a short story by Teo Yu Sheng
“I had a dreamless sleep about him last night,” my friend said to me, as she stared out of her room’s window.
A thin sliver of moon hung in the cloudless sky.
“Wait, does that even make sense?” I asked. “A dreamless sleep about someone?”
“Does it not make sense?” she asked.
“Yeah, no,” I said.
“Hmm,” she said, leaning her head against the window. “It does sound a little weird, I guess. What I meant is, I felt him in my sleep last night. But there were no dreams, just complete darkness and an overwhelming feeling of him.”
“Hmm,” I said, and took a sip of wine. It still doesn’t make much sense. And the wine tasted horribly sour.
“I’m curious,” I said, “what does he make you feel? I mean, how do you know it’s him, if you didn’t really see anything?”
She took a sip of wine, and its acidity jolted a tinge of colour onto her cheeks.
“I don’t really know how to put this into words,” she said, “but for a while I was sure it’s him. For the longest time last night, I felt like he was reaching out and about to pat me on the head, to ease me into sleep. And for the longest time I waited for it to happen. But of course, it didn’t. Besides, I was already asleep then, so there wasn’t much point in him patting my head anyway.”
“But how do you know it’s him? What if you were so tired that any hand could just as easily put you to sleep?” I asked.
She stared out of the window again, and swirled the wine glass in her hand. An acidic smell wafted out of the glass, and my nose began to water.
“Maybe it’s like the smell of wine,” she said. “Each bottle has its own unique smell, its own unique blend of fullness, fruitiness, and other flavours. When I felt him last night, it didn’t feel perfect, or sweet, or even bitter. It just felt like him. That unique blend of humour, of carelessness, of forgetfulness, of genuine care and affection. Somehow, I just know it’s him.”
I nodded at her answer, even though I didn’t fully understand it.
“What if I made a mistake?” she asked.
“What if it’s my fault? What if I was too childish to accept the imperfections of reality?”
I looked at her for a moment, trying to find an answer that will somehow comfort her.
“Imagine a bunch of people walking about a vast, dark, and empty room,” I said. “All of them want to reach the centre of the room, but no one ever knows whether they’ve made it. So everyone just keeps walking. Some of them will walk on forever, as they fail, again and again, to find a spot that they feel is suitably central. Some of them will eventually give up and retreat to the corners of the room, convinced that that’s the only place they’ll never get lost. And some will stop their search and settle down at an arbitrary spot, thinking to themselves that they’ve somehow arrived at the heart of the room.”
“What are you trying to say?” she asked.
“That most of us in love are nothing more than blind fools, lost in a vast and empty room, searching for a centre that doesn’t exist.”
“You know, you’re not making me feel any better,” my friend said.
“I’m sorry it made you feel that way,” I said, “but what I meant to say is that the truth rarely matters. What matters more is your perception of the truth. If you didn’t feel like you’ve reached the centre of the room back then, then no matter how many times you revisit the past, you’ll likely arrive at the same conclusion.
“And if you try going back to that exact same spot now, you’ll probably be disappointed. Because you’re no longer the same person who walked off that spot moments ago. Because the hormones in your brain would have already worn off. And because there’s only a thin line between being in love with someone, and being lonely.”
My friend let out a long sigh, and rested her head on my shoulder.
For a long time, the two of us just sat there, staring at the moon in silence, as if afraid that anything else we say would scare it completely into oblivion.
Special thanks goes to a dear friend of mine (you know who you are, I think), who (albeit unintentionally) gave me the idea of a dreamless sleep about someone.
Cover art designed by me.