Trouble Sleeping

Short Fiction for Guests of the WoodFeeder
Monday, September 6, 2010

12:35 AM, early Wednesday morning.

“Are you awake?”

“Hm,” was all his wife, lying next to him, her face down in her pillow, could manage to say. [Translation: “No.”]

“Jimmy Fallon’s coming on.”

“Hm.” [“Who gives a crap? I need to sleep.”]

“You know that new girl I told you about, the one they hired in public relations?”


“Well, she comes in my office today. I’m busy like a beaver editing a screenplay. Doesn’t even bother to knock. She’s wearing one of those v-neck tops, without the undershirt thing. Lot’s of cleavage showing, looking even more boobous than usual. I’m guessing she has a platinum card at Victoria Secrets. …You following this?”

“Hm.” [“Unless she was naked, I couldn’t care less.”] “…Hm.” [“Is she attractive?”]

“Everybody that young is attractive, and that rack she’s carrying certainly doesn’t hurt.”

“Hmmm.” [“Forty years from now, they’ll be down to her waist.”]

“So she puts both hands flat on my desk and leans over, daring me to stare at them, like somehow they were a reason for me to agree with her. …Most men would have forced themselves to look her in the face. I, on the other hand, am what I am. ..I look right at them. Didn’t look up at her once. I actually turned my head slightly from side to side like I was studying one, and then the other. ‘I don’t know what you and your boobs are doing on my desk,’ I tell her, ‘but, whatever it is, I have a deadline and it can wait. Now I want the three of you out of here. Now.’ Impressive, huh?”

“Hm.” [“I don’t believe for a second you really said that.”]

“Well, that’s what I would have said, if she’d given me a chance. …Jeez, even boobs from public relations get to tell me what to do.”

“Hm.” [I have boobs.”]

“Sure, but you’re not always pushing them in my face. …Come to think of it, why is that?”


“You know, I’ve been writing my own stuff, short stories, you know, for people with short spans of attention. Stuff to read over breakfast, maybe on the train.”

“Hm.” [“..Or to read when they can’t sleep instead of keeping your wife up all night.”]

“Yeah. Forty-nine of them so far. Most of them true, well, except for a few details. …Wait, I’m going to the bathroom.”

Three minutes or so later.

“I’m back. I need to stop eating or drinking anything after… after 9 o’clock. AM. That should do it. ..What were we talking about? ..Oh, yeah. The new hire from PR. You know what I think?”

“Hm. [“Don’t know. Don’t care. Maybe you can tell me telepathically, like that character in one of your idiot stories. Some clerk makes a typo on your birth certificate, and you think you can read minds.”]

“Hey. It wasn’t a typo. ..Man,” he lamented on his way, one at a time, through the 100 or so cable channels he’d marked as ‘favorites,’ “there’s nothing on. Wait, let’s see what LMN is showing.”

Suddenly, his wife pushed up, rolled onto one elbow, used her free hand to grab the remote out of his, held down the volume button for two, then three bars on the screen, fell onto her back and dropped the remote on the hardwood floor off her side of the bed. When it hit, the battery cover popped open, and the two AA batteries rolled away, where he was sure to step on them in the dark, the next time he got up.

“Hm,” she said, falling instantly back to sleep. [“Take a hint.”]

He stared at her for a couple of minutes in silence, then poked her in the arm, deliberately, gently, almost affectionately. It was his way of standing up for himself – After all, he had a right to be up in the middle of the night. – and apologizing at the same time.

“Well, not twenty minutes later, in comes Mr. Siegel asking me if I’d met his niece. Literally, the woman with the boobs is his wife’s sister’s daughter, two years out of college and looking for work so she can afford to get her own place and stop driving Siegel’s sister-in-law crazy.

“‘I gather you’ve met my niece,’ he asks me with a look of mild distain, ‘The one with the cleavage.’”

“Cleavage? I hadn’t noticed. She seemed pleasant. I was just too busy…”

“Yeah, right. I need you to take her under your wing, professionally speaking of course. Let her help you with one of your projects.”

“She’s in public relations.”

“I know, but they… They really didn’t need the extra body. Do your best to make her useful.”

“Of course, Mr. Siegel.”

“And, uh, I know it’s a lot to ask, but maybe you could talk to her about the way she dresses, a little less perfume maybe.”

“Uh, I don’t.. Wouldn’t it be better if your sister-in-law, maybe your wife had that conversation with her? Maybe, Denise.” ‘(..You’ve met Denise, Siegel’s assistant.)’ “Sure, Denise would be perfect. A mature, consummate, albeit elderly professional, there isn’t anything she wouldn’t..”

“Jack. Denise is like a thousand years old.”

“But mentally, as sharp as..”

“You’re my last hope.”

“You do know I’m a guy, Mr. Siegel?”

“And so he tells me, ‘Jack, starting tomorrow, Angela’s you’re new assistant. Make it work,’ and he leaves. Never even bothered to sit down.”

A moment of quiet.


[Insert light snoring sounds.]

“Honey, you’re snoring. You can’t sleep on your back.”

Nothing, but more snoring, which would be bad enough, but it was the irregular kind, punctuated by sporadic little gasps, like she might be on the verge of choking.

“Honey,” he said, pushing on her shoulder, “roll over.” And, she did, to the outside, stopping just short of rolling off the edge of the bed.

“Whoa! ..Whoa, that was close. ..I’m thinking when I get to 50, maybe I’ll put them together, maybe 250 pages total, and see if I can’t find a publisher. Siegel knows people. I mean, I know people, but Siegel’s people are more impressive. Maybe blow one or two of them up into screenplays. No, better yet, pilots. Yeah, pilots, with residuals.” He wedges his flat hand part way under her side.

“Hm.” [Instinctive auto-response having no particular meaning.]

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll take care of his niece, and he’ll owe me. Yeah.” And he closed his eyes and finally fell asleep.


Early the following morning, he’s on the way out the door, she’s just coming down the stairs, having gone to the bathroom already, on her way into the kitchen to wash her hands, because there are no other sinks in the house.

“Thanks for listening last night. Sorry if I kept you awake. Fortunately, a woman as good looking as you doesn’t need her beauty sleep.” And he gave her a kiss good morning as they passed each other. And it’s not easy making lip-to-lip contact when you’re both moving.

“To be honest, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Was I carrying on a real conversation?”

“No, but I’ve gotten pretty good interpreting your grunts.”



He leaves for work early, to get some work done before Angela shows up.

An hour and a half later, Angela comes in eating a donut, falling out of her dress, and starts babbling about something, blowing his concentration.

But just then, the wife shows up. “Hi, honey.” And then turning to Angela, “Hey. I’m Evelyn, Richard’s wife. You must be Angela, Richard’s new associate.”

Standing up, but still holding her donut in her left hand, Angela extended her right one. “Hi, Evelyn, Good to meet you. ‘Associate?’” she smiled while continuing to chew the half a donut she had in her mouth. “I like the way that sounds.”

“By the way, it’s ‘Evy.’ Call me ‘Evy.’” Evelyn ignored the bit of powdered sugar on Angela’s hand and shook it firmly. “..You know what, honey?”

“Hm.” Richard was back to work, staring at his screen, occasionally typing.

“How ‘bout if I take Angela out for a nice breakfast, you know, welcoming her to your staff.”

“I don’t have a staff.”

“ I’ll bring you something back.”

“Do I have the time?” Angela asked her boss.

“Yes.” Evelyn answered for him. Desperate to get back to his writing, he’d agree to anything to get the two of them out of his office. “Hard to believe, I know, but he’ll just have to get along without us.”

Walking around his desk, Evelyn bent down to kiss him goodbye on his cheek as Angela headed for the door.

“Thanks,” Richard looked up and whispered directly into her ear, “for having my back.”

She kissed him a second time, because she wanted to and to give her an excuse to whisper back to him. “It’s more like her front I’m worried about.” Standing up, Evelyn turned for one last word. “..Maybe you could take off early and we could go out to dinner?” she asked.

Richard looked up at her, raising both his eyebrows as if to say, “You know, I could leave now. I’m really not all that busy.”

“You know,” she smiled back at him, “maybe you really can read minds.”

“Babe,” Richard mumbled under his breath, “you have no idea.”

“See you later.” On their way out the door, Evelyn grabbed the brass knob of Richard’s wood framed glass door and pulled it shut behind her. “Hey,” she called to Angela who was a few steps ahead of her. “Maybe we can do some shopping while we’re out. What do you think?”

“Wow. No kidding. That’d be great! …You know,” she confided as Evelyn caught up to her, “I’m pretty sure I need an upgrade.”



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