Cure for insomnia, (Fantasy short story)

Cure for Insomnia
She lay awake thinking. She did this every night – hour after hour. Not being able to sleep made her life a misery – her days underscored by desperate tiredness and splitting headaches; her nights full of worry about how she would cope the next day.
What to do about it? That relentless question with a thousand answers. She thought about the various suggestions well-meaning friends and professionals had made over the years and sighed in despair.
Wearily she prised herself up from the bed and stumbled down into the kitchen. ‘Sometimes just doing something else for a bit can help’ she thought to herself. But she didn’t believe herself. ‘Bloody cures, I bet there are hundreds – I’ll write them out –nothing better to do.’ She took out a 30 foot roll of wallpaper lining paper from under the stairs and an indelible pen and began writing in big letters…..
‘Cures’ for insomnia
Get a better bed, bigger bed, smaller bed, water bed, softer pillows, harder pillows, scented pillows, lavender filled pillows, softer mattress, harder mattress, wretched futon, vibrating mattress, adjustable mattress, electric blanket, hammock, llama wool blanket. Listen to tapes of lovely music, peaceful music, favourite music, background music, orchestral music, special music written for insomniacs, rock and roll, rap (even). Listen to ‘relaxation’ tapes, meditation tapes, tapes by sages talking about ego transcendence, poetry read aloud, boring books, interesting books, non-fiction, only fiction. Put in ear plugs – wax ones, foam ones, rubber ones, get several together stuff them firmly and alarmingly into ears and hold there whilst they expand to fill the space. Wear blind folds, stick on colour patches. Take Bach flower remedies – rotating until the right one is found, adjust meridians, get acupuncture, see a reflexologist, go for colon irrigation. See a herbalist, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, dietician, feng shui consultant, homeopathy consultant, sleep therapist. Learn yoga, judo, karate, Tai Chi, any martial art. Do exercise just before sleeping. Don’t do any exercise before sleeping. Do breathing exercises. Meditate on loving kindness – towards all beings, towards myself. Focus on one object of concentration such as the breathing. Gradually go through body relaxing different parts one by one. Count sheep. Count sheep giving them names – then do it again remembering the names in order. Do arithmetic. List the prime numbers. Find words about different subjects for every letter of the alphabet. Drink Horlicks before going to sleep. Barley Cup (yuk). Don’t drink coffee, do drink coffee. Don’t drink anything. Drink alcohol, get pissed. Never touch alcohol. Take sleeping tablets. Don’t. Take tranquilisers. Don’t. Take drugs. Don’t. Masturbate/have sex just before. Don’t. Never have naps in day. Do have – whenever you need them. If only. It needs to be paradoxical – tell yourself that you don’t need to sleep – even though you know deep down that you do. Try to stay awake. Try to keep your eyes open. Tell yourself that you don’t need to get to sleep – even though you know that you do. Try not to try to get to sleep. Try not to try not to try not to…..
The list went on and on…..Soon she had filled the whole roll of the lining paper – and she knew that there were many more to come. Wearily she rolled it all up and wrote in huge letters on the outside: RUBBISH
Then in a state of absolute desolation she held the roll in front of her and shouted loudly at it:
“who will rid me of these endless remedies and this bloody insomnia?”
The words were still buzzing, frenzied, in the air when she heard a gentle tap on the kitchen window. Surprised she turned and looked out into the night. A massive eye looked back at her!
Two things were immediately apparent. First, the eye was alien – it wasn’t like any eye she had ever seen before – it was a foot wide! Second, it was friendly, mischievous even. And the pupil twinkled and had dark mesmerising swirls….. Around the eye were feathers that looked as soft as warm air and folded into crinkly smile lines.
She went over to the window and peered out in bewildered shock. The eye was certainly calming to look into, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness she began to see a huge being around it. It was part of a head – like a birds head – only massive. Like a huge eagles head with a curved shiny beak. And below the head receding into the darkness she traced out in the distance a huge furry body, sturdy sandy coloured shoulders, four legs and a tail. A lion’s body! Suddenly she realised what it was. It was a Griffin!
It was standing with its lions legs on her front lawn, its huge eagle neck rising up from its lion’s shoulders then bending down in a great arch so that its head could be level with the window. ‘This cannot be real’ said a small unconvincing voice in her head ‘get out of here’. She staggered backwards in shock.
But the eye continued to look at her through the window, in its friendly way, and slowly she inched forwards again, captivated by its beauty, and at the same time wondering to herself what on earth she was doing. ‘Run’ she thought, and continued to inch forwards. As she grew closer again she could see that the beak was trying to gently prise open the window from the outside. Impulsively, without pausing to think, she helped it to do this.
As the window opened the griffins head turned slightly to allow the giant beak to hook lightly onto the window sill. She could see the whole beautiful head now with its whirl pool eyes and its soft golden feathers. She reached out gently and touched the beak finely and with the tips of her fingers. It was real! The griffin just continued looking at her gently. She had expected its beak to be hard but somehow it was so smooth it felt soft. There were tiny feathers all around the beak’s edge and on the side of the head. She could not resist touching them as well. It was entrancing, and they were unbelievably soft – almost as if they were not there. She reached out of the window over the beak and began touching the griffin all over the side of its head. It looked on indulgently, and though she could scarcely breathe through excitement and fear she realised that now she knew exactly what to do.
Still holding the rolled up lining paper she began to carefully climb out of the window. First one leg, then two. The Griffin seemed to be making way for her and lowered its head invitingly, placing its neck just below her as if to protect her from falling. The pull of those soft neck feathers was irresistible and without pausing she climbed astride it and gently joggled her way down its neck to the place where the softness of feathers joined with a new softness of fur – the eagle joined with the lion. There was no clear boundary – just an area where it was neither feathers nor fur – but some other material, a sublime unsurpassably soft material the likes of which she had never felt before. ‘This must be the saddle’ she thought to herself madly.
The Griffin waited patiently whilst she settled herself, then very gently bent down on all four lion legs whilst at the same time unfurling its massive 40 foot wide wings. Pushing up with its legs and down with its wings it rose up into the air in a single fluid movement.
As they began to fly she felt totally safe. The Griffin soon fell into a regular rhythm – beating its huge powerful wings as they surged upwards. With her free hand she held on gently to the neck, and brought her face towards it so that she could feel its softness on her cheek and at the same time peep down below. Already they were high up! She was able to make out the roof of her house and the surrounding gardens and other houses. As they flew higher she could make out her neighbourhood with its street lights and empty night time streets. Most of the houses were dark and silent, one or two had a light left on. ‘Probably insomniacs like me’.
As the Griffin rose the whole of her town could now be seen, the ring road, and the major artery roads fanning out from it in star like rays. Then the griffin turned its neck towards the west and began flying out over countryside. She could just make out the outlines of rivers, woods and hills and sometimes a light in a farmhouse. Still climbing they continued to fly in a relaxed regular rhythm. She felt soothed by the rocking motion of their flight and the wonderful soft down smell of feather-fur. They flew over countryside, past towns. Then way down below her she made out the coastline and could just see a fringe of white where waves were breaking on rocks by a flashing lighthouse.
They flew on effortlessly, over the sea. The line of land receded behind them. Now and then she saw an ocean liner – and once a small yacht – its tiny lights bouncing through the waves. But for long periods of time she made out nothing below her – just the black blue vastness of sea that she knew was there. She began to lose track of time – lulled by the wonderful power and rhythm of the griffin, the sweet softness, its gentle breathing, and a sensation of a giant heart beating. She rested her head fully now on its neck and closed her eyes. As she did so she hardly noticed herself letting go of the roll of paper in her hand, which slipped free.
The roll of paper fluttered below her, accelerating into the darkness. For over a minute it continued to free fall before finally hitting the sea. Briefly it floated on the surface before being swallowed by the waves, and continuing its journey under the water – still falling – though much slower now, and in a corkscrew motion.
Deeper and deeper it fell, parting a fish shoal at the surface and onwards down. Finally after a long descent for thousands of feet it landed on the sandy bottom, right in front of a giant 427 year old clam. Not that it had counted the years – there was no real way of measuring years down here, in the eternal gloom, and in any case it was so bored that it certainly wouldn’t have cared enough to count. These days it was so deeply bored that when a fish accidentally strayed into its wavy weed coloured mouth it could scarcely be bothered to eat.
Nothing ever changed around here, there was nothing to do. There hadn’t been anything to do for as long as it could remember. There had never really been anything to do except sleep – and indeed the giant clam had spent many hundreds of hours sleeping – sometimes for many weeks at a time.
The roll of paper, loosened by the gently swaying water, began to unroll. Roused from a deep sleep, the clam opened one eye and looked on, at first with its normal cosmically indifferent look, then opening both eyes with a modicum of interest, and then with wide eyed fascination as the list began to unfurl:
Cures for insomnia
Get a better bed, bigger bed, smaller bed, water bed, softer pillows, harder pillows, scented pillows, lavender filled pillows, softer mattress, harder mattress, vibrating mattress…..
‘This has to be a joke’, it thought. ‘why would anyone be unable to sleep? It couldn’t be easier. Why would anyone in their right mind want less stimulation, want to try to sleep. And as the list unrolled further and further the clam looked on with bewildered astonishment.
Then, for the first time in hundreds of years, it began to laugh- pulsing the waters around with delicious convulsions.
At that precise moment, in her soft saddle hundreds of feet above, she fell asleep.
The Griffin of course knew this, and turned its neck towards the east. It flew back towards a dim beginning of light where the world was turning towards the sun. Once again it passed over ocean liners and the vast expanses of sea, then the line of the coast – slightly more discernable now in the growing light, then the countryside, then her little town, then the roof of her house approaching.
With delicate smooth precision it landed on the lawn and folded up its wings. It could feel her legs astride the junction between its body and its neck. It could feel her heavy head lying deep against the back of its neck. Gently it reached up to her bedroom window and, careful not to wake her, prised it open with its beak.
Her bed was near the window and in characteristic disarray. The Griffin carefully pulled aside the duvet with its beak and smoothed the pillow and sheet. Then, slanting its neck downwards to allow her body to gently slide forwards into the bed, it eased her head onto the pillow, turning her onto her side as it gently withdrew its neck and folded over the duvet around her. Then, carefully, it withdrew, quietly pulling the window closed behind it.
It stood still on the lawn for a few moments, listening, then flew off into the night.
Many hours later she woke up feeling deeply rested. She remembered the Griffin and the nights adventure, but dismissed it all as a vivid dream. At last, for once, she had had a decent sleep.
And she was never troubled by insomnia again. Curiously – by sheer coincidence – when she finally got around to doing the wallpapering – she found she was one roll of lining paper short. Odd that, she was sure she would have measured up carefully, but then again, in those days she was always so tired she was prone to making mistakes.
Wyon Stansfeld, September 2012


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