Talia was a slave to her insomnia. It ruled her days and tormented her nights. When she was working, she was exhausted and irritable. When she was at home in bed, she tossed and turned, hopeless and helpless. Night after night she would do everything the sleep books advised, to no avail. She avoided heavy foods, she kept her bedroom for just sleeping. She didn't get up when sleep didn't come, she didn't engage in mental exercises. Nothing helped. When the insomnia was bad enough, she'd down an Ambien and pass out, but her doctor was wary about that prescription, and Talia was afraid of addiction. So, drugs were always a last resort. Talia felt doomed and depressed. Part of her was just ready to give up.
When she walked through the door on Friday, she didn't see the note from the delivery people in her stack of mail. Instead, she threw her bag down, wandered into her living room, sat on her couch and cried. She'd almost been fired that day. Her boss had called her into his cubicle and had one of those talks with her. She had known what was coming even before he talked to her. She'd been down this road before. They all, all her bosses, had said the same things.
"Your productivity is falling off, Talia."
"The average time per support call is rising."
"Your presentation is not suitable to a place of business."
"Customers are complaining about your answers and demeanor."
"Is there something wrong, a problem at home, Talia?"
She knew that it was just a matter of time. Thankfully, telephone support jobs were easy to come by, and she was dramatically overqualified. She resigned herself to finding herself out of work once again. This job had only lasted six months. Shorter than ever before.
Talia cried herself out. She sniffed her reddened nose, wiped her tired and bloodshot eyes, and pressed play on the answering machine.
"Talia, this is Scott. Listen babe, I know it's shitty to break up with a phone message, but I just can't deal with coming over. I really like you and all, but it's been three months. We don't have sex, we don't go out, and you never, ever want to do anything. I just can't put up with it any more. I want a life, okay? Call me if you ever get it together, maybe we can go out for a beer."
Scott's message didn't provoke even a single new tear. She'd known it was coming. She lay back on the couch and looked at her mail. Mixed in with the bills, the junk mail, the card from the dentist, and the postcard from her mom on vacation in Ixtapa, was a delivery receipt from the package company. There was a scribble at the bottom.
"Left with neighbor in 16B"
Mr Gonzales had signed for it, apparently. Talia couldn't imagine what the package was, and entertained herself by imagining that she'd gotten some surprise in the mail as she walked down the hall to Mr. Gonzales's apartment. She rang his bell.
Ancient Mr. Gonzales opened the door a crack and peered out at her. Recognizing Talia, he closed the door, removed the chain and smiled at her as he opened the door wide. His loving, seamed face was always so happy to see her, see anyone. She went in, greeting him.
"Hola, Mr. Gonzales, how are you today?"
"Ah! Pretty senorita Talia! You've picked a bad time to come! My wife is here, the demon. She must not know we are lovers!" He cackled in delight.
"Oh dear, my poor Alberto, whatever shall we do?"
From the other room a warm but thin contralto voice chimed in.
"Madre de Dios! Now, after all these years, I find out you have lovers, Alberto ... Please bring me the kitchen knife so I can kill you, si?"
They all laughed. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales delighted in this kind of play.
"Package for you Talia. It came today." He grinned at her and pointed to the big package on his dining room table. "From one of your men? Does he perhaps send you vino? None of them are worthy of you, you know this, si? If I were younger, I would send the demon away and become your lover."
She walked over to the table and examined the package. It was from "Meditation Expressions" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She sighed.
"No such luck, Mr. Gonzales." She leaned down and kissed him on the left cheek. "My last boyfriend just broke up with me over voice mail. And this thing is just some clock that's supposed to help me sleep."
Alberto's lined face drooped, and his watery eyes lost their humor. "These men are loco en cabesa. They hurt you. I am sorry. Is it still the sleep? Still it is muy malo?"
"Yes, I still don't sleep." She paused and then forced a smile. "But look here, I have this new clock that will fix all that, it will help me sleep, and everything will be alright. The magazine said so."
He smiled and patted her on the shoulder as she walked to the door carrying the surprisingly heavy package. "I hope this is so, bonita Talia."
She smiled at him, called a greeting to Mrs. Gonzales and retreated to her apartment. Behind her the sound of Placido Domingo singing began to fill the hallway. Talia knew that Mr. Gonzales always played opera when he was sad.
She returned to her apartment, closed the door and chained it behind her, and set the package down on her living room table. The package contained a meditation and relaxation clock. She'd seen it in one of her new age spirituality magazines. The quarter page advertisement had caught her attention with its mention of being effective in helping sufferers of insomnia. It had said that the clock would. "Eliminate all tension and create a deep mind body connection."
She'd torn the ad out and stuck it to her fridge a couple of months back. Then a few weeks ago she'd gotten on the Internet and run a search on the company and the clock. She'd seen some glowing endorsements, and no warnings from the Better Business Bureau, so she'd gone to the web site and ordered it. It had been very expensive, $599 for a clock. She was willing to try anything.
Talia unpacked the box. There were several components inside, and the instruction book was thick for a simple meditation clock. First she had to plug it in. That had to happen in her bedroom. Then she had to put a wireless speaker in her bathroom. Another speaker went in her living room. The clock had to be positioned so it faced her bed.
Next she had to press a bunch of buttons to indicate her sex, her age, her height, and her weight. Finally, exasperatingly, she had to enter her postal code. As she read the manual and performed these steps, the booklet explained that the clock was now tuned to her natural body rhythms, her location, the season of the year, and more. Once it was completely set up, the large LCD on the front of the device lit up, but it only displayed a simple message of "Pattern 1".
"This thing probably predicts when I bleed." She sighed. It seemed more and more to her like yet another useless gimmick. She'd gotten her hopes up before. Nothing ever worked.
She watched TV until midnight and went to bed. She was surprised to hear a soft white noise coming from the clock. It wasn't a simple static, the sound was more like the crash of surf. Yet she also noticed that there were other things going on in the white noise, more complicated patterns. It was quiet, a low noise, almost not noticeable. She lay down and tried to sleep.
Talia tossed and turned for hours. One AM came and went. The dim light from the clock later indicated Two AM. She lay in the darkness, awake.
Talia suddenly awoke at eight. She'd slept! The clock was making a tiny chiming noise. It was a pretty sound. As it got louder, she got up and pressed the off button for the alarm. Talia laughed out loud with happiness. She'd gotten five or six straight hours of sleep! Her whole mood lifted. She smiled in the bathroom as she showered.
Her day passed quickly. She made breakfast, ran some errands, came back, looked for work on line, and then ran back out to meet a girlfriend for lunch. After lunch she polished up her resume, fussing over how to hide or gloss over a six month stint. She went shopping for groceries. Later in the day she made a spur of the moment decision to get her hair cut.
When evening came, she rented a movie, got Afghan take out, and settled in to watch Meg Ryan drive Tom Hanks crazy for two hours. She cried at the ending. At eleven exactly, a beautiful chiming noise came from the clock's wireless speaker in her living room. At eleven fifteen it chimed twice.
Talia laughed. "The damned thing is telling me to go to bed."
She brushed her teeth, used the toilet, and headed to bed. At eleven thirty, the clock chimed three times and the white noise pattern started again. Talia lay in the darkness for a long time, resting, hoping for sleep. Some time after one, she began to lightly doze.
At eight AM, Talia woke to that beautiful, resonant chiming. She awoke rested, refreshed, and happy. When she saw the time, and discovered that she had slept for seven hours, she cried. Relief coursed over her like a gentle rain on a child's face. She got up and padded over to the clock. She leaned over it and kissed the wood grain case.
"You're a miracle."
Her Sunday passed in a blur of energy. She cleaned house, straightened her closets, scrubbed the toilets.
At noon the clock chimed a beautiful pattern. She grabbed the owners manual and figured out that it was recommending that she take a break for meditation. She sat down in her darkened bedroom, composed herself, and quietly listened to the complicated, rhythmic white noise sounds coming out of the clock. When the clock chimed again, it was twelve thirty and she felt refreshed.
.... There is more of this story ...