His snores keep me awake. Listen. They are locomotives howling from the tunnels of his nose. They are jets buzzing over the valleys our bodies make beneath blankets. They are detectable on the Richter scale, these loud grunting breaths, these wild piggy snorts ripping through the silence of our tiny apartment.
We moved in together last month. I didn’t realize how different it would be—the occasional sleepless night didn’t matter so much when I could go home to my own bed and pass out the next day, but now there’s no escape. Even when I move to the couch, his snores rumble through the walls, vibrate up through the floor and shiver through me. It’s made living with me difficult. I hog the blankets. I racket around early mornings, make myself breakfast even though I’m not hungry, just for the clang of pans, the fixed swing and slam of cabinet doors.
He is patient with me. He wakes up well-rested, bear-hugs me tight to him, kisses me as I throw away uneaten eggs. He is a big man, and soft, and full of love. Sometimes I spot him cradling his beer belly sadly in my full-length mirror, turning to see himself in profile, but I love the way he covers me, the way he traces his thick finger gently along the bags beneath my eyes. We’ve tried almost everything: sleep strips stuck across the bridge of his nose, snore-be-gone throat spray, earplugs for me, white noise machines.
At the Sleep Center, we wait in an examination room that looks more like a childhood bedroom, colorful and bright, with boxes of toys and picture books. A nightlight. He sits on a bed with a plastic racecar frame. I sink into a purple beanbag chair. The only clue that we’re where we’re supposed to be is the medical machinery built into the side of the bed and the glare of the two-way mirror on the wall across from us. The sleep specialist enters soundlessly. She is an angular woman, whose glasses and movements give her the appearance of a mantis. He can’t take his eyes off her.
Seeing the sleep specialist, it’s not only because of the snoring. The snoring was a problem, but there’s more, of course. There is always more. The more is that I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, surprised at my own sleeping, then seeing why: his side of the bed empty, cold. I find him in the kitchen, digging through the crisper drawer face-first, the tiles littered with scraps of lettuce and onionskin. Or I turn the corner and see him charging into the sofa, ripping the stuffing out of pillows with his teeth. Once, the police brought him home after he tore through the neighborhood wearing only boxer shorts, knocking over garbage bins. The snoring is a problem, he feels bad for me, but these sleepwalking spells scare him—he hates waking up somewhere, not knowing how he got there, betrayed by his own body, his own mind.
The sleep specialist and I watch him sleep through the two-way mirror. His snores rattle the glass. Her name is Dr. Clayman, but she insists I call her Jane, as though we’re going to be slumber party pals, spit sisters. She asked me to stay and observe with her, to help provide context. There is a cot set up for me, and I’m drifting off when she says, Look. He has climbed up on all fours, snorting, his eyes open and wild. He jumps from the bed and gallops around the room, knocking a jar of pens off a desk. He rips off the cheap Sleep Center pajamas with their pattern of Zs. Below the hang of his belly, he is erect.
Tell me about your dreams, the sleep specialist says in the morning. In his dreams, he says, he’s a javelina, trampling through desert. She paces the room while he talks, says Mmm to everything as though it’s revealed a universal truth. She recommends not eating late at night, says he should avoid alcohol. She hands him a laminated chart with a series of stretches and breathing exercises. Just ten minutes at bedtime, she says. She takes some notes on her clipboard. As he’s getting dressed to leave, she asks, And what about your sex life? He looks at me. I shrug. We’ve been together a few years now, he says. We haven’t been having much lately. She scribbles furiously. Mmm, she says.
He stops eating midnight snacks. Stops drinking except for the occasional beer with lunch or after work. He is diligent about before-bed exercises. None of it helps. If anything, his snores seem louder, unrestrained by an empty stomach, by newly invigorated lungs, capillaries flush and running with blood. I go to my desk and put porn on, masturbate. I turn it louder than I should, partially out of spite, but also hoping it will wake him, call him to me. I know Dr. Clayman thinks it’s my fault, but it’s not like I haven’t been trying to fuck him—he waves me off, too worn out from work, too many things to do, just not in the mood. He’s going alone to the next consultation, and I’m sure she’ll prescribe sexual release, say I should be providing that for him. Turning what I actually want into some sick obligation for us both.
Afterward, still sleepless, I read facts about javelinas on desert fauna websites. I’ve never seen them out here. Not alive anyway. I read about how they rub their tusks together to make a chattering noise as I listen to his teeth grind. I read about their scent glands and think of how he sweats through the sheets. They are social animals, but dangerous—in Bolivia, large hordes of javelinas have reportedly killed humans. I love his largeness, but now, his snores turn to angry squeals, and I turn to watch him rise from the bed, more javelina than man, and I sense how dangerous his size could be. He pays me no mind, though. He darts out of our room and starts clawing at the front door, his fingers pointed into something like hooves.
Weeks pass. Nothing changes. If he’s sleeping, I’m kept awake. If I’m sleeping, he’s doing who knows what. Dr. Clayman prescribes more regimens: a jog after dinner, a body pillow to prevent him from rolling onto his back, a heating pad slipped under his shirt. He stops eating bacon. It once was his favorite, but now he says it’s like cannibalism. He’s losing weight at an alarming rate, starting to resemble the mop of a boy I’ve seen in pictures from his college days. Meanwhile, he says, his dream self, his javelina self, is growing even larger. A giant warthog, the size of a bison, the size of an elephant. He’s beginning to look forward to what he becomes at night—he denies it, but I can tell: he’s going to bed earlier, waking up at the last possible minute before going into work. When I slide my hand down his flat stomach, into the waistband of his boxers, he pushes me away. I have to sleep, he says, like it’s the most important thing in the world.
Finally, finally, finally she gives us something new. Something I’ve been tinkering with, she says. It looks like a CPAP machine, a small console with hoses and tubing writhing outward, merging into a mask. But instead of just increasing air pressure in the throat to assist his breathing, the mask also emits something she calls dream pheromones to quiet his animal fantasies, his warthog soul. As a bonus for me, the machine also converts the sounds of his snores into nature sounds. Birds chirping. A soft, babbling brook.
It works like a dream. He is sad but keeps saying, Okay, okay. I’ll do it for you. I don’t remind him that we came to the sleep specialist for him, when what he became asleep had been a nightmare instead of an escape. We sleep through the night, and the next night, and the next. He puts on a few pounds. He fixes up all he has broken, sews new seams into the pillows, restocks the refrigerator, cooks bacon. We even almost have sex, fast and wild and unexpected, our clothes half-off, my back arched across the couch while the pizza we ordered grows cold and a movie plays unwatched in the background. He can’t get it up. I’m sorry, he says, frustrated, but I’ve been sleeping so well it doesn’t matter. I finish myself quick when he goes to the bathroom.
For a while, it feels like our life might become what we imagined it would before we moved in together. But of course, there is always more. He continues seeing the sleep specialist. Why do you still go? I ask. You’re cured, I say. He says, Dr. Clayman has to calibrate the machine’s pheromones. She has to monitor my progress or it could all go topsy-turvy, all we’ve worked so hard for. He says, She said you might object. She says you need to let me live my life the way I want, and that my dreams may have been a manifestation of my need for autonomy. He says, They only started after we moved in together. This hurts more than anything else. I say, What is she, your mom? Neither of us says anything after that.
Nights then are lonely. I move to the edge of the bed, as far away from his side as possible. He still sleeps perfect, but I can’t—Dr. Clayman has provided us with numerous audio chips to choose from, but all of them irritate me now. I press a pillow around my ears. I turn off the soothing noises entirely, so it’s just the hum of the machine in time with his breathing, but then everything is too quiet. It’s one night when everything is too quiet that I hear something else. His voice, muffled by the mask. Jane, he says, eyes still closed, Jane.
I am in my car heading north on the highway. When the year’s phonebook was delivered, shortly after we’d moved in, he insisted we keep it. It seems like the adult thing to do. So we did. Another adult thing is being listed in the phone book. While he talked in his sleep, I flipped to the Cs. I found the address easy, a street up in Mud Springs, a big house in one of those fancy neighborhoods built into the foothills of small mountains. But not too fancy—the guardhouse at the front is just decorative. All this I gathered from satellite images. Now, I am exiting the highway. I am turning right on the road that will lead to the road to her neighborhood. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get there.
I park a block away for the sake of plausible deniability. I make my way to her adobe house in the center of the cul-de-sac, dodging the yellow spotlights of streetlamps. I feel feral and crazy, out of control of my own body. I won’t do anything rash, I think to myself, I just want to talk. Maybe scare her a bit. Tell her to cancel all his future appointments. Stay away. I’m one of those animals that isn’t poisonous but flashes warning colors to make predators doubt I’m a safe meal.
I worry her front door will have an alarm system, so I sneak around the back. The wooden gate unlatches easily. One window is open to the night air, cooler out here away from the asphalt city. I climb in and fall softly into a carpeted living room—high ceilings, skylights, huge television. The kitchen sparkles in one direction. In the other, a hallway, leading to a room with its door ajar, where I hear someone talking softly. Good, I think, she’s still awake.
As I draw closer, though, I realize the voice isn’t hers. Maybe a TV show or a podcast. There’s something familiar about it. When I push open the door, I see Dr. Clayman asleep in a sprawling king bed. The white comforter makes it look like she’s buried herself in a pile of snow. A mask obscures her face, converting her snores into the sounds of distant city traffic from a starlit campground, and on her bedside table, a tape recorder plays a weary voice—it’s mine. The first interview I did with her, where I told her about his snoring, his sleepwalking. But what about you? Dr. Clayman’s voice asks at one point. Are you still able to lead your own life? Pursue your passions? I cringe when I hear myself laugh, the way anyone does hearing what they sound like to others. On the tape I say, I haven’t had any passions in months. Dr. Clayman stirs, she is still sleeping, but she says a name. My name.
I drive home too fast, squeal into our neighborhood. I forget to close the front door when I run in. I rip the CPAP mask from his face, throw the machine to the floor. I grab the hammer from the toolbox we keep in the hall closet, bring it back to the room and smash it hard upon the plastic casing, the writhing rubber hoses, until the speaker splits in half, until the noises still flowing from it turn to a droning desperate buzz. Kneeling on the floor, I look up and see his eyes are open, but he is somewhere else. Something else. He leaps from the bed, careens into the hall. I hear glass shatter, shelves fall, drywall dented by the force of a swinging elbow. I lie down on the cool tile, waiting for the rhythm of his riot to whisk me to sleep, curled around all the little pieces of machinery scattered, fractured and functionless, unable to work their symphonic magic.
In the morning, I examine the wreckage of the apartment—the frayed shower curtain, the cracked coffee table, all the broken furniture we found cheap or free online to build this home, the fragile beginnings of our life together. He is nowhere to be found. The door hangs open off its hinges. I squint and sure enough: there are tusk marks on the wall.