The Dream Machine

by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith


My wife says I snore. I say I don’t. To settle the matter we ignored it for thirty-six years, then recently we went to a health fair where the burning issue was somehow resurrected.

A health fair is a place you go if you don’t have anything better to do on a Saturday morning. At the fair there weren’t any clowns or ponies as I’d hoped. I’m not sure you should be allowed to call something a fair if they aren’t serving cotton candy.

I remember passing by the Humane Society in my neighborhood about a year ago and they were holding a spaying and neutering fair for stray pets. I own some cats but doubted they’d be interested in going to that type of fair.

Anyway, at the health fair I had my blood pressure checked and a glaucoma screening and then I sampled some delicious muffins made entirely of dryer lint and apricot husks. At one of the booths they had some questionnaires which were easy to fill out, and since my wife was being meddlesome and dishonest she filled out one of the questionnaires, answering the questions as if I had been the one holding the pencil, only she wasn’t circumspect and prevaricating in her answers as I would have been.

The next thing I know, I’m waiting for a tech from the doctor to deliver a small medical device to my house, where I could use it to monitor my sleep.

She must have said that my snoring was bothering me, and that it led to arguments at work, which was impeding my getting respect from my peers, and was also causing a few DWI’s, and also some bouts of impotence and chronic hysteria... She must have lied and said those things, because my insurance, the insurance that wants two weeks’ prior notice if my appendix were to burst suddenly, the insurance that was almost useless in every other case, that insurance was funding the whole at-home procedure for nothing.

She also lied on the phone and said that while watching the movie Australia at a very crowded theater, my snoring was louder than the sixteen other people who could be heard snoring.

When the device came, I was impressed at how small and useful it appeared to be. It was called a Snore-o-Graph 600. It was about the size of a lunchbox, but didn’t have a handle on top or pictures of R2D2 on the sides. It had one long wire with a tiny finger attachment and a small mask and a long clear hollow tube that slipped into the machine; and it had a tiny clear window with a tiny roll of white adding-machine paper and a tiny wiggle-needle of black India ink like the ones attached to some of the older seismograph machines.

Around eight-thirty that night I placed the finger attachment on one hand and put on the mask and pressed the button and watched as the little seismograph needle moved left and right one time, and then continued to move left and right with each beat of my tired, languid heart.

I got on my bed and closed my eyes and tried to relax. I’d moved a twin bed mattress into the living room so the test wouldn’t contain my wife’s input: her nudging me gently when the snoring grew loud, her kicking me with her bunny slippers, her holding a pillow over my face.

I was determined to get a full night’s sleep. For once I wasn’t going to let all the foreclosure notices in my mail ruin my sleep, not tonight. I had the TV running because I like cable TV, and I use the gentle noise of the arrests and gun battles on the program Cops to lull me into a false sense of security. My neighborhood isn’t perfect, but it is getting better.

I tossed around a bit at first. I think I have restless leg syndrome. I placed my hands on my side because I think I may have a prolapsed pancreas. I closed one eye; then, three minutes later, the other one. I’m used to sleeping with one eye open because of that pillow on the face thing I’d mentioned earlier. I took a cleansing breath. Then another. With a giant effort I lowered myself down into the dark and silent Marianas trench we call sleep. With the blue light from the TV being the only thing to remind me there was a mothership overhead... riding softly across the waves of slumber... a mothership ready to haul me up from the depths if I was to meet a giant squid or a parrot-beaked sea turtle... In this way, reassured, I began to dream.

I dreamt I was being strangled by the Boston strangler, even though I’d never been to Boston. I woke up and found that I was lying across the little tube that furnished me with the air I needed. Silly of me, I thought.

I looked at the paper rolling forward in the slumber machine. The back and forth travel of the recording needle had left a trail of spikes and splatters that seemed to indicate disrupted sleep. The machine was working splendidly. It had recorded my near-death experience without faltering in the least. Too bad none of the engineers involved had thought to include some type of alarm. Printing out along the margin was the phrase, Death currently happening. Suspect: Albert DeSalvo.

Wow, I thought, this machine knows everything.

With the plastic tube collapsed and damaged, it hurt to breathe. It was like being waterboarded but without the pesky puddles. I was starting to sound as though asthma had been added to my list of complaints. I was just beginning to doze once more when the cats made their appearance.

Two cats came tumbling into the room fighting, locked together, and making sounds like a garden weasel fighting a belt sander. I tried to stay out of the fight. I tried to keep my pulse slow and steady. I tried to pretend I wasn’t involved. I didn’t really know what was going to happen to me if I failed the sleep study. I was afraid it might mean prostate surgery or brain surgery or worse... Maybe I’d have to give up TV at bedtime.

The cats kept fighting. They broke a lamp, a vase, a picture frame, a chair, and a sofa. At one point a small pistol came sliding across the floor, one cat having had enough desperate agility to kick the weapon out of the grip of the other combatant’s paw.

But I still tried to ignore everything. I lay there very quietly with my asthma noises and my finger stuck in the tiny clamp. I was just going to ignore everything... and I did... I was a picture of Zen tranquility surrounded by a world of fur patches falling from the sky like snow.

I didn’t react at all until both idiot cats rolled over me leaving behind a trail of scratches and punctures, and the next thing I knew I was gasping for breath, holding a plastic bucket, and standing knee-deep in water after having flung two fire brigades of impediment at my stupid cats.

I opened the front door and they floated out on the gush of loosened water like officers on an ill-fated submarine. One cat stood and, using his front paws, was pushing on the other cat’s chest; water dribbling out of the almost-drowned cat, accusing looks came towards me from the cat still on his feet. I closed the door. My wife could look for the cats in the morning. I was supposed to be sleeping.

Again the machine I was wearing indicated a less than quiet interlude. I looked at the printout: Run quiet. Run deep.

It sounded like good advice.

Then I lay down again. I looked at the clock over the closet door. All this mayhem, everything from the very beginning until now had taken less than an hour. What would my doctor think, once he’d gotten hold of my reports? What would he make of the squiggles on the spool of tape? Was my medical condition and constant daytime listlessness due to snoring? Had I even had time to do any snoring?

I was thinking about sleep then. How sleep seemed overrated. How sleep merely postponed problems; it didn’t solve them. Maybe Shakespeare was right. Maybe every good story should start with three witches around a cauldron making dire predictions. I had a prediction. I was willing to bet that now that the cats were outside I was going to get some excellent sleep. I even turned off the TV. Cops was still happening, but it was an episode I knew by heart.

I slept for a short time. I had a confusing dream about meteors and trigonometry, and in the dream everybody suddenly stopped drawing triangles, and now we were apparently playing blackjack and someone kept saying over and over again, “Okay then... hit me.” Only it wasn’t really a dream, not that part...

And I was slowly removing myself from the dream casino, walking away from the table, walking out of the casino with the shiny lights and soft music and walking away towards the sidewalk outside and the phrase, “Okay then... hit me.” wasn’t about cards or money: I could hear someone outside yelling.

I got up off the mattress and went to the window. Far down the street there was a car parked, and the flashers were on, and the car was parked at a confused angle, and without my glasses on, it seemed chaotic and confused with a lot of motion and posturing.

Wrapped in a sheet and still in my Dukes of Hazzard pajamas I went tottering off towards my real bedroom. I wanted to tell my wife to look outside and see what was going on, but when I got to her room I heard a soft buzzing sound and it amazed me so much I stopped and moved closer to her face. And it was true, she also made noises at night. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the sound of a bear; maybe it wasn’t the sound of a lawn mower. But it wasn’t negligible, it wasn’t silence.

I unclipped my finger from the monitor and pulled the breathing mask off my face. Wasn’t she the one who filled out the papers and made them attach me to a machine? Wasn’t she the one who wanted me to quit eating at midnight and sometimes even later?

I clipped her to the machine, which immediately started clicking and the little window said in big letters: Repetitive continuing erotic dream about George Clooney nearing climax.

I knew my doctor wouldn’t be too surprised with such information. Wasn’t I the one who kept requesting certain examinations? But I didn’t have time to wonder about the vagaries of life, the questions we all face when we first get to drinking wine coolers and drinking a few too many and then we made the mistake of getting a ride home from the man with the dingy copy of The Watchtower poking out of his raincoat. A guy we didn’t know who we meet outside the bar?

I backed out of the bedroom. I went to the hall closet and located the baseball bat. I went outside and was relieved to find that the argument and the car were gone. I stood outside and looked up at the stars.

And looking up I faced the problem head on. Who needed a good night’s sleep anyway? Wasn’t it just as well to face life with mounting exhaustion and ever-reddening eyes? Who needed dreams? Who needed a stupid machine to...?

Suddenly a car came out of nowhere and ran up into the neighbor’s yard and plowed into the neighbor’s back porch. I rushed over to help extricate the wayward driver. He was slumped over in the seat, snoring. A device like mine was clicking away beside him, a device like mine printing out a message. Goodnight, Moon, it said.


Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

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