She was on her back, arms folded behind her head. Her eyes were clamped tightly shut. "Tell me a joke, talk to me, tickle me. Make me laugh." He pulled the pillow over his head. "I've got to get up for work in about three hours," he said, his voice muffled by the foam. She didn't say anything. The silence nudged him further awake.
He reached out a hand and touched her. "You aren't mad are you?" "Uhn un," she mumbled. He pulled the pillow from his head. "It's just that I get so tired. I'll have more energy this weekend." She rolled onto her side with her back to him. "You are mad." "Mmmm...un," she muttered softly.
He rolled over onto his back. The clock ticked persistently in a metallic monotone. I can't believe this, he thought. I feel guilty because I won't tell her a joke at 3 a.m. It's not like I'm her personal dial-a-joke. Who ever heard of waking someone up at 3 a.m. to have them tell you a joke? Maybe she's feeling down. She's depressed and she's reaching out for someone. I'm supposed to support her, be her friend as well as a lover. All I can do is tell her I'm tired.
"I'm sorry Sandy," he said gently to her back. "I'll make you laugh tomorrow, I promise. Okay?" Sandy snorted slightly and burrowed deeper into her pillow. God, she is mad, he thought as he rolled his eyes upward. I'm tired. Is it a crime to be tired? I'm just doing a number on myself. I work hard, I deserve to sleep.
I'm not always tired, he told himself. Besides, she's the one that wants to go to bed by 10 p.m. every night. And all she wants to do is sleep. It hadn't always been that way, though, he mused. In the first few months they'd know each other, going to bed had been a treat. They'd talk, make love, laugh and talk some more. Sleep hadn't mattered then. Time hadn't mattered either. When had it begun too?
"Do you love me," he asked softly to her back. He listened to her rhythmic breathing. Must be asleep, he thought. Then again maybe she's just pretending she's asleep so she doesn't have to answer me. Maybe she doesn't love me. What if she doesn't love me? What will I do?
A trickle of cold sweat dribbled down his side as fear swept over him. He wanted to take her in his arms, make love with the passion they'd had once. When was the last time he'd woke her up to make love, though? Last May, he remembered with a painful grimace. He involuntarily reached to protect his crotch as he recalled the night.
He'd woken up after a particularly erotic dream about Sandy and rolled over on top of her in a fit of passion. She'd woke up screaming and kneed him in the groin. Of course she'd apologized through her tears of laughter as he rolled around on the bed clutching his swollen testicles. He'd just surprised her, she'd said. He'd kept to his side of the bed for quite some time after that to avoid future surprises.
"There's this song by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand," he said sitting up. "It's the one where they sing, 'You don't send me flowers anymore'. I've always hated that song. "I mean, don't you think it's hard enough to maintain a relationship without multi-millionaire singers implying that we should base love on the number of times flowers are given and received. It's okay to be comfortable enough with a person that love is understood, isn't it? Can we get too comfortable? Are we too comfortable?"
There was no answer. Another wave of panic washed over him. He gasped for breath. Why do I get so frightened, he wondered. This is a modern relationship, right? We're not dependent on each other's love. We can function apart. I don't need her.
He lowered his head back to the pillow. I'll just go back to sleep. No problem. He shut his eyes. The clock ticked rhythmically. He pictured each sprocket of each gear turning around and a round. His eyes popped open. That sound, he thought. Geez, it reminds me of when I was five or six. I'd wake up and hear that damned clock ticking, filling the room with the sound. I was afraid then. What was I afraid of? Lots of things -- giant spiders. I remember seeing a Tarzan film where giant spiders attacked and killed people. I was afraid to let my feet touch the floor for a week. I'd walk from chair to chair, bounce off the sofa and leap into the bathroom. Mom finally whacked me on the head. Then I was afraid of her. I still don't like spiders, he thought with a shiver, noticing a stringy cobweb waving weakly from the ceiling.
The clock hand shifted loudly. Damn, he thought. I've got to get back to sleep. I had a method when I was a kid to put myself to sleep. What was it? I remember, he thought with a smile. I'd pretend I had five minutes left until my alarm went off. Those were always the best five minutes of sleep, the ones just before you have to get up. Let's see, he told himself as he rolled over on his side and closed his eyes. Five minutes left to sleep. Five glorious minutes. Okay, it's working. I'm feeling sleepy. No worries. I'll wake up refreshed. Of course then I'll have to deal with Sandy. She'll pretend nothing is wrong. I'll worry about it the whole day. I'll come home and she'll be gone. I can see the note now: "Dear Mick, I've left you for Rolf Simpson. You know, the guy from my Tai Chi class. He makes me laugh. Take care and remember to change the catbox. Luv, Sandy."
She would leave me for a guy named Rolf, he thought angrily. And all she can manage after a two years is a "Luv, Sandy." I hate it when people spell love L-U-V. And, it's her cat. I can't stand that cat. It always sleeps on my side of the bed. If she leaves, she'd better take it with her.
I don't want her to leave, he thought. I love her -- L-O-V-E, not luv. The clock pinged and whirred slightly. I'll send her flowers tomorrow. That's it. I'll win her back from Rolf. Rolf. . .I really hate that name. Sounds like something you'd do after drinking all night. He chuckled softly to himself. Why should I worry about a man with a name that sounds like vomit? He rides a bike and has biceps twice the size of mine, though. He's a real Mr. Granola. Sandy gets into that kind of stuff. I'm not in that bad of shape he thought, flexing his arm and pinching the bicep. He winced at how flabby the flesh seemed and threw back the covers to look at his body. Oh my God, he thought, I'm developing a belly. I'm getting like those middle-aged guys at the beach with their bloated white bellies hanging down to their knees. I need exercise -- sit-ups! Yeah, I'll do 50 sit-ups a night starting right now.
He rolled enthusiastically out of bed and onto the floor. "One," he said softly, raising his head slowly off the floor. This isn't too bad, he thought. "Twooooo. . ." Damn it's cold down here. "Three. . ." The clock seemed to get louder, booming out the painful seconds as he lowered himself back to the floor. "Fourrrrrrrrrr. . ." His breath wheezed out between his teeth. He realized that the clock wasn't getting louder, it was the sound of his heart trying to pound its way out of his forehead. Maybe 50 sit-ups is a bit ambitious for the first night, he reasoned. Five should do it. "Fuh. . .fuh. . . ive."
He collapsed in relief. Look at me. I'm lying naked on the floor ready to have a heart attack and die just because I wouldn't tell the woman I love a joke at three in the morning. This is ridiculous. She'll have to love my body the way it is. In the words of Popeye, `I am what I am.'
"SHIT," he blurted out as he struggled to his feet and got back into the bed. He shook Sandy's shoulder vigorously. "Sandy, SANDY..."
"Huh...Mick, what is it?"
"Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?"
"Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?"
"What are you talking about, what time is it?" She reached across him and grabbed the clock. "My God, it's 3:45 a.m."
"Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?"
"I don't have the slightest idea," she said shaking her head as she put the clock back down on the nightstand.
"It was dead."
"It was dead."
"You had a bad dream, go back to sleep," she said pulling the covers up around her head.
"No," he said, pulling the covers back. "It's a joke. You wanted me to make you laugh."
"I don't even know what you're talking about Mick."
"You woke me up and said, 'Make me laugh'. I was a little sleepy. I sorry I didn't tell you a joke then."
"Mick, that's ridiculous," Sandy said shaking her head. "I don't remember saying that. If I did, I must have been talking in my sleep. Just go to sleep. We both have to get up in a little while." She pulled the covers around her again.
Mick stared at her blankly. "Do you love me Sandy?"
"Of course I do," came the muffled reply. "If I didn't, I'd kill you for waking me up to tell me a monkey fell out of a tree because it was dead."
"It was the only joke I could think of," Mick said.
"Robin Williams can sleep well tonight knowing he doesn't have to worry about you stealing his job."
"Goodnight," Mick said, smiling as he lay down and closed his eyes. The clocked clicked and ticked emptily. He rolled over with a sigh. I wasn't worried, he thought. A few minutes later he was asleep.
Sandy shook her head. I'm living with a lunatic, she thought. Why would any normal person wake someone up at quarter to 4 a.m. and tell them a joke? It was a bad joke too. I wonder what's going on in his head. Is something more serious on his mind?
She reached out a hand and stroked his back gently. "Are you okay, Mick?" she asked. His back heaved slowly up and down in time to his breathing. She listened closely, trying to determine whether he was really asleep. How could he fall asleep so quickly, she wondered. Why had he asked whether she loved him? She rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. The ticking of the clock echoed emptily off the white walls.
"Mick, do you love me?" In the darkness, Mick's breathing blended neatly with the steady ticking.
Sandy closed her eyes and waited for morning.