Tales of Sleep, by Matthew Di Paoli

Art: Donnie Darko


A Yeti-like creature is sitting in the corner of the room. I pull the covers up to my throat. I’m not sure why. She’s basically minding her own business. She’s older, maybe mid-forties, though it’s hard to tell how Yetis age nowadays. She’s absolutely not imaginary. That’s the God’s truth.

She’s something I see, and she is as real as you or me.

I can’t dream anymore. Reality is all I have left.

“How did you get here?” I ask.

She motions toward the window, up toward the sky. It’s bright even in darkness. I can see the wind against the glass.

“You couldn’t have fit through there.”

She shrugs. She probably used the door. It’s going to be hard having her here. I never really enjoy houseguests. They always want you to fit your life into theirs.

It’s still pretty dark in the room even with the fluorescent moonlight. A couple of moths bang against the window. The Yeti grimaces at the slightness of their bodies.

“They don’t know any better,” I tell her. “They think there’s nothing there. Moths can be stupid like that.”

The Yeti understands now. She’s sleepy. I envy her. She rubs her crusty beard with thick ape-like fingers. It’s hard to tell where her body hair ends and her face begins.

“Just go to sleep. It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

She rolls her tongue around over her lips and cheeks. It looks like the bottom of a snake.

“Let me know if you need a towel,” I say. I hate having to provide people with towels. I’ll be doing laundry a week early because of her. “I’ll see you in the morning,”

*

When you’re awake it’s very easy to forget you’re full of shit. When you’re asleep you dream or you don’t. It’s fantasy or nothing. It’s that in between time—the time when you’re drowning in your own miscarriages, the time when you imagine that other life, the reflection of yourself that disappeared in the ripples. People ask me if I’m an insomniac. I don’t like labels. I tell them I don’t sleep a whole lot and leave it at that.

The only thing that makes any of this tolerable is my girlfriend, Margot, who is also sleep-challenged. Not that we talk about it. But I always know she’s awake. There’s something comforting about knowing that someone so close to you is suffering in the exact way that you are.

It goes far beyond empathy. We’re basically the same person with some anatomical differences. We have the same skin, easy to burn, easy to blush, paler than our Italian last names.

The sun endlessly rises. I can feel its beat on the curtains, the way they warm, and the light pushes through. Light is aggressive.

My room is an odd shape. It’s almost a hexagon, but also not hexagonal in any traditional way. It’s small. My apartment is really small, so my bedroom is actually the biggest room.

It’s extremely modern to the point of being absurd. An incandescent light emanates from behind my white headboard. This is supposed to simulate the Japanese sunrise. A series of wooden grooves line the wall behind my bed. On either side of my head hang two clear lamps with no bulbs. They serve no purpose, though I often slam my face into them.

Across from the bed sits the television. Right now, Iggy Azalea is singing a monotonous song about pussy. I’m so indifferent that I won’t reach over and change the channel. The Yeti doesn’t seem to mind. I almost like it in a sick sort of way—the way that it feels good to pluck hairs out of your cheek and smell gasoline. The wall behind the television is at an angle, a severe angle. It pushes down on me, shortening the room significantly. My bookshelves are useless boxes that look like dialogue bubbles from comic strips. They hold about four or five books each and my camera and a papier-mâché elephant a girl gave me once after we slept together a few times. I think her name was Darleen, which is why I knew it could never work out.

The rug is white. It is a conscious choice. I know that Ingrid, my cleaning lady will have to scrub endlessly to get out my tennis shoe marks, and it is pleasurable to know that seconds of my carelessness can mean hours to her. Maybe pleasure isn’t the word. Erotic.

I don’t even really play tennis, but those shoes are great. I wear them everywhere. The light hugs my face. My eyelids are heavy and moist. I think it’s about to snow.

*

Margot comes over the following day after work. I’m ragged. I haven’t slept. I turned down two different wedding shoots because they’re too bright. All that white. Ivory tulips and the absence of sky. Lace and cheeks like Taiwan porcelain. It’s oppressive. They’re so greedy. They want every moment captured.

It’s like the creation of the world. God creates man, man creates woman, man and woman have a shitty wedding in Manhasset.

I’m hand-washing some towels in the bathroom sink when Margot comes in. The Yeti needs like four towels just for one shower. It’s ridiculous. I hear Margot’s keys rattle. I wonder if we’ll be able to have sex. Is it like having sex in front of a dog? Maybe more like a monkey. That might be uncomfortable. Monkeys remember things. They’re sexual beings. I don’t want to get into some sordid Yeti masturbation scene. Think about the towels.

“Dennis?”

“I’m in the bathroom.”

Margot comes into the bathroom. I’m furiously scrubbing a pink towel.

“Dennis?”

“What?” I hate when she does that. She’s already got my attention. What else is there to say for God sakes?

“Why is there a Bigfoot creature in the bedroom?”

“You’ll have to ask her.” I can’t get the stain out of the pink towel. It’s infuriating. Is it blood? Whose blood is it?

“It’s a her?”

“Yeah the Yeti is a her.”

“How do you know?” asks Margot.

“You can just sense these things. You never just looked at a giraffe and said, ‘well that’s a very feminine giraffe’?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Well you haven’t lived.”

She leans in and makes a kissing sound. I am scrubbing. I stop scrubbing. I stretch over to kiss her. I’m beginning to wonder if this is Yeti menstrual blood. I try not to think about it. I have to keep scrubbing. Nothing can withstand this kind of voracious scrubbing.

“Are we fighting?” asks Margot.

I am exhausted. I can feel the veins in my face. My chest and legs ache. My arms feel numb and the skin on my fingertips wrinkles and curls in on itself. “I don’t think so,” I say.

“It’s just that I come here and you don’t even look at me and there’s a Bigfoot in the other room. I feel like it’s sort of mean in a way—did you even work today?”

“She’s a Yeti.”

“Excuse me?”

I throw down the towel into a sopping pile on the sink. I take Margot by the arm and lead her into the bedroom. The Yeti has crawled into the bed and is fiddling with the covers, unsure how to pull them over herself.

“Do you really think we should let it sleep in our bed?” whispers Margot.

“Don’t be rude,” I say.

The Yeti is digging herself in circles so that the green sheets twist around her limbs. It’s almost cute except for the size of her. It’s hard to even think with all this light coming in the room. How can anyone sleep like this?

“I think a Bigfoot is more of a North American thing, and a Yeti is said to have derived in Nepal or Tibet. In fact, the word Yeti comes from Tibetan originally,” says Margot.

I consider what she’s said for a moment. “Fuck you.”

“Fuck me?”

“You Googled that,” I say. She is a very surreptitious Googler.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“So what if I did? It still makes me right. That thing in our bed is a Bigfoot and probably it’s a dude.”

“Well check her penis then, Margot.” I lift one of the sheets tied around the Yeti’s leg. She grumbles. “I want you to get under the covers where the Yeti is sleeping peacefully and dislodge a penis and see what happens.”

“You don’t have to be such a—”

There’s a knock at the door.

“Expecting another guest?” asks Margot.

“Shit, it’s probably my cleaning lady.”

Margot drops herself into the chair where I first found the Yeti. Her long, floral skirt flutters around her pale legs and settles around the arms of the chair. She places her calves on the back, so her head is lolling down around the wood floor. She’s got three freckles that I really like on her left cheek and then one I don’t much care for on her right. It almost throws her whole face into anarchy.

“Can we get Thai tonight?” asks Margot.

I ignore her. I go to the door to face the cleaning lady, Ingrid. I open up.

“Hi, I’m all set for today. I hand her a twenty. Sorry about that.”

She takes a couple of sniffs and scrunches her face. “You sure, mister?”

I smell it now, too. The hallway is so fresh. I wish I could live out there. “Yes, thanks. Next week is ok.”

“OK,” she says, not believing me. I shut the door.

The Yeti is comfortable.

“Want to cuddle?” asks Margot.

I lead her by the wrist into the kitchen. It’s a narrow space with wine glasses dangling above us like stalactites. She unbuckles my jeans. I pull on her black work pants. They’re hard to get off. I tug again. My head hits the glasses and they rattle together like wind chimes. I can hear the Yeti stirring in my bed. I crane my head around the corner of the kitchen trying to catch a glimpse of her. Make sure she’s ok.

“This is weird,” says Margot.

“Is it because of the Yeti?” I ask.

*

During the night the pigeons come alive. I can hear them like paint over my eyes. The Yeti smells like clean cotton. She’s soft and warm.

Margot sits with her legs crossed over me in the living room chair. It’s made of suede, and every touch draws white lines over its gray pelt. Margot wears my college gym shorts. She is pretending to sleep. Her leg bone presses my thigh. Her cool body moves against me. Her perfume lingers like wilted daisies. She is awake, and I am awake, and the Yeti sleeps softly as milk and bone.

*

Sun spreads greasy over the windows. The Yeti has been up for two hours toweling herself. You can hardly blame her.

“I need the bathroom,” says Margot.

“Go ahead.”

She gives these breathy exhales. “Ok. Whatever you want, Dennis.”

“I want you to use the bathroom.”

“There’s a fucking Yeti in there!”

“Yup, a Yeti. There is one of those.”

She snatches the cover off me. My leg hairs twist in the cool breeze from the small, unavoidable cracks in the windowsill. The sky is bleached.

“A Bigfoot, I mean. You’re so pedantic. Get it out of the bathroom, please. I don’t want it to see my tits.”

“I’m sure they’re nothing she hasn’t seen before.”

I can hear her aggressively toweling herself, scrubbing her fur until it’s downy.

*

Margot goes to work. There are towels everywhere. I feel the Yeti’s heart beats inside mine. She’s shaking from the dampness in the room. The sky is bright and overcast with steam plumes rising into it. The trees crack like cicadas under my window. I can’t see them. I can only see sky, and it’s boundless.

I was supposed to photograph the Stillman wedding today. They’re decent people. Betsy Stillman is a dog breeder, and Jonathan Stillman works at a shelter. It makes me sick to think of how many times they’ve told that story. How can I photograph people I don’t respect? I bet she wore something reckless like eggshell.

There’s a knock at the door. I freeze. The Yeti scratches her belly with her buttery nails. I hope it stops, but there’s another knock. The floor feels like sand on my heels. I sink further with each step. I open the door. It’s the cleaning lady. She just stares at me, waiting to get in.

“I don’t need you,” I say.

She cranes her neck inside the doorframe. She sniffs. “Please. I’ll clean. No charge.”

“I don’t want you here.” The odor is pungent. It might be me. I can’t remember the last time I showered. There are simply no towels.

“Please leave,” I say.

“Tomorrow,” she says. “Please.”

She walks, disillusioned, back to the elevator, rolling her supply suitcase behind her. I lock the door. The Yeti is back on the bed. She’s wearing one of Margot’s sweaters. It’s black and white and roomy.

“She’s not going to like this,” I say.

The Yeti licks the sweater fibers up and down. I am powerless to stop her. It is, to be fair, a very Yeti-like sweater.

*

When Margot comes over, she throws her coat languidly over my desk chair. I smell the wear of the day on her. I think she took a cab home for once. She rubs hand sanitizer over her thin fingers.

Margot cocks her head in confusion. “Are you listening to show tunes?”

She turns to find the Yeti on the bed. I’ve moved the suede chair close. I watch her like a hospital patient. The Yeti has burrowed under my comforter. It’s very cold in the apartment. She has worn through most of the sweater with her tongue. My eyes are closed.

“Is this the soundtrack from Wicked?” she asks.

“Don’t judge me, ok?”

“I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“She likes it. Is soothes her,” I say.

“That thing hasn’t done anything but sleep and use towels since it got here. Why would it need soothing?”

I open my eyes. The sunlight has turned into orange streetlight. There is no difference. It fills the room like tangerine rind. Margot looks pretty with her work boots on. She will soon change into something loose and pillowy, devoid of form—a comfort that couples afford one another. She’s rearranged the freckles on her face. I am grateful. She’s thoughtful that way. The Yeti places her sausage fingers on my shoulder.

“I’m going to order sushi. You know what you want?”

“I don’t think the Yeti really likes fish,” I say. The light pulses over my eyes. Margot’s hair is the sunset.

“Is that a fact?” says Margot. “I’m not even going to ask how you know that. I’m exhausted. You’re getting a California roll and some edamame like you always do.”

“OK,” I say. It does sound pretty good. “And spicy mayo.” I feel so close to sleep in the Yeti’s embrace. I can’t even remember what it’s like. The Yeti’s stomach gurbles. I hope she likes edamame.

The three of us eat in bed. Margot just stares out the window like a moth. The Yeti chews the last of the black and white sweater like it never existed in the first place.

*

The next morning, the Yeti is sick. She rolls in circles on the floor. Her white hair is falling out, and she’s not even trying to towel herself. The towels are brown, sodden, smeared in Yeti gunk. I am at a loss for words. I can feel the sun on her hide. It boils beneath the cloud cover. I rub her pink belly. She wheezes. She hasn’t even finished the edamame.

I lay on the cold wood floor with her all day. I’ve turned off the show tunes. She needs absolute silence. She stretches her limbs as far as she can on the floor. Her spotty hair mixes with dust and overcast light.

There is a knock at the door. I tiptoe to the lock and slide the chain latch over. “No one will come for you. No one will break our silence,” I say.

The Yeti is grateful. Her breath reminds me of oatmeal.

“Please.” I hear from the other side of the door.

The Yeti and I lay for hours in a sort of meditative state where we hold each other like chalices of blood. It is delicate, reverent. I can see my life splintering in several directions. I imagine the outcomes like the explosion of stars.

I can hardly breathe anymore. The Yeti’s lungs become my own.

Sometime in the passing of hours I hear the jangling of keys. The door cracks against the strength of the chain latch. I smell the faint scent of Thai food and faded perfume. The N train. Hand sanitizer.

The light, fresh hallway air breathes into the apartment. In the soft glare from the streetlamps, the Yeti’s loose hair resembles snow.

“Please,” I hear a woman’s voice say.

“I don’t need you,” I whisper.

I touch my forehead to the Yeti’s wet lips. “Tonight we will watch the sun rise.”


Matthew Di Paoli received his BA at Boston College where he won the Dever Fellowship and the Cardinal Cushing Award for Creative Writing. He has also been nominated for the 2015 and 2016 Pushcart Prize and won the Prism Review Short Story Contest. Matthew earned his MFA in Fiction at Columbia University. He has been published in Post Road, The Great American Literary Magazine, Neon, Bartelby Snopes, The Soundings Review, and Gigantic literary magazines among others. He is the author of Killstanbul with El Balazo Press, is shopping a second novel entitled Holliday, and is teaching Writing and Literature at Monroe College.

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