Deep Sea Dive
Bonnie ZoBell

They were all in bed together. Sharla and Frank. The cats. The dogs. Frank, because of his sleep apnea, wore breathing gear. As his machine began whistling and gurgling, the animals snuggled closer to Sharla, on her side of the bed, like there was an imaginary line. They knew the rules, when it was OK curl up beside Frank, when it wasn’t.

Without warning, he sat up and heaved his pillow to the floor. His panicked face fixated on Sharla. “If they don’t stop bombing, we’re all going to die.”

“It’s just a dream, Frank. It’s OK.” The doctor had upped his dosage of anti-psychotics, but that didn’t mean it all went away.

“Lie down and go back to sleep, sweetie,” she said. The animals gave Frank room.

For a moment, he didn’t seem to know her, but then she saw a fragmentary recognition settle in. Frank’s unfortunate childhood lurked until he was heavily under—one of those remarkable things the body does to take care of itself. Primal unanswered feelings, too painful for waking hours. Holes never filled. Scar tissue so dense only the subconscious can reach inside.

“All I ask,” he gurgled behind the mask, “is that they keep their butts off my pillow.”

Tubes of moist air spewed up his nasal passages, and when he slept, Sharla thought of him as off in a nautical state, underwater, where he’d survive only because of his apparatus. She’d urged him to go to the doctor when she could no longer stand the gagging gaps in his snoring, when he stopped breathing altogether. She didn’t want him to die, fresh out of air.

She kissed his forehead. “Good night, my deep sea diver,” she said.

Between gusts of air, he shushed the words out: “The animals shouldn’t be on the bed.”

“They make me happy.”

“Don’t you want to sleep next to me?” He snuggled closer.

“Of course, I do, honey.” She watched his eyes lose focus as he fell off.

The dogs fought for position. The Springer slept between her legs as Sharla held her book in mid-air—a novel she deserved to read a half an hour a night. Since going blind, the Springer clung to Sharla, who couldn’t even take a shower alone without the dog sitting at the far end of the tub, staring at Sharla with filmy eyes. The Pomeranian mix, a rescue who’d finally stopped cringing and piddling when a hand was raised to pet him, was smaller but pushier. He wormed his way around the Springer and onto the arm trying to hold the book.

There were also the cats. The enormous black one taken from his mother too soon rubbed a cheek against the night stand, flirting so Sharla would pet only him. The little tuxedo cat, black and white, spat at the bigger one for getting too close to Sharla. She had to be kept indoors because a previous owner had removed her claws.

Sharla couldn’t begin to relax. She told herself that if she could only let go of her thoughts, she would be comfortable, but she could not. What if one day Frank awoke still believing his nightmares, that she was out to harm him like everybody else? What if he doubted her love so much he left her, playing into her own night-time drama—the father who’d abandoned her in childhood and now left her over and over again in her sleep? Her leg cramped from its anchored position, her butt ached from being in the same spot for too long. But if she moved a single limb, she’d disrupt the entire world.

Abruptly she stood to get her circulation flowing, to reclaim her body. Frank awakened in a fit.

“Get them away from me!” he said, ripping his mask from his face, throwing it against the wall. He glared at Sharla, undoubtedly seeing whatever abomination she’d committed in his dream and then letting go of it a little, explaining, “They’ll kill me if I don’t get out of here. Don’t let them touch me.”

“You’re having another dream, Frank,” she told him quietly. “You’re OK.” She bent forward, combed his hair with her fingers, though not too close—sometimes, when he wasn’t fully awake, his fists lashed out. One night she’d run to the bathroom with a bloody nose.

Somewhat calmed, he nuzzled up to Sharla but got the Springer instead, on his way to a deeper sleep. The dog’s legs galloped, still hunting in her dreams like she did before she lost her sight. She rolled over and laid her neck over Frank’s.

“My honey,” he said, throwing a thick arm over the furry girl.

The rescued Pom made yelping noises in his sleep, probably from dramas before his rescue. The black cat taken from his mother too soon suckled the rescue dog’s foot. The tuxedo’s mouth made hunterly contractions, acting out her instinct for the kill that her body could no longer carry out.

Sharla moved quickly to the door, the animals jerking to and jumping off the bed to follow, as she knew they would. Like a herd, they moved behind her, their nails clattering against the hardwood floors as she made her way to the living room. She wondered if there was any way to leave the mayhem behind for just one night. Her own medicine had not curbed her midnight restlessness.

On the couch, Sharla’s legs stretched out as far as she could get them. The animals snortled and purred, whimpered and sighed all around her but, stricter now, desperate for sleep, she pushed them away. Blessedly, they spread themselves over easy chairs and rugs, on the dining room table and the loveseat. Sharla pulled her grandmother’s quilt over her body and fell into an uneasy sleep.

During the night, though, something inside would not let go, the guilt over leaving Frank behind, that he would awake with no one. In the morning, she found she’d pinched two small bruises on the inside of her arm in the shape of a butterfly.

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