to be gone and not hear her until Alice started barking because she didn’t get the joke. Then we started shutting Alice in the closet. She panicked a bit, but we laughed so hard. No harm done. We imagined her in there, dressing up, coming out in heels.

After a while though, we started hating the door. We’d hit each other so many times—not on purpose, but you can’t avoid it when you are getting ready at the same time. You can’t keep track of who is where. It’s less of an issue now, but it’s still annoying.

I pulled out my navy suit and a white shirt. I fingered the ties and selected the orange one with hippos on it. It was a great tie, matched my brown shoes and belt. Appropriate for this weather. Crap, I needed to check the weather.

I started to close my closet, opening her side. I like having the door on my side, keeps the dust off. I don’t think she cares either way.

But this time, she flipped in bed and yelled; “No! Don’t do that!”

“Don’t do what?”

“Don’t open my side!”

“Why? Alice’s on the bed.” Sometimes, we hit Alice with the doors. We don’t mean to, but it happens.

“I know.” My wife pulled herself up in bed, pulling my pillow onto her lap and holding it. Alice looked at me when I said her name. I scratched behind her right ear.

“You have to go outside, don’t you, girl?” I pushed my closet shut a few more inches when my wife screamed again.

“No!” She jumped forward. As much as someone sitting in bed can jump.

“Maggie, what the hell? You’re being ridiculous.”

“I know.” She sat back down. “This is weird. This will sound weird.”

“I have to get to work.” I looked at my phone. I had received about 25 emails in the past hour. I scanned through them. One from Tash, asking me about tonight. I wrote her back quickly, “Not tonight, have to work. I mean, really do.” And I had to get to work.

“You can’t open it.”

“Why not? You’re being ridiculous!”

“Because there’s a llama in it.” I looked at her. She wasn’t laughing, wasn’t even smiling. “Yes. I know how stupid this sounds. It kept me up all night.”

Up all night. A llama in a closet. This was beyond stupid.

“This time, Mark, there is a llama. I saw it last night, in the dark. I swear. It was fuzzy, but had the darkest black eyes. It looked at me. It was ugly. I thought llamas were cute. But it wasn’t. It was ugly. It kept me up all night.”

I sat down on the bed. “Llamas aren’t supposed to be cute. No one says they are cute.”

Mark . . .”

“There isn’t a llama in your closet.” She’s going insane. No, she’s being difficult. Shit. I did not need this. It was impossible. I said as much. “It’s impossible, and you are being annoying. I have to go to work. Take Alice out.”

I dropped the towel and put on fresh boxers. I pulled on navy socks. I buttoned my shirt. I noticed a slight thread hanging off the cuff; I’d have to cut it off. My suit had come back from the cleaner’s, it was pressed and fresh. I took the jacket off and laid it on the bed before pulling on the pants. I didn’t look at Maggie. I could tell she wasn’t moving. My closet was still open, it bothered me.

My wife reached forward to pet Alice who was now across her feet. Maggie’s hair was thick and curly. It was like that before she showered and did things to straighten it. She used to straighten it, but hasn’t in a few months. Her face is round, open, kind-looking. She looks like she’d be a teacher, some kind of job that cares about people. She had that look. Huge dark eyes, open, honest.

She leaned over to kiss Alice, and her shirt moved. I could see her breasts, soft and loose. I leaned over her and kissed the top of her head. “See you tonight.” I’d leave the closet shut if that were what she wanted.

She put her hand on mine. She squeezed it. “Mark, please . . .”

I looked at her face. She looked tired. Really, really tired. Her eyes looked small, the skin puffy. She was starting to get zits on her chin. Stress, she said. I sat on the bed facing her.

“Maggie—” I didn’t know what to say. I hated leaving her like this, but it was difficult. I felt lost. She said she wanted me to get her up, that it helped. So I tried to get her up. I set an alarm. I bugged her about getting up. Does she want me to physically pull her out of bed? She squeezed my hand again. Her breasts swelled under her shirt. She looked at me, into my face, hair moved around her face. She looked so sad. Like her skin was the only thing holding her together. Like she might crumble, break. She looked how I felt.

“Maggie. Well . . .” I looked at her eyes, deep into them, the wrinkles around the, her lips, she looked like she was smiling, slightly, very slightly. Yes, I think she was. “Well . . . how do you know it’s a llama? How do you know it’s not an alpaca?”

She released my hand and considered. “It’s not an alpaca.”

“Or the other one, the—what’s it called?”

“Guanaco! They are shorter and smaller. It could have been, they would fit in the closet better. I don’t even know how a llama got in or fit. A llama couldn’t fit in there.”

“What is it doing in there? Eating your shoes? Taking a shit? Am I going to have to clean up llama shit now?”

“Don’t you think we should figure out how to get rid of it before we worry about cleaning up after it?”

I scratched Alice. She wrestled with my hand as I grabbed her snout and wagged it. She growled. Maggie always goes on me for being too rough on her, but she didn’t say anything today. Alice licked my hand. Her tail went crazy.

I looked at my wife. “Don’t you think Alice would have noticed? Don’t you think she’d have barked?”

“I thought I heard her barking. I ignored it anyway. Or maybe the llama bribed her with something. Distracted her. Like meat.”

“The llama brought meat to your closet? Is it on a picnic?” I laughed.

“Yes!” She giggled and sat up. “Can you just check, slowly, like when you used to shut me in there? I don’t know what to do if you leave me here alone.” She waved her arm towards the closet, but it could have been waved at the entire rest of the room, the sky, the tops of the buildings outside. The world.

“OK.” I got up and stood in front of her closet. I slowly slid the door open. “Hold Alice, just in case.” Maggie held Alice, who was barking.

The door slid back slowly. As the light poured in, I saw the shelves, the plastic boxes my wife added when we moved in. To make use of the open space, she said. I saw her shoes, lined up, dusty. And her jewelry, hanging. I thought it looked chaotic, but she said she forgot them if she didn’t see them. She forgets things she doesn’t see, and obsesses about things she does.

In the middle of her closet, next to her plastic bin of workout gear she rarely uses and her computer bag she never uses, was a llama. A fucking llama! With dark, black eyes. And a fuzzy snout. It was ugly. It snorted.

“Shit!” I slid the door shut. “Shit! You were right. There is a llama in there!”

“I know! I didn’t want there to be, but I know! What are we going to do, Mark?”

“We’ll have to call the landlord. Or the police. Animal control? I don’t know. It won’t hurt anyone. It’ll never open the door.”

“What’s it doing in there?” she asked, almost whispering.

“I think it was chewing some of your necklaces.”

“Of course. The one made from beans.”

“You have a necklace made from beans?”

“Yeah, from Peru. Dried beans. They string them when they are wet and then dry them. Remember, I bought them in Cuzco, remember?”

She reached over and grabbed my tie. Holding on to it like a safety line. She quickly slid out of bed and stood in front of me. She looked at me, surprised, like some external force had pulled her, and she didn’t know where she was.

I grabbed her and wrapped my arms around her. I pulled her in and buried my face in her stomach. She felt warm, but I knew she was cold. She held me there, for a second. Then dropped my tie and slowly grabbed her shirt, lifting her arms over her head. She slid off her sleeping shorts. Little things, almost nothing. I couldn’t remember the last time she stood naked in front of me. She used to walk around naked all the time, even peed. She didn’t bother shutting doors. Waste of effort, she said. But not like this, just standing there, asking me to look at her.

Her breasts were in front of my face. I reached up and cupped her left breast in my hand. She had the most perfect breasts, just more than a handful. Soft, firm. Her hand slipped down to my waist and pulled on my belt. I pulled her to me and put the firm tip in my mouth, moving my tongue around it. I was drowning in the scent and touch of her skin. Her skin was so soft. I missed her.

“Your hair smells. Like a road,” she said softly as she kissed the top of my head and my ears. Her hair fell on my shoulders and neck.

Alice barked at us. “Hang on a sec.” I picked up Alice. “I’m putting her in the shower, in case she pees.” I put Alice in the shower and shut the door. She’d be fine. My wife was lying in our bed, covers off, naked, looking at me. Tired, confused, sad, and smiling slightly. She propped herself up on her elbows. Her pink line, small, on her abdomen, healing nicely, it looked so small.

I took off my jacket, belt, and socks, and climbed in bed on top of her, careful not to rest my weight on her. I pulled the comforter over us. I leaned close to her face, felt her breath. Her eyes scattered as she looked at me, taking me in. Her big, dark eyes, so big, so much emotion.

“The llama . . .” she started.

“It can wait, Mags. It’s been there all night. It can wait.” I kissed my wife.

We didn’t hear anything from the llama, maybe some chewing, but I couldn’t be sure.

We ignored it anyway.



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