As she sleeps This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 13, 2013
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There she is, resting against the window beside me. The lights from the city have long since faded. I used to be consumed with those lights, but now she is the only beam that shines as we move into the country. There is a bump as the bus quivers over a pothole in the road and her dark hair trembles. I don’t know how she manages to sleep with her head against that cold window. Fog from her breathing is forming on the glass. Yet, she always seemed to defy the world. She was a woman who didn’t let nature, nor man control her desires. But that attitude worked against her. She hated the jobs she worked for. Always complained about being stuck behind a counter and packaged inside a uniform. She wanted to be an artist, but never was noticed. At least by someone who could let her paint for a living.

“One day,” she used to say. “One day, I’ll paint the one that will free us forever.”

When I first met her, she was staring at jumbotrons in Times Square. She was alone, with her arms wrapped in front of her black coat and light jeans over her tightly pressed legs. Her hazel eyes glistened from the displays and her curly black hair fell loosely to her shoulders. She seemed to be mystified by the projections on the building. She completely ignored what everyone else was staring at. It was New Year’s Eve and the crowd was watching the timer for the New Year count down. Not her though, her back was to the spectacle, gazing at the advertisements flashing by on the screens. She stood out from the rush of people like a stone sticking from a river. I kept my eye on her, trying to push myself to go talk to her. She had a peculiar beauty that wasn’t like what was portrayed as the typical attractiveness. It was the type of fairness that was meant to be admired by a chosen man. I was half expecting for her boyfriend to whisk her away and her face disappear from my life. However, as the ball continued to drop until it was down to one minute she still stood by herself. I finally summoned my courage and marched over to speak to her while a voice in the back of my head was pleading for me not to. I approached her at a slow pace, waiting for her boyfriend, or for her to walk away.
But none of those things happened.

When I reached her, I awkwardly tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to me. My heart was pounding so hard, that it’s a wonder that she didn’t hear it.

“I’m Tim,” I uttered in a weak voice. I anticipated her looking at my like I came from the sewers and treading away. But she stayed; in fact she smiled and held out her hand.

“Melanie,” she replied shaking my mine.

The crowd was beginning the count down and their shouts shook the streets and buildings like thunder. We both turned and saw the count down to three.

“You want to kiss?” she asked. I drew my neck back in surprise.



Confetti and silly string erupted as the cheers rang and the music blared from what seemed like everywhere. It was so bright that it was as if it was day. At the same time, she threw her hands around my neck, and we kissed. Her lips didn’t submit to my will. Instead they equaled in passion, as if she kissed someone that she had been waiting for a long time. I don’t know how long we kissed. All I know is that I didn’t want to forsake those lips, ever.

As I watch her sleep, I remembered the apartment we bought in lower Manhattan. I don’t know why we did that. The rent was so expensive. We pretended that we weren’t home whenever the landlord banged and shouted at our door. We both worked jobs, but they were barley above minimum wage. I was an intern at some company that has long since escaped my mind. I was trying to make my way up the latter that was dirty with the hands and feet of others. She butted heads with manager after manager during her jobs. Arguing with them, then with me. I told her to just accept that while you’re at the bottom, that’s how you’re treated. She could never stomach that. She would lock herself in her closet and paint. It was so abstract, that I could never make sense of them. Then again, I never had a knack for art. I remember when I brought her to work to try to inspire her. I bought her some cheap used businesswomen’s clothes from the thrift shop and showed her what I did.

“You’re a slave,” she muttered following me around as I carried papers from one desk to another.

“Not permanently,” I replied. “I’ll be Vice president, and then CEO of this company one day. Then we’ll have money. You know, that green paper that we never have enough of.”

“You’ll still be a slave,” she asserted. “Except to the fear of loosing your money.”

I decided to not bring her to work again.

Her lips curl into a smile as she sleeps. I can see the city lights call after us in the distance. The darkness of the countryside encompasses us now. At 3 am. Every passenger on board is sleeping except me. She is hypnotizing me. Her caramel skin is so silky compared to her rough cloths.

As she sleeps, I recall when we got in a fight. A fight that has been building off of other fights causing this argument to explode to shouting and throwing things. I don’t know what started it. Probably someone forgetting to clean the dishes after dinner, but it escalated to me demanding for her to hold a job. Her painting wasn’t paying the bills. She said she would rather be a streetwalker than hold an office job and grow fat like the way I’m going to be soon. That’s when I left her. She screamed and cried as I packed my stuff. When that didn’t work, she locked herself in her closet and painted. Like she always did when she couldn’t face reality. Painted.

There is so much traffic going into the city even at this hour. The car lights brighten her face as the bus drives. I wrap my coat tighter and scoot closer to her for her body warmth. It doesn’t do anything, but it still feels better to be near to her.

I made a promise to never leave her, and I didn’t. At least not for long. I made it up to her by taking her to the Trump ice skating rink in Central Park. Neither one of us could stay on our feet. We had to grab the walls as we slipped and I hurt my tailbone from falling. The way her nose winkled from laughing and her gleaming teeth revealed from her smile bestowing the world with glee was a sight I would never forget. We had a baby a little later you know. A beautiful one. It was a boy, eyes bluer than diamonds like mine. But his eyes never closed, and his mouth never opened. She wouldn’t let the doctors take him away from her as she laid in her hospital bed. She screamed so loudly that they had to sedate her and pry him from her arms.

Well, the recession hit full swing and the company let go of the interns that didn’t have the connections. It’s not about what you know, it about who you know. When everyone has a bach in buiz than you mix into the masses pretty well. The only occupation a degree can guarantee you is a debt payer. I ended up getting a new job at a fast food restaurant while I searched for a corporate job. She quit her job shortly after leaving the hospital. She never got over the baby. She would stay in her room for days eating little, just painting. She didn’t want to try having another child again, so we simply existed in our apartment. She wasn’t on speaking terms with her parents, and I didn’t want my father to know how hard things were getting. I told him that I was doing well in the city. I couldn’t ask him for money, not after all the alcohol problems that my brother was having. For all he knew, I was the boss’s right hand man.

As she sleeps, I remember one day when I woke up, she was bleeding from her nose. She stared at the blood as if the red liquid fascinated her. We nearly went broke to get a diagnosis from the doctor. Leukemia. She was in the opening stages, but if she didn’t get treatment, then she would die. But we couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have health insurance. We could barley afford the rent with my job. We talked about what we were going to do when we got back to the apartment. Go to Canada and try to become citizens so she can be cured? That could take months. We didn’t even have a car. I was becoming increasingly angry with her because she didn’t try to give suggestions. It was as if she gave up.

“Melanie,” I shouted grabbing her limp body. “This is your life we’re talking about!”

She didn’t say anything, and two weeks later, she would be silent forever. There was a funeral. Her parents came, and a cousin or two. After a little speech about how she blessed the world with her presence and how we’ll always remember her, they placed her in the ground. Those lips I first kissed were buried under six feet of dirt for all eternity. The world continued on as if she never had existed.

The landlord forced me out shortly after from being unable to pay rent. I was living on welfare checks the same way my father was when he worked two jobs as a single man. A few months dragged by and my situation hadn’t changed. However, one day I got a letter in the mail. It was from the founder of a new rising app company in Silicon Valley. They said that they were sorry for my loss and were willing to pay me for her painting. Somehow they found the part in her will about if any money is earned from her artwork that it goes to me. They loved her painting that she submitted and they wanted to use it as their company logo. I looked at the money they were offering for it. 7 million dollars.

I’m a millionaire now, taking the bus back to my home in Pennsylvania. It was the first thing I did when I got home. I had to get out of the city. I haven’t bought anything; nothing has changed. I just have six more zeros at the end of the money in my bank account. I guess I’m upper class now. I live how I want. The only draw back is being afraid of loosing the money, like what she said months ago.

As she sleeps, she slowly fades away from my window. I’m alone again. I always thought I was meant to be alone. I wasn’t special in high school, or college. Another guy who was too nice to get the girl he wanted, and too mean when he tried to be someone he wasn’t. I’m returning to my father back home, and show him how I made it big. Buy him a new house and the boat in that magazine that he kept in his drawer. I’m finally living the American dream that I lusted for. But she had been awake the whole time. Maybe that’s why she was different. The ones awake don’t want to go to sleep; because once they do they can’t control their world. They know they would be at the mercy of whatever their dream throws at them. For me, I started from the bottom, and I guess hard work brought me to the top. I lived the American dream. I suppose I can wake up too.

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