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Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2314899-Chapter-1--Sleep-Walk
Rated: 18+ · Chapter · LGBTQ+ · #2314899
Dante can't sleep
All that we see or seem
is but a dream within a dream.
         --Edgar Allen Poe



Sleep Walk

         Dante blinked gritty eyes and glared at his moon-shadowed bedroom.  The furnace grumbled, and its warm breath washed over his clammy body, dressed only in boxers that were crusted with reddish-brown stains.  His cat, Boris, lounged on crumpled sheets next to him, then arched his back, stretched, and yawned. The LED display on the bedside clock radio blinked and changed from 1:58 to 1:59. 

         Dante sat up and dangled his legs over the side of the bed. Still-unpacked boxes, their crimson labels stroked with an artist's brush, littered the floor of the cramped bedroom, reminders of his failed life.  One box, labeled Piano, he'd filled with sheet music and CDs. Another, labeled flutes was where he'd tossed yellow-stained, glass pipes and baggies, some containing blue crystals and others dirty white power.  Then there was the one filled with rolled-up canvases labelled Jesse. He didn't want to think about that one.

         He rubbed at a random ache in his shoulder.  Maybe that was why he couldn't sleep--out of shape and sore from lugging the boxes from his battered SUV into his new place last night.

         That wasn't it, though.  Or at least, it wasn't the main thing. 

         It wasn't the drugs, either, although they promised relief of a sort.

         No, instead it was the memories that nagged at him. The regrets. They were what generated the relentless mind-buzz that kept him awake, tossing and turning. He kept re-playing his last conversation with Jesse, the "it's not you, it's me" lie that tore out his heart. That, and what he'd done afterwards, that was what kept him awake. 

         He pulled a canvas from the Jesse box and unrolled it.  In the painting,  a lean and handsome Jesse stared back at him with adoring eyes. Dante touched the image and felt only the rough textures of paint on canvas.  Just yesterday, a living and breathing Jesse dwelled in this portrait.  Then, supple skin, warm and vibrant flesh, had answered Dante's touch.  Now all Dante found was death, artless smudges of paint on canvas.  Their life together, their former life together, no longer existed in these paintings.  It was but a dream within a dream.

         The clock blinked to 2:00 and scratchy music started to play.  A gentle beat of chords on an electric piano thrummed against the wailful dirge of a steel guitar.  His features relaxed as he recognized a tune from another era, from the fifties.  Almost a dirge, to match his mood.  In order to go off at 2AM, the alarm must be screwed up. With nothing better to do, he let it continue to play.

         The song finished after only a couple of minutes.  Things were simpler back then, or at least shorter.  The DJ, her voice soft as warm butter, murmured, "Sixty-five years ago today, Sleep Walk by Santo and Johnny was the number one hit in the USA.  Stay with us as we continue our countdown of the Billboard number one hits on today's date.  Next up, Connie Francis and My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own from September, 1960." 

         He clicked the radio off.  Maybe that was his problem--his heart had a mind of its own.  If only he could get it to shut up.  Jesse's features in those final moments welled up, and he squeezed his eyes closed to banish them. 

         It didn't work.

         Doing something constructive might help.  He stood and toed one of the boxes.  He'd scrawled Sandman Comix on the outside, so this particular box contained more than just bad memories. This one reminded him of the endless wasted hours he'd spent with Jesse, dwelling in the Dreamer's universe. He should have thrown the comics away instead of packing them, but he didn't have the heart.  Jesse was the one who threw things--and people--away.  Not Dante.

         Instead, he stooped over and picked up the box.  He'd be productive and store it someplace out of sight instead of fussing over lost sleep. He headed down the narrow hall that led to the rest of the tiny house.

         The place reeked of pot, cigarettes, and dust, but it was the best he could afford.  The previous tenants had knocked fist-sized holes in the walls, and the toilets were stained iron-red from the water. Grime congealed in the corners where the walls and floors met, and the worn hardwood floors had turned gray with age.  He'd rented the place sight-unseen from a sleazy, store-front real estate agent, and hadn't even bothered to explore it last night when he arrived. 

         He started opening doors.  Not much to see.  A linen closet, crammed with stale sheets.  A second bedroom, with just a mattress on the floor.  What might be charitably described as the living area held a threadbare sofa, an end table with a missing leg, and his nineteen-inch LED TV.  The dump didn't even have cable hookups, let alone internet.  At least his mobile phone worked.

         The kitchen was even more depressing, with roach droppings and smeared, unwashed countertops. He frowned at a closed door at one end of the room and dumped his box on the counter.  Maybe he could stash some of his crap there. At least get it out of the way.  And out of sight. 

         The door was locked.

         What the hell?  The key for the front door still rested on the kitchen table, so he tried that.  It didn't fit. 

         He started searching drawers in the kitchen cabinets.  No key, but he did find a screwdriver and a hammer.  He looked from the door to the tools and back again.  He supposed he could take the door off its hinges, but then he shrugged.  He didn't want to see the other side that badly.  He'd call the agent tomorrow and ask for a key.

         He lumbered back to his room and flopped on the bed.  Boris climbed on his chest, head-butted him, and then curled up and turned his eyes into slits. 

         The radio started up again, this time playing something the DJ called Take Good Care of My Baby by Bobby Vee, except that to Dante it sounded like Beauty School Dropout from Grease.  He muttered, "Screw this," and slapped the radio off.  Again.  Damned thing must have a short in it or something.  He closed his eyes. Maybe that was his problem. He'd for sure taken care of his baby, Jesse, the jerk, but in reality he was a dropout.  A dropout from painting, from love, from life.

                   Boris pawed at him and meowed.  Dante opened his eyes and scratched the cat under the chin.  Boris looked indecently pleased and started to buzz.  Dante muttered, "It's not you, Boris.  It's me." 

                                                 
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