What was it now, six days? Almost a week without even a nod, her head always pedaling in place. She radiated exhaustion: a dying star. Soon what—a black hole?
Biggs ran in bursts down the street, wanting to move quickly but without attracting attention. These dark blocks between their building and the ran- sacked drugstore were sketchy. He moved through the cold corridor of shade, relieved to find the streets empty, except for a few figures, stumbling in the distance like drunks.
At the intersection, abandoned cars were stalled in a mad jumble and he had to squeeze through the gaps, pressed against the cool barriers of automotive gloss.
Shops were shuttered. Many had been looted—windows smashed, the shelves inside empty. The sidewalk was gritty with glass shards and spotted with ancient stains of chewing gum. A great splatter of DNA, blackened with urban grime.
He could hear distant wailing and the occasional shout or scream from the offices and apartments above. Protruding from one window five floors up, he saw an elderly man leaning far out over the street, teetering on the brink, his thin arms extended toward the sky. Beyond him, a few floors higher, someone was throwing fistfuls of paper from an open window. The sheets drifted and turned like leaves in the air funneling between the buildings.
Biggs crossed to the other side to avoid a stoop where, earlier, he had seen dogs tearing at an unidentifiable carcass—white bone shining through the marbled meat. He ducked down an alley. At the far end, a large woman in a Lakers jersey paced while shouting into her cell phone. “A lawsuit isn’t wanted by you at all believe me very fucking much,” she warned, jowls quivering.
When Biggs neared, he could see that she wasn’t holding a phone. Even if she had one in hand, a phone call was an impossible feat. The sky was now without signals, the web of fibers dead in the earth. Networks expiring without sound human minds needed to maintain them.
The woman tracked Biggs with her bleary eyes as he shuffled past. “Wait one,” she said into her palm. “Some asshole here like a rat.”
Half a block ahead, a flat-screen TV exploded on the pavement—tossed from several stories up. It fell like an obsidian slate, a tile of nighttime sky. He felt the impact in his teeth, the shatter in his chest.
A storm was gathering behind dark windows and closed doors. It could spill out into the streets at any moment. He jogged two blocks, keeping to the middle of the street, before slowing to a walk.
He could see the ruins of the drugstore now, on the other side of the park.
His wife, Carolyn, was in bad shape. What was it now, six days? Almost a week without even a nod, her head always pedaling in place. She radiated exhaustion: a dying star. Soon what—a black hole?
Biggs had to take some kind of action but, before he did anything, he needed to clear his own head. In the effort to convince her that he too had succumbed to sleeplessness, he had deprived himself of any significant downtime. He had a plan that involved pills and some showmanship, but first some quick sleep out of view was necessary. He went into the park and looked around before pushing into the shrubbery. They used to picnic here, blanket spread on the lawn. Carolyn rolling up her sleeves to get some sun on her shoulders. In the thicket, he found the place where, only two days earlier, he had created a nest of twigs and grass. Curling up inside, it wasn’t long before his thoughts took on the lawlessness of sleep. Images and ideas now drifted, unmoored by reason. A heavier sleep soon fell over him like a rug and he saw nothing.
Two hours later, he had a dream: Carolyn shining light into his eyes from clusters of crystalline fractals she cradled in her hands. He returned to the slowly imploding world, blinking at shards of the sun through the weave of saplings.
He sat up, both astonished and relieved. Something inside him continued to hold firm. I still sleep. And dream.
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About the Author
KENNETH CALHOUN has had stories published in The Paris Review, Tin House, and the 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize Collection, among others. He lives in Boston, where he is a graphic design professor at Lasell College.