Folie à Deux
Allie Marini Batts
I have dreamt her so many times by now that her face is familiar to me as any I have ever known. I don’t even have to be asleep anymore. She’s just there, watery and blue, waiting for me, in the moments of sleep and in the awful in-between of our insomnia. I say ‘our’ because nothing belongs to me anymore. Sleep, dreams, daylight—it’s all shared now. It has to be. I don’t like sharing, but really, what choice do I have at this point? I don’t. She just moved in, like she belonged, and unless I leave, we’re stuck here together. A fucked-up détente. I don’t know anything about her except what’s obvious. Clearly she’s dead, or else she wouldn’t be here. She doesn’t talk, so I don’t know her name. I say doesn’t, but I suppose can’t is probably more accurate; she’s got black electrical tape over her mouth. On those rare nights where she lets me sleep, I sometimes wonder when I fall to twilight, that inbetween-waking and dream time, if I can touch her, maybe take off the tape. But I’m not sure I would want to, even if I could. So she just hovers there and looks. Sometimes I look back. Sometimes I ignore her. I keep hoping that she’ll go away, but she hasn’t yet, and it’s been weeks. She wants something from me, but she hasn’t got the power to ask for it and I don’t have the stones to ask her what it is that she wants just yet. Soon, I’m going to have to. I can’t go on like this forever, not sleeping, with a dead blue girl floating in my room, dripping water no one else can see all over the floor. She’s tenacious, I’ll give her that—it’s not like she’s going away. I’m still scared of her, when I really think about it—but then, that sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Mostly I can’t let myself think about that, or even really think too deep about her, though. My brain is on fire with the buzzing that comes from sleep deprivation and the certainty that you are out of your mind, because, well, you’ve got a dead girl that only you can see kind of tagging along with you everywhere you go.
Part of me hopes that she’s an insomniac hallucination, just a snippet of something disturbing I saw on TV, conjured up into a sentient being by my overtaxed synapses—nothing to worry about, get some sleep, and she’ll go away as quickly as she materialized. But another part of me is even more terrified that she’s not—that this is absolutely real, that she is as real as I am, in her own way, and that even if I slept for a week, she’d be waiting when I woke up, just looking at me, like she does. This is terrifying to me for two basic reasons: One, I am not a channel to any kind of otherworldly shit, and Two, I am a goddamned skeptic. Well, I guess was is the more appropriate tense, since I either have to cowboy up to being full-on crazy or admit that maybe there are things in the world that are unexplainable to both science and religion. Because trust me, I have tried to science and pray her away. No amount of Ambien or Lord’s Prayers have managed to make her even get filmy around the edges. She’s just there. I don’t really see her move, she’s just…there. Floating, I guess. Like the air is made of water and she’s suspended in it. To say it’s creepy is probably the understatement of the year. Decade. Millennia.
Now, I know that there are a lot of ways that people lose their shit. There’s a million ways to go crazy, and everybody’s crazy looks different from anybody else’s. I’ve never been the tarot-reading, crystal rubbing sort. I read my horoscope for fun, but not because I take it seriously—I read every sign’s horoscope and then pick the one I like best. So I know I’m not seeing her because I want to see a ghost. I used to read ghost stories because, well, who doesn’t like to be scared by the weird and spooky shit that’s hiding in the dark? Not because I particularly believed in ghosts or wanted to see one—but shit, maybe reading about ghosts was an invitation, I don’t know how it works on the other side. Not that I think that’s what she is—a ghost—but then again, what else do you call an obviously dead blue girl that basically swims in the air around you, and makes you scared to sleep? Maybe I’m just scared to call her by the name that’s rightfully hers—ghost—because if I name her, she’ll have power, and if she has a name, she might want a voice next, and I don’t know what would be worse—the tape coming off for her to talk, or her finding a way around it to make herself heard. Honestly I don’t know what she is and I just want her to go away. But more than anything, I want to sleep again. I wish I knew that sleeping would make her go away. But I don’t—and I haven’t slept—because I’m scared of the What, then, attached to that question- as in, If I go to sleep, and wake up and she’s still here, what then?
My sleeplessness has never been like this. I’ve been an insomniac for so much of my life that it seems kind of pointless to try and reach back to a time when I wasn’t one. As far back as elementary school, I can remember being awake when everyone else was asleep—as a child, it was actually pretty cool—I had the will and the means to stay up way past my bedtime, and past everyone else’s bedtime, too. It’s how I discovered the joys of infomercials, Dr. Who reruns, and the Delilah radio call-in show. Likewise, insomnia was both useful and not a serious issue as a teenager—I was always wired well past my curfew, I never fell asleep first at slumber parties, I was always up for anything, awake when boys and friends tapped on my window for me to sneak out. In college, insomnia was de rigueur, it made me life of the party, made paper-writing a snap—everyone else stayed jacked up on coffee; I was just naturally jacked up. Half of the ridiculously cheesy B-movies that I’ve seen, I first watched on USA’s “Up All Night,” with Rhonda, because the programming was geared towards people like me—the graveyard shift workers, the exhausted college students, the tweakers or the sleep deprived. In fact, this is the first time it’s ever really been a problem. This is the first time I’ve actually started hallucinating, and she’s been here so long I’m sure she’s not a LSD flashback from college come back to haunt me. I’m scared shitless in my own skin and I don’t know what to do about it, because telling someone means risking getting Baker-Acted, and not telling anyone means she’s still there, out of the corner of my eye, or in the main line of my sight, just waiting for me to do something about her. Daring me to be proactive. Willing me to either sleep or stay awake. I’m afraid to dream, because, come on now, I saw Nightmare on Elm Street, and took that shit to heart. But I’m afraid to stay awake much longer, because I understand the basic principles of biology and physiology. I get that I’m not a shark, and that I have to sleep sometime. But fear is a potent upper.
Sleep: what a beautiful, yet awful, ring the word has to it. It seems like a delicious fantasy, like falling into a giant marshmallow and being enveloped by sweetness and dark. Others take it for granted—and why not?—they get six to eight hours of it every night. There have been precious few nights in my entire adult life where I’ve gotten that many hours of uninterrupted sleep, and every time I have, it’s been like a vacation, I wake up feeling like a million bucks and wishing I could go on vacation every night, just like everyone else in the world. My biology, however, disagrees. Tylenol P.M., NyQuil, Heineken, Ambien, melatonin, Trazodone, valerian root, Lunestra, Valium: each a formidable opponent, each defeated by my body after a few short weeks of normal circadian rhythms. I find myself up and awake, banging around my apartment, walking around the track at the nearby high school, on the playground of the park, at hours which are suspect at best, and dangerous at worst. I joined a 24-hour fitness club, figuring if I have to be up and walking at 4 a.m., it should best be done inside, on a treadmill, with security. I work graveyard shifts because no one else wants them; they’re all tired. I wish I could be, too.
Which brings me back to her. Because insomnia’s been a companion, maybe not always a welcome one, but it’s certainly been the devil I know. I do sleep sometimes; I have to. It’s just never enough—like how an anorexic doesn’t always starve, they just don’t eat enough. But the blue woman—my ghost—she’s something new. Hallucination or apparition, real or imagined—I want her to go away. As ghosts go, she’s actually not very good at it—or if I’m hallucinating her, then I must be very bored at my core, because she doesn’t really do anything, interesting or otherwise. She’s just kind of there, wherever I am. Whatever I’m looking at, she’s looking there, too. If she’s an apparition, the same logic applies. Everything I’ve ever read about ghosts or spirits indicates that they have an agenda, or a reason to be where they are or with whomever they’re with. I don’t know her, but she goes where I go, and she hasn’t made any demands on me, except that she insists on being wherever I am all the time.
But this—this is actually why she scares me: she’s bluish, which, besides the fact that she’s naked and no one else can see her, is how I know she’s dead, and that she’s probably not actually wherever I think I’m seeing her. And, like I said, she’s naked, except for the electrical tape. She’s bound, which is scary, too, because she’s got a story to tell that I don’t necessarily want to hear and it seems that no one will do for her audience except me. Her eyes are filmy. They haven’t ever closed, at least, not that I’ve seen. She’s a spectre, and everything about how she’s appearing to me hints at some kind of abject horror, a story I don’t want to hear, because it’s not in a book that I can close or on a TV show I can click off—but even despite all of that—for some reason, I wasn’t that surprised the first time I saw her, and that is what actually scares the shit out of me. Some part of me seems to have been waiting for her, expecting her even, and like I said before—I am not some sort of spiritual conduit, and more to the point: I don’t even believe in this shit. But the way she appears to me suggests something I’m not fully prepared to wrap my head around, which is why, among other reasons, I just keep ignoring her. I’m sure there’s something that could force me to sleep. I’m sure I could check myself in somewhere and some manner of modern chemistry and science could force the issue. Pharmacology and sleep could make her just go away. But first, I’d have to admit that she’s there—or at least that I think she’s there—to someone outside of my own head. And even though she scares me in so many ways, I’m not sure I’m ready to just make her disappear. I mean, she did choose me, for whatever reason, and just because I’m scared of her doesn’t mean that I’m not curious, too—I mean, isn’t that also sort of the point?
She has long hair, and it’s matted, almost dreadlocked in places, and there’s water vegetation in parts of it. Not seaweed, but more like reeds or water grasses. The wetness might explain the blue cast on her skin and the caul over her eyes, I mean, besides the fact that she’s obviously dead, or more to the point, probably a figment of my sleepless and likely crazy mind. I’ve imagined a million different scenes for her, all of them awful, many of them coming out like a very fucked-up version of John William Waterhouse paintings—as Ophelia, or the Lady of Shallot, that kind of thing, but with a dark modern twist of tape and bindings. Like Jack the Ripper and Pre-Raphaelite art, still more perversions of my wakeful mind, I’m sure. If she is my subconscious speaking to me, I really am not sure what it’s saying, except maybe GO TO BED. But even that seems superficial and simplistic. There’s something far stranger at work, to make her manifest so wholly, so vividly, so insistently. In the corner of my eye, whenever I’m outside of the house; at my elbow whenever I’m alone. In the car, in the backseat, so I catch just a glimpse of her filmy blue eyes in my rearview. Just looking. Waiting for me waiting for her, a Mexican standoff that can’t go on forever—but one of us has to make the first move, and I’m not extending her an invitation.
Well past midnight, I’m in my pajamas, pretending like nothing’s wrong, that sleep will come, that there isn’t a naked woman, bound up in electrical tape and lake weeds, dripping water that only I can see as she trails me throughout the apartment, leaving tiny puddles to reflect back on the tile for a split second before I glance back and they’re gone. When the late-night movie channel goes off-air just after three, I glance over to the other side of the couch, and she’s there, her ever-present dampness seeping a narrow circle of wetness into the cushions. I look at her and she meets my eyes, seeing me but not seeing me, looking through and past me to a point somewhere beyond. Maybe it’s the moisture—the black rectangle of tape covering her mouth has worked its way from her skin, leaving a moon-white patch of skin, squared off at the edges where the adhesive kept it in place before. I look away, and feel the clammy wrinkles of her fingertips graze my knuckles. Don’t look at her, I think, If you look at her, she’ll know you can see her. You’ll invite her in. I don’t move too quickly, but I pull my hand away from the center cushion.
It’s getting cold in here, I think, and move to bump up the thermostat, and it feels like I’m swimming through the air, suspended just above the ground but not touching it, my toes like phantoms that are cold and not entirely there at all, just little pinpricks of electrical shocks that let me know there’s something beneath. I breathe in the cold, the dark, the deepness of water that looks like air, but is not. Her fingertips, pruned over at the pads, slick as the lilypads floating on top of the lake, move from my wrist to my elbow and then down into the bone. I turn to face her, and she smiles, spilling water moss and algae over her lips and onto the floor. She leans in to touch her lips to mine—blue and white, like the light radiating down from dead stars—and pulls me down with her. She takes me down to the bottom with her, lays us down between the roots of reeds and lake grasses, pulls the water over us like a blanket. Finally I can sleep, and finally, she is not alone anymore.
Allie Marini Batts is an MFA candidate at Antioch University of Los Angeles, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She contributes to the publication of AULA’s Lunch Ticket literary magazine, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, and The Bookshelf Bombshells. Her first chapbook, “You Might Curse Before You Bless” was published in 2013 by ELJ Publications, and her second chapbook, “Unmade & Other Poems,” is forthcoming from Beautysleep Press. Find her on the web: Allie Marini Batts, Author or You Might Curse Before You Bless
Barbara Carter is a visual artist living in Nova Scotia Canada. You can visit her website at: barbaracarterartist.com