“Another Sleepless Night” by Iris Rooney

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us. In this week’s story, we consider whether long sleepless night have to be so lonely.

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Another Sleepless Night” by Iris Rooney:

Another sleepless night. No idea why. There never is a why. The off switch in her head just didn’t work sometimes. So she lay there wide awake and yet exhausted. Wouldn’t be so bad if she could use the time for something useful. Ironing or dusting maybe.

But she was exhausted. Her eyes ached with tiredness. Every muscle in her body felt heavy. The thought of doing anything physical was overwhelming. Might as well plan to climb Everest. And you get little sympathy. Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to have no sleep. Makes her laugh. Everyone is an expert. “Don’t drink coffee after 7pm.” “Go for a walk before bed.” “Listen to relaxing music.” If only any of them worked.

Her lips are dry and her neck is stiff. The pillows feel like rocks. The clock ticks inexorably onwards. She never hears the clock usually, but on a sleepless night its “Tick! Tock!” is a tortuous drumming, drumming, drumming. Why is night so quiet? What about all the shift workers, the 24 hour shopping centres, the late night clubs? Even her husband and children seem oddly quiet at night. Their breathing so low she sometimes feels the need to put her hand out to touch them, just to check. Even in their separate beds they seem drawn together by their shared sleep, a club she cannot join tonight. There is no one lonelier than an insomniac.

She sighs deeply. “Okay, body. Get up. Move. Do something.” More sighing, but finally she sits up and lowers her legs off the hard, uncomfortable board that the bed has become. Looks at her husband’s head on the pillow. He’s like a child again in his sleep, his hair all mussed up just like their 2 year old son’s. She decides to make some tea; herbal, of course (“No caffeine” cry all the experts in her head). At least it will pass the time. She goes down to the kitchen and puts the kettle on. Gets out a mug and a tea bag (Camomile? Yuck. Strawberry? Yes, try that one).

A wave of exhaustion flows over her. She leans against the counter, her eyes closed. Her teeth ache. Can teeth feel tired? Hers do. The kettle clicks off and she carefully pours hot water into the mug, then carries it to the table and sits down to sip it. The silence is even louder here, with no clock pounding in the dark. It is so quiet even her breathing seems loud, and the clink of the spoon against the mug is like a crashing cymbal. She has strange meandering thoughts at this time of night. But they are like gossamer, flying and floating, never solid enough to grasp for more than a moment. If she could trap one long enough for it to become coherent maybe it would be something wonderful – the answer to all the world’s ills. She smiles, drinking her tea, amused at herself, imagining that she is a philosopher in a cold kitchen late at night.

She becomes aware of a scratching noise. Holds her breath and sits rigidly still. Nothing, silence again. Her imagination perhaps. No, she hears it again. It’s coming from the cupboard under the stairs where she keeps the cleaning things – vacuum cleaner, mop, brush and all the odds and ends that never seem to have a place. Suddenly, her previously exhausted body is filled with adrenalin.

The scratching seems incredibly loud. Could there be a person in there? No, surely an animal, a cat, perhaps, that got in through a window and fell asleep in the cupboard unnoticed. She must open the door and let it out. But somehow she doesn’t really believe it’s a cat. The scratching doesn’t seem frightened or frantic, just determined. Amazed at her own courage she gets up and walks carefully towards the closed door. The hairs on her arms stand at attention. She holds her breath, though she’s not sure if it’s because she wants to hear the thing in the cupboard or to stop it from hearing her. The scratching continues, almost a deep scraping sound.

Suddenly, she has an image of the gothic “skeleton in the cupboard” and realizes how foolish she must look. She hurls the door open but stands well away – just in case. Nothing. There’s nothing in the cupboard. The scratching has stopped.

After all the excitement she feels strangely deflated. There must be something here; she heard it. She pulls things out of the cupboard to get a better look: boxes of toys, old boots, paint tins. Nothing. She stands at a loss, her arms hanging by her sides, staring into the cupboard. Could this be a hallucination? Could lack of sleep have finally driven her mind to this?

She slowly looks around, feeling her feet cold on the wooden floor, steam from her tea still floating into the air. The breakfast things already set out, ready for the morning rush. Doesn’t know what to think. Leaves the cupboard door open and goes back to the table to drink her tea. Keeps an eye on the cupboard space as if it might suddenly reveal its secrets and she would miss them if she even blinked. Quiet again, no more scratching. The tea is nice, warming her hands and her stomach. She relaxes and wonders if she might, just might, be starting to feel sleepy.

A movement in the cupboard! She grasps the edge of the table. What is it? Movement again, very slight, down near the floor. She can’t believe it! Beside a knothole in one of the floorboards sits a field mouse. It must have taken a wrong turn and ended up lost inside the house. A tiny thing compared to her earlier imaginings, but she can see it with incredible clarity. Its long tail, its neat ears, its glistening eyes. Calmly it sits up on its haunches and cleans its face with its front paws. It doesn’t seem bothered by the now open door or the glaring electric light, or her sitting at the table gaping at it.

As she watches it, she wonders what her husband will say about their new tenant. The children will be thrilled. She can imagine them excitedly naming him (or her) and drawing pictures of his adventures. The mouse turns and looks at her its whiskers quivering. It seems so alive, so alert, so awake! She smiles. She has a friend in the night after all.

Iris Rooney lives with her husband in Surrey, UK. She loves gardening, but thinks ironing should be a criminal activity.

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  1. What a sweet story! Reminds me of catching mice that my son and I would release at the park. :)

    • Thank you! Actually the mouse is based on a real mouse. We did catch him & release him in a nearby park, although I was sure he’d prefer to be back in the comfort of our house x

  2. Nicely paced and well observed. Glad her nightly anguish was lightened by her visitor…

    • Thank you so much x

  3. Great story, looking forward to the next one.

    • That’s very kind, thank you x

  4. What a lovely story. I used to get a field mouse in my house too; he’d wait until I’d gone to bed before going in the humane trap for a chocolate biscuit. Then I’d hear him and have to get up and walk down the lane in my pyjamas and dressing gown to release him as far away as possible. But he still came back for more biscuit.

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