Sleep Interrupted

Our lives consist mostly of uneventful moments unworthy of a story. Right?

Well, maybe not.

Sometimes those mundane moments turn out to be unexpectedly interesting. 

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy movie where the guy falls for the girl after she falls into a coma.  A striking premise, beautifully handled. But the scene I most liked is when the girl’s father, Terry, (played by Ray Romano) crashes for the night at the apartment of the guy, Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani).

Kumail just wants to sleep, but the father is restless and wants to talk, especially about discovering how much he loved his wife after he cheated on her. He tries to turn this into sage advice for Kumail, but fails, and admits, “I thought I could just start saying something and something smart would come out.”

Few things are less dramatic than sleep, including what comes right before and after. But this scene is awkward, funny, and poignant.

I’m reminded of the Raymond Carver short story “Whoever Was Using This Bed,” in which most of the story takes place while a husband and wife lie in bed together in the middle of the night. (You’ll find this story in the Gotham anthology Fiction Gallery.)

The story starts when they’re awakened by a wrong-number phone call. Then they try to settle back into sleep, like so:

She takes her pillow and puts it on the far side of the bed, against the headboard, scoots over, and then she leans back once more. She doesn’t look sleepy. She looks fully awake. I get into bed and take some covers. But the covers don’t feel right. I don’t have any sheet; all I have is blanket. I look down and see my feet sticking out. I turn onto my side, facing her, and bring my legs up so that my feet arc under the blanket. We should make up the bed again. I ought to suggest that. But I’m thinking, too, that if we kill the light now, this minute, we might be able to go right back to sleep.

They’re a middle-aged couple and they get to talking about their aches and pains, which leads them to thinking about serious ailments, and soon they’re discussing if they should disconnect each other from a life support machine. Is it a story about falling asleep or fear of death?

The writers of these stories know how to find the resonance in those little moments that lie between the sheets. You should try this, too.

And, wait…don’t sleep through the Gotham Fall term, which kicks into high gear this week. So many classes waiting for you.

Alex Steele

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