Quarterly Literary Review Singapore
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Vol. 2 No. 1 Oct 2002

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The Marriage Bed

By Sheri Kristen Goh

As he climbed into bed next to her and whispered "goodnight" into her hair, she felt the familiar sense of dread overwhelm her.

She had been lying in the darkness for the past hour, awake, but desperately willing herself to relax into sleep. She had failed again. Every creak of the floorboards, every whirr of the air-conditioner, every footstep and whisper beyond her door, even the sound of her own heartbeat, the sound of her own breathing, had amplified into her ears and had kept her awake.

He thought she had fallen asleep, but she had not. His hand curled into hers as he snuggled into his pillows. Within minutes, he was asleep. She knew he was, and not just from the sound of his breathing as it slowed into a contented purr, and then to quiet snore. She knew he was, and not just from him breathing through his mouth when he had fallen asleep. She knew because he would twitch when he fell asleep. It was as if dreams came immediately to him, and he was reacting to that world to which she would always be a stranger. His fingers, his arm occasionally, would fidget as he tumbled into the realm of slumber so elusive to her. And still, she remained awake.

She was livid with envy. She had been wriggling around in the covers, trying to find a comfortable position, or at least one which could fool her body into sleep, for the past hour. But every time she turned, something bothered her. The ends of her hair poked into her face. Her pyjamas twisted into an uncomfortable coil. Her underwear rode up and needed to be adjusted. And he, in three minutes flat, had beat her to sleep. She could not understand how. How, no matter how rested he was, he could fall asleep anywhere. Sprawled on a sofa in a friend's living room after a dinner party. In the car when she lurched him home through the rush-hour snarl of traffic. In the cinema on a creaky chair during the thrilling portion of an action movie. Chatter and babble, honking and swaying, surround-sound gunfire and car chases, these could pelt him mercilessly from all directions, and still he managed to sleep, oblivious.

She, on the other hand, could be kept insomnolent by the noise and traffic of her own thoughts. Yoga class was useless, she thought. She tried to recall what her instructor had said about relaxing each part of her body, but the more she concentrated on relaxing her toe, or her foot, or her thigh, the more she was aware of some discomfort in that area. Her toe joints desperately needed a satisfying crack. Her foot was bent uncomfortably. Itchy skin crackled from each pore. And each crack and crackle became more pronounced as she concentrated on sleep.

Gently wriggling her hand loose from his, she crept out of bed to the toilet. She could not sleep unless she had a completely empty bladder, she had convinced herself over the years. So she wandered from the bed to the toilet, opening her bladder to release the few meagre drops of water which she convinced herself were the culprits of her wakefulness. To and from their bed she wandered, haunting the corridor like a ghost in her white foamy nightgown.

She stood at the foot of their bed, staring through the darkness at his sleeping form on the bed. The clock ticked. The air-conditioner hummed. He slept. She was awake.

QLRS Vol. 2 No. 1 Oct 2002


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Other Short Stories In This Issue

Mrs Chan's Wedding Day
By Wena Poon.

By Bonnie James Glover.


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