She did not sleep that night. She managed to convince herself resting was as good as sleeping, although she didn’t do much resting. There was a night her sophomore year in college she did not sleep—not because she couldn’t—because her friends, Lydia and Julie, wanted to pull an all-nighter a week before the first semester ended, a week before Julie was going to transfer from Northwestern to UCLA. She doubted Julie and Lydia had trouble sleeping these days. She didn’t care. It had been 23 years since she saw Lydia and 20 ½ years since she saw Julie.
She passed the time that night by watching TV. Seinfeld reruns she once laughed at, but did not see the point of laughing at again. Reading short stories shorter than 5 pages. She smoked a cigarette even though both of her parents died of lung cancer. She did not feel guilty for smoking the cigarette, and did not feel guilty for not feeling guilty. She looked to the right side of her queen bed at her nonexistent husband, and cuddled with the pillow that would one day be waiting for him: Jon. (Not the pillow’s nickname, but her future husband’s real name. Hopefully.) She always had a thing for “Jon’s” without an “h” ever since she dated Jon Lions, the third-string quarterback in high school, who told people he was the starting quarterback besides for Mark Jacobs and Stanley Crown, and whom she laughed at every time he told that joke.
She smoked a second cigarette. Smoked a third. Then debated smoking another, but went down steep stairs to her kitchen, crumpled a sheet of tinfoil into a lumpy ball, placed it in the microwave, and watched the lightning storm she created. She saw it done on YouTube the previous night.
She drove down side streets with speed bumps and merged onto Lake Shore Drive without looking. She wanted to look. But her trunk was filled with boxes from work, and her mirror smashed off by someone who tucked a note underneath her windshield wiper, saying, “So sorry!!!” two weekends ago. No number. On the ride home she had a conversation with the invented man sitting in her passenger seat. She told him the joke her uncle told her when she was eight: what happened to the woman who backed up into the fan? Dis-ass-ter. He did not laugh.
What was bothering her wasn’t the fact that she never married or had kids or adopted that dog, Sparky, in the animal shelter. She pet Sparky walking to work, sometimes, and he licked the flesh in between her pointer and middle finger. That was, before he was adopted by an old man with a cane and top hat (who looked oddly similar to Mr. Peanut, joked the volunteer at the shelter). Sparky also probably licked Mr. Peanut in between his pointer and middle finger, unless the old man wore white gloves to further draw out the Mr. Peanut resemblance, then Sparky licked cloth. What bothered her wasn’t that she was 50 pounds overweight. It wasn’t that she forgot about moving from Chicago to Los Angeles after graduate school, or taking that trip to Hawaii for her 40th. It was the fact that she no longer saw the tree outside her kitchen window as beautiful.
It was a catalpa tree. One day she was 45 minutes late to work because she was staring at that tree. Staring at those heart-shaped leaves with points that prick, staring at those white flowers, puffy like cotton.
She used to watch the shadows from the tree elongate as the sun passed overhead. The neighbors even understood the parking spot below the tree was hers, but she still put two folding chairs underneath it in winter to save the spot from uninformed guests. The tree was in her top 3 reasons for moving to the 1200 block of Willow, and by that time she had forgotten the other two.
She wondered when the weather, mountains, and Pacific would begin to bore her if she ever made the move. She wondered if Hawaii would stop being beautiful before or after the idea of Hawaii’s beauty would. She wondered if Mark Jacobs or Stanley Crown would have made better boyfriends. And she would think these through without coming to any conclusions the next night, for she did not sleep then, either.
Anthony Walner resides in Chicago, and has just completed his freshman year at Emory University. He is majoring in psychology. He recently won Emory’s Artistine Mann Award in Fiction for Best Fiction Written by an Emory Undergraduate. This is his first publication.