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To Sleep and to Wait

by Devon Field

We curled up beneath the same blanket, the seed close beside us. You’d dragged the sofa inside when it was still warm enough to scavenge for such things, in that breathless time of scurrying before winter. Now we were settled in snuggly upon it, our legs finding shelter in one another. Foot under thigh, behind knee, or pressed against ribs. We were interpreters of space. There was food still, stacked against one wall in careful little arrangements, but we ate only sparingly. That was enough. We were two houseplants, our roots entangled in the cushions, and if the sun would not feed us, then we would not stir to put out petals or leaves. We would wait. You shifted slowly, not much exertion. Only your hand stretching down beside my hip. Only your back finding its home where my leg had just been. You closed your eyes again. The seed rested too. It was there on the wooden floor, the narrow boards that spoke of care and attention unmasked by seasons since. I liked the way they felt against my feet, even in the cold, their smooth grains punctuated by the pleasant roughness of other lives. You said I spent too much time treading out that route to the wall—just refill the water and get back under the blanket. You didn’t know that I sometimes lingered by the window, plucking at its makeshift insulation to peek out at a world gone to sleep: a brick building scarred with frost, seen only for a moment before I padded back to the sofa. Our world for these months was these walls that had once been blue. Their cracks into which I had crammed anything I could, autumn’s debris aiding us against what came after. My secret window, to you, just a point of weakness. The seed, there on the floor. As with us, this was its season to sleep, and only in spring would we know what it would become. Your fingers traced a seam toward the floor, their tips working a fluttering pattern before withdrawing into the warm. I retracted my own hand in agreement, gathering up thick folds of the blanket beneath my chin. There was no need to speak. Your breathing matched mine, the air of our lungs mingling overhead. A stretching and sliding of limbs. A small meal. A night. Time passed. In one corner of the ceiling, a stain took on new forms: a wolf, a tree, one side of a face. I barely blinked. At the edge of my vision, the seed shifted, only slightly. We both looked over, waiting to see if it would move again. The seed was a curious thing, all brownish purple and glistening as if with perpetual dew. Like a giant root vegetable, you said, or the heart of a lizard. I wasn’t sure about that. For now, it was still. We settled back, bodies finding new alignments of contentment. You were the one who had found the seed. You’d made an exchange of some kind, though you never told me what it was you’d traded. That was your secret. I’d been there later, when we went to collect it. The afternoon had been sunny, with the first bite of cold, and we’d chattered away as we marched over, our excitement carrying in the air, as if just by being a little louder we could keep the seasons at bay. We didn’t even talk about the seed then, just the day itself, the dog that passed in and out of sight, the things we still needed to do to be ready. She’d met us at the ruin by the water, just as she’d said she would, the seed propped up beside her. Neither of us had ever seen one before, but we knew it for what it was. We talked with her a little, polite, but eager to leave with our prize. She wished us well, letting us rush off with it wrapped under my arm, that buzz of excitement now turned inward as our minds hummed with the same hope, one which did not need to be voiced or confirmed. I felt a strange pride then, and still did when we settled the seed into its place by our sofa. With the shortening days, that pride became something more like determination, but the hope remained. Even as the extent of our world diminished with the daylight, shrinking until it was only this room, I still felt it. I swam over onto my other hip, you rolling in response, no spot on the cushions going vacant for long. It was that time of winter when the body began to ache and pull, to voice demands, an early sign that our time in this room was coming to an end. We would wait for the stirrings outside, for the bird calls signalling gentler days, for the first other voices we’d heard in months. We would usually wait a little longer, letting new warmth creep across the floor and reach us in the blanket, feeling new life in limbs that had long slept. Then we would descend the stairs unsteadily, hands at one another’s arms for support. We would breathe in the air of a new year and the sight of new faces. We would know that some had not made it through the winter, for that was how it went. This year was going to be different though. This year we would wait however long was necessary, until the city emptied out with spring’s arrival and the sounds outside had faded. Until our bodies, fully awake, squirmed and twisted. Until the food ran out, if we had to. This year, we would wait here in this room until the seed began to open, and only then would we bring it out, not just into a new year, but into a new world. Until then we waited, curled up in our blanket and wrapped in anticipation.

Devon Field lives in Vancouver, BC, where he writes, teaches, and podcasts with the support of his cat, Waffles. His fiction has appeared in Write Ahead/The Future Looms and on the historical fiction podcast Twilight Histories. His non-fiction has appeared in Medieval Magazine and The Public Domain Review, and he writes and hosts the medieval history podcast Human Circus: Journeys in the Medieval World.

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