Where I Choose to Wake
by Phillip Irving
I started sleepwalking the week that my brother died. His was the long and capricious death that leukemia brings; each new, unsought-for week was a blessing that drove my parents closer and closer to distraction. I was nine when Tom died and he was just seven. In many ways those days are the first real memories of my childhood: the lemon wallpaper that looked old and wan in the dappled light of the florid curtains, a tasteless imitation of the pallid skin my brother wore; my parents’ voices that were not raised in argument and stopped when I entered a room; the endless stream of men and women with drugs and folders and little plastic badges who talked to me and my mum and my dad.
Nobody talked to my brother. I think they found it easier to pretend that he wasn’t there.
Tom obliged us all by never waking up. The dog, who had been the first to smell Tom’s illness and for the longest time would bark and bark until he was allowed to share my brother’s bed, eventually refused to go near the room; would whine and cringe and cry if we tried to lead him anywhere near the door. My brother was oblivious to all of us, or so it seemed. He slept, and sometimes he muttered, but mostly he just slept.
It was the dog that woke me, the first time. It was the night that they took Tom’s body. I’d not been able to sleep, in my pastel blue and grey room across the landing, for the incessant sound of my mother’s crying, my father’s hushes and coos. I think it broke them, a little bit. I’ve read about these things, since, and I think that’s what it does when a child dies. Like the cancer gets three people, instead of just the one.
I was at Tom’s door when the dog woke me. He barked and he licked my face and wagged his tail and generally made a fuss until I was awake and I knew where I was. Then he pawed at the door and whined and looked up at me in the way that dogs do to let you know that all they want in the world is something simple, like to be allowed into a dead boy’s room.
I left him on the landing, and went back to bed.
Something had bothered me that night, and it’s bothered me ever since. The doctors say that it’s the trauma of losing my brother that brought on the sleepwalking, but I’m not sure. I found it much more traumatic when he was alive than after he died. It would explain why, each time I sleepwalk, I go back to the same place: my brother’s bedside, the bed now long empty but always neatly made.
But it doesn’t explain why I always wake there at the same time, and it doesn’t explain the pillow that is always in my hand when I do.
Issue #2 Contents
The Heart of the Labyrinth
Where I Choose to Wake
They Don’t Move Like They Used To
The Dubious Apotheosis of Baskin Gough, Part Two
Patrick S. McGinnity
Lazarus Walks, Part Two
Philip Irving is an English teacher from the East Midlands in the UK, and a member of the Speculators writing group. He dabbles in all manner of speculative fiction, and once in a while writes something that other people may want to actually read. In his own time, he writes stories, reads stories, plays stories and watches stories. When that's not keeping him busy, he spends time with his girlfriend and/or cats.