by J. Smith Kirkland
Sleep should not be interrupted. Dreams should not be transformed then cut short by intruding noises from the woken world. The witching hours are no time for the mundane chores of the living. But the beep beep beep that woke him at 3am was not Howard's alarm clock, or the cawing of the bird that flew into his previously pleasant dream. It was the garbage truck at the apartment building across the alley. The beeping was followed by clanging and crashing noises as the robotic arms violently shook content of the dumpsters into the truck. Surely there was a city noise ordinance that said garbage trucks could not run at 3am.
Howard tried to go back to sleep, but the refrigerator's steady hum that could have lulled him back to slumber was accompanied by an irregular grumbling that sounded like the fridge was carrying on a conversation, like a television in the next room that was loud enough to hear but not comprehend the words. So he watched through the roundtop over his window as the tree limbs swayed in the wind. It was a hypnotic motion, relaxing. He imagined a soft summer breeze. But it was not enough to put him back to sleep.
He decided to go outside and feel the breeze while staring at the stars. But when actually following through with that, he found the stars were hidden by clouds, and the breeze was hot, not cool or even warm, and not relaxing at all. And the cicadas were louder than the wind. Their harmony comes as the ribs of the tymbal buckle one after the other when the cicada flexes its muscles. This creates clicks that blend into a buzz. Unfortunately there were no cicadas this year, and their ringing was just his tennitus acting up.
He went back to bed, but before he could doze off again he heard the workmen coming into the apartment above. They have been arriving all week just 15 minutes before his alarm rings. He goes ahead and turns the alarm off. No need for it this morning; the saws and drills and hammers will start soon. Might as well go to work.
The commute to work was from the bed to the desk in the living room, with a quit stop by the kitchen to fix a bowl of cereal. But this morning he was out of milk. So he just grabbed a rice crispy bar and a cola instead. He plopped down in his desk chair. It made a horrific screeching noise. He intended to fix that, but he would check his email first, and then it would be time for the morning video chat. So he would always put off investigating what part exactly was screeching.
He spends the day reading and creating documents, browsing the internet for ideas, and watching people on the video chat that have much more to say about nothing than he does. He watches them as the drone on, convinced that all of them are only looking at themselves on the screen while they talk. Adjusting their hair, their clothes, repositioning themselves for better lighting, trying to stretch their necks upward because they never realized how saggy their neck skin was getting. The word like sounds coming from the speaker seems unattached to the grid of faces that look like some live motion Andy Warhol work.
Finally the work day end. Exhausted from no sleep the night before, he goes to be early. He sleeps well, and wakes up before the alarm clock. However, it was much earlier than the alarm. It was again 3am. He is wide awake. Might as well watch a movie. Maybe that will put him back to sleep. There is a marathon of old spooky movies so he starts to watch one of those. It is something about witches or ghost. He imagines all the people in these movies are long dead, it's like ghosts acting in a ghost story. He doesn't really pay attention. His mind wonders from the screen and he decides he will see if he can figure out what is making his chair produce that horrid noise. He walks over to the chair and pushes the seat down several times to recreate the screech. He still can't tell where exactly it emanates from. He pushes it several more times. Screech. Screech. Screech. The woman's voice on the movie playing behind him catches his ear.
“Sleep should not be interrupted. “
“I will agree with that,” he says back to the movie.
“Dreams should not be transformed then cut short by intruding noises from the woken world.”
“Tell that to the garbage man.”
“Howard, the witching hours are no time for the mundane chores of the living.”
“Well the chair squeaks.”
It took a beat for him to realize she said Howard. He turns to look at the screen. The woman from the movie is staring at him. Well, at the camera he tells himself.
“Howard, why are you awake at this hour.”
He does not reply, and she changes her expression to indicate she expects an answer.
“Yes, you. There's no one else there making that terrible noise with the chair. It's loud enough to wake the dead, no doubt the neighbors.”
He looks at the chair. It is a terrible noise. He looks back the the screen, but the woman that was on it, is now standing in front of it. He jumps back, almost falling over the chair.
“Who are you?”
“You didn't even bother to read the opening credits?”
“Starring Vivian Meyers,” she says grandly, then adds quickly and bitterly, “and Richard what's his name.”
“You're the woman in the movie?”
“Are you really this dense all day long, or is it just the lack of sleep making you annoy me?”
Howard thinks he must have fallen a sleep during the movie and this is all a dream. Even if there were ghost, how would one get off of the internet and into his living room.
“How did you get here?”
“I told you, that symphony of torturous noise you are making with that chair can wake the dead.”
“I was going to fix it.”
“Go. To. Bed. Howard.”
Still convinced he is dreaming, he thinks he will go to bed, close his eyes, and wake up to the sound of his alarm.
“And as you go, turn off this movie thing. I'm not going back in there with Richard.”
“Turn. It. Off. You are so dense?”
He clicks the remote and the image on the screen fades to black. The woman is still there.
“I thought you would go away when I turned it off. You know, back into the movie ghost world.”
“Why would I do that?”
She looks around the room.
“It's a bit of a dump, but I think I will stay awhile.”
“Ok. Whatever you want. Goodnight.”
He goes to his bedroom and lays down. Just a dream. He closes his eye, and anticipates waking up to the alarm.
He jerks up in bed. She is standing at the end of it.
“Does that machine play other movies? I don't like the one with Richard, but does it play The Clock Strikes Seven? I like that one. The young man that starred with me in that one was,” she hesitates, “very talented.”
Howard is starting to think this isn't a dream.
“Howard. Are you even listening?”
“Sure. I'll see if it's on.”
He turns on the monitor, and searches for 'clock strikes seven.' It's there. He clicks play and it starts. She is mesmerized by the opening credits. The music is a symphony. There is her name. The credits cut to her standing on a widows walk, looking out to sea. The misty wind blows through her hair. A mournful moon reflect on the waves that she searches over.
Howard watches the movie and becomes consumed by it as the plot unfolds. She has already met the leading man before Howard realizes she is no longer in the room. She must be back in the movie. He reaches for the remote, thinking he will leave her there, and not in his living room. But before he can click it, she is standing in front of him.
She reaches out her hand. And holds his on the remote. She looks at him much softer than she did earlier. She leans in, places her hand on his face, and kisses him on the cheek. A soft, cold kiss. It felt like an icy wind caressing his face. He closed his eyes.”
When he opened his eyes, she was back in the movie, playing her role. Then she looked at the camera.
“Now turn it off and go to bed.”
Howard smiled, raised the remote to the monitor, and clicked. Right before the power left the monitor, he heard her voice one last time.
“Oh, and I fixed your chair. Terrible noise.”
Howard laughed. He pushed the chair up and down several time. No squeak.
From his bed, he could see the stars through the round top. The sound of the fridge was too distant now to concern him. The cicadas in his ear simply became part of the music from the opening credits to The Clock Strikes Seven that was replaying in his head as he fell asleep and dreamed of Vivian and a happy ending to the movie.
Make list of 10 things that you noticed about your day already.
Even if you woke up at 4 am there are certainly things you noticed.
Try to be as precise and sensory as possible and try to avoid metaphor.
And then, at the end, connect those pieces together to make a story.
Things I noticed.
- Garbage truck for our place gets here at 9am, not 3am like the one for the building next door. Beep beep beep clang rattle clunk beep beep beep.
- They are doing construction in the apartment upstairs, saws, hammer, drills.
- I am out of milk
- my fridge is really loud, a steady hum with an irregular grumble, almost like it is talking.
- there are dishes in the living room I forgot to put in the dishwasher before I ran it last night
- I think people spend the entire video chat meeting looking at themselves on the screen
- the cicada in my ear (the tennitus ringings) is louder than the fridge this morning.
- My desk chair screeches when I adjust my weight or direction.
- I can watch the tree limbs outside my window saying in the wind, relaxing.
- went outside to feel the breeze, it was a hot breeze, not relaxing at all.
Story A Day Framework