Sleep Donation: A Novella (Kindle Single)

BOOK: Sleep Donation: A Novella (Kindle Single)
4.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Sleep Donation
Table of Contents
The Sleep Van

The siren goes, and we code for dispatch.
Nine times in twenty, lately, it’s the same address: 3300 Cedar
Ridge Parkway.

Then we get a call back, saying the dispatch is cancelled.

Then we get a third call: no, disregard the cancellation; get a
Sleep Van to the property, stat.

What’s happening, as revealed to us by a visibly distraught Jim:
Mr. and Mrs. Harkonnen are having a “dispute.”

“Mr. Harkonnen says he wants to drop out.”

“So what?” says the intern. “We don’t even use his

“No, jackass. He’s trying to pull out with Baby A.”

Everybody looks over at that.

Rudy slaps his bald spot and leaves his hand there. A grapefruit
hue spills underneath his fingers, as if the scalp is blushing.

Jim freezes in the center of the trailer, in full view of every
staffer, and rubs his fists against his gray eyes. It’s a pitiful
and futile gesture to witness, like watching an animal cower inside
a plastic cage. We can see how scared Jim is of losing both things,
Baby A and our good opinion of him.

Six staffers are working the phones tonight, and we are all
mentally coaching him:
Don’t cry, Jim

Our Sleep Station has an unusual, top-heavy hierarchy

—we have two supervisors, the Storch brothers. They
are former CEOs who left the business
world at the height of the Insomnia Crisis and now freely give of
all their resources to the not-for-profit Slumber Corps. Money,
time, intellect, leadership, creativity, toilet seats. The Storches
made their fortune in the ergonomic toilet business. You may have
seen their advertisements: “To shit upon a Storch feels better than
a visit to your chiropractor.” Their extreme altruism is a
provocation to everyone else on staff

inducement to work even harder, a reminder that we could always be
giving more.

Rudy and Jim have been my supervisors for seven years; I was the
first recruiter assigned to their team. I don’t socialize with them
outside work. Our contact is limited to this office (unless you
count our public performances at Corps fund-raisers, the Charity
Balls and Charity Golf-Offs). But I know every shadow of my bosses’
faces; all of their Storchy tics; that upsetting thing Rudy does
with his pen caps; what Jim’s not saying at our meetings. The
brothers are middle-aged Irish twins, clean shaven and built like
longshoremen. Externally, they have slate eyes and cranberry-red
hair balding in identical horseshoe patterns. Internally, each
brother has his own uniquely fucked emotional metabolism. Rudy, for
example, is currently managing his despair by bawling out the
interns, sweat jewelling all along his dusky face like a July
whisky glass.

The Storches are celebrities in the sleep crisis community.
Eight years ago, the brothers served together on the inaugural
Slumber Corps Board of Directors at Headquarters in Washington,
D.C. Within months, the Corps had
established outposts in every major city, pullulating green
offshoots of the D.C. base. Soon local
branches began operating more or less independently, soliciting
donations for money and sleep, whereupon the Storch brothers
promptly requested a demotion to this low-prestige placement in
their home city. A “Solar Zone” assignment. We serve an urban core
where the rate of insomnia is twenty-two percent higher than the
national average. Our Pennsylvania city has one of the greatest
REM-sleep deficits on the East Coast (although we are
certainly not the worst hit: Tampa, riddlingly, currently leads the
nation in new cases of the insomnia; the governor’s budget cuts in
that Sunshine State have meant that Floridian sleep scientists
remain stalled at the “dang”/“go figure” stage of their research).
Hundreds of our old neighbors, friends, coworkers, and teachers are
new insomniacs. They file for dream bankruptcy, appeal for Slumber
Corps aid, wait to be approved for a sleep donor. It is a special
kind of homelessness, says our mayor, to be evicted from your
dreams. I believe our mayor is both genuinely concerned for his
insomniac constituency, and also pandering to a powerfully
desperate new voting block.

Currently the NCEH is investigating possible
environmental causes in our city: everything from the water table
to disturbed eagles’ nests to the brilliance of the moon on grass,
to the antique screams of the historic monorail.

I grew up here, too.

We operate out of a Mobi-Office. Six interlocking trailers,
dry-docked on a vacant downtown lot which the Corps leases from the
city. “The redneck labyrinth,” Rudy calls it. A former
FEMA engineer designed it as a temporary
accommodation; a base camp for local teams working at the frontiers
of the crisis. We’ve been working out of our tin can for half a
decade. Nobody suggests moving into a brick-and-mortar office;
nobody wants to peer through glass windows, in a building with a
foundation, and admit that the insomnia emergency is now a
permanent condition.

You’d think it would be difficult to hide in a trailer. But I’m
chameleoned next to the phone wall, near the black window. Some
intern has made curtains for the trailer windows, snaggy lace,
which look nothing like curtains, in fact, but vestments tiny and
obscene: bridal veils for mice, chinchilla negligees. They flutter
in the trailer’s manic air-conditioning. Outside, the moon is a
colossus. Its radiance makes every white of human manufacture seem
dingy, impure.

I turn from the moon, remove the headset; I give myself one more
blank moment.

“Where’s Trish?”

“Get Trish.”

“Over here,” I say.

“Edgewater!” screams Rudy. “There you are! We have a major
goddamn problem.”

“A hitch,” Jim soothes.

“The mother is solid, she’s one hundred percent. The father,


“The father is afflicted with doubts.”

“The father is a selfish prick.”

“Trish, honey . . .”

“Bastard hung up on me twice.”

“Whose signature is on the consent? Do we have both?”

Now everyone is staring at me.

“We do,” I say smoothly. “I have the file here.”

“Edgewater will handle this,” Rudy prophesies, staring right at

“Mr. Harkonnen needs to be reminded of why this is


“I think he knows, Jim. I already pitched them.”

“ ‘Them’?”

“Her,” I admit. “The mother.”


“But I’m sure she’s told him about Dori


“Not the way
tell it, Edgewater.” Rudy beams at me.
Rudy is the kind of boss who goes from screaming to beaming in two
seconds flat, at a psychopathic velocity.

“He’s got to hear it from you. Face-to-face.”

“Only a stone would refuse to donate after your pitch.”

“Trish, baby.”


Pride heats my eyes. It’s reprehensible, but that’s what

“It might not work,” I say. “If he’s that dead-set against

Jim and Rudy pour it on even thicker, emphasizing that I am
indispensable to the organization, that the Corps would be lost
without me, et cetera.

“Look at you!” Rudy grins.

“Look at those hands,” Jim says approvingly.

We look at my hands, which are shaking. I feel proud again,
which has got to be the wrong response to a set of involuntary
tremors. My body knows what I’m about to do, and it’s balking, just
like Mr. Harkonnen.

“You are the genuine article, Trish.”


“You are simply the


“I said I’ll go, Rudy.”

Rudy is a bad recruiter. I’ve seen him in action. Potential
donors sway on the brink of a yes, prepared to surrender to the
gravity of the appeal, but then Rudy gets overzealous, Rudy turns
the solicitation into a game of coercion, until at last his
lip-smacking anticipation of their gift makes them wary again, and
they stiffen into a no.

“That’s how we got Baby A, you know,” Jim whispers to the
intern, Sam Yoon, a college junior in a mint-green dress shirt who
is earnestly frowning as I exit the trailer; it’s a whisper I know
I’m meant to hear.

“Trish pitched Mrs. Harkonnen at a Sleep Drive in a parking lot.
Nabbed her right outside the grocery store, schlepping Baby A.
Watch her pitch sometime. Shadow her at a Drive. She’s just pure
appeal, pure passion for the cause. Her sister was Dori

“Oh, my,” says the intern, exactly matching Rudy’s tone.

What distinguishes me as a recruiter, I’m told by Rudy and Jim,
is that my sister’s death is evergreen for me, a pure shock, the
freshest outrage. I don’t have to dig around with the needle; that
vein is open on the surface.

“And Trish can’t fake it.”

“Cries every time.”

“Quakes, like.”

“She gets emotional, and people really respond.”

“Describes the sister like she’s standing right in front of

“Sobs like she’s still at the wake


Jim frowns, self-startled.

He’s a mid-sentence self-startler, Jim. “Hiccups of insight,” he
calls these moments. Whenever my boss is struck dumb by his own
epiphanic inner light, I picture a tiny deer jolted out of its
grazing with grass in its mouth, paralyzed by the brilliant
approach of a Mack truck.

“Wait a sec, Rudy, why the hell do we call it that? A ‘wake’?
For a dead gal? That’s terrible. That’s goddamn macabre.”

“I’ve wondered that myself. Seems a pretty grim joke.”

“Oh, there’s definitely a reason,” says the brown-nosing intern.
“Some Catholic logic. Or is it a Jews’ thing?”

“People respond!” bellows Rudy. “Edgewater, she’s a little
engine. Even our most resistant demographics will give to her.
Males, retirees! Greenwich bankers, West Texas construction
workers. The Southeast Asian community, where, as you well know,
there is a culturally rooted suspicion of Sleep Donation.”

“Of course.” The intern nods.

“But they have no immunity to Edgewater’s story.”

I am hovering near the trailer door, holding my breath. They
keep talking, and I listen. I desperately need what they are
offering. A faith-transfusion. The
and the
of the organization. Our work and its value.

In high school, the Red Cross blood truck
would pull up behind the trailers to collect donations from young,
hale students, who got to skip homeroom and eat a raisin cookie and
relinquish pints of type O. Dori gave, but I never did

—I convinced myself that I was scared of needles. If
I’d known then that I’d wind up here, begging strangers for an hour
of their sleep, I think I would have given blood at every

As a Corps volunteer, my duties are numerous and varied.
Weekends, I mobilize the Sleep Van

—a moonlit
enterprise that dispatches a volunteer team to the homes of good
sleepers, who have signed up to donate their rest to insomniacs. A
Sleep Van has a spartan interior. The beds we call “catch-cots.” If
the Van is equipped for infants and children, it features
catch-cribs and trundles. Nurses slip on the anesthetic mask, open
the IV of special chemicals, relieving a donor of
consciousness; next, they clamp on and adjust the silver helmet,
which does chafe a bit; one to two minutes after the loss of
consciousness, once the donor enters a state of artificially
stimulated sleep, the draw commences. The air in the Sleep Van
turns balmy as the tubing heats; a donor’s dream-moist breath gets
siphoned into nozzles that connect to our tanks. Healthy sleep is
pumped out of the body into long, clear tubes.

Weeknights, I recruit.

We set up for Sleep Drives in neighborhoods all across the
county, right at sundown. Nurses swab out helmets in multiple Vans,
preparing to take sleep donations for testing. Administrators sit
inside lit tents on suburban lawns, holding clipboards,
prescreening donors with an eligibility questionnaire to filter out
those whose sleep is prone to nightmares, disturbance. We babble
the questions to volunteers under the midnight pines.

“When was your last full night of deep, unbroken sleep,

“When did you last dream about barking dogs, outer space, red
grass, an ex-wife? Now, please be honest, sir

—if your sleep was disturbed by her face, check the
box . . .”

For most of the twenty-first century,
insomnia was treatable by prescription medicines; I can still
remember going with my father to pick up my sister’s sleeping
tablets from the owl-faced pharmacist. Capsules of Silenor

—half white and half carnation pink. Dori’s sleep
trouble began early, at age eleven. Back then, before the disease
progressed, medications reliably put her under. I used to study my
sister’s face on the pillow, trying to catch the moment when the
Silenor took effect.

Once her adolescent insomnia ratcheted up, for unknown reasons,
into the full-blown disorder, Dori slept about four hours a night.
But for years, this was enough. The body can be a marvel of
resiliency, a cactus when it comes to sleep

—capable of surviving on mere drops.

By twenty, however, Dori had developed a resistance to all sleep
aids. She also became, quite suddenly, impossible to anesthetize.
We learned this when she broke her leg in college and surgeons were
forced to operate on a fully conscious Dori.

The anesthesiologist is still writing papers about her.

Her leg healed, but soon Dori lost the ability to sleep even
three hours a night. She could not stay down long enough to cycle
into REM. She had to drop out of college and move into
a white hospital room. What didn’t they try on her?
Dexmedetomidine, propofol, sevoflurane, xenon. The tranq gun used
to bring down zoo elephants would have stopped her heart, or I’m
sure they would have given that a go. Nobody could shade or muzzle
her mind.

BOOK: Sleep Donation: A Novella (Kindle Single)
4.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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