Sandra Benedetto: The Somnambulant Wife (Part 2 of 2)

You can read the first part of the story here

The next day, Saturday, was one of those late-autumn beauties that makes summer feel like a fever dream and winter a fairy tale. Del was too preoccupied to enjoy it. As he raked stubborn crabapples out of the grass, he worked up an anger to justify confronting Julia about her sleepwalking. It was unfair that she went about her days rested and free of worry. In fact, if anything she seemed more serene than usual this past week. He, on the other hand, was bone-tired. He’d only slept in fits and starts since that first night he’d seen her. On Thursday he’d made a stupid accounting error at work that his boss pointed out in front of his boss, and yesterday he’d fallen asleep on the train coming home and missed his stop.

When he was on the train he’d had a vivid dream. In it, he and Julia were at a dance in a big gymnasium. Their faces shone with the dewy freshness of youth. Julia wanted to dance but he wanted to show her the airplane that he was building in the adjacent field. It was a Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra, the inspiration for recon warplanes like the one he’d flown in what seemed like another lifetime. He pulled Julia outside, breathless with enthusiasm. The plane wasn’t there.

In its place was a model plane, an infinitesimal, ridiculous model of the steel giant he’d been working on. Julia tried to comfort him, but he was inconsolable. Panicked and confused, he ran back to the gym, grabbing everyone in sight to ask if they’d seen his plane. He asked Ethan, Sheila, Bob, but none of them seemed to hear or understand. They all told him to forget it, and come dance with them. He felt he had no choice but to comply, so he and Julia began to waltz, even though the music was a two-step. That’s when he woke up and realized he’d missed his stop.

Julia was putting on her stockings when he came into the bedroom, still perspiring from the exertion of raking in the yard.

“It’s got to stop, Julia”, he said as he sat down on the bed.

“What does, dear? You’d better hurry up and shower if you’re going to be ready in time.” She slipped her dress over her head. “Can you zip me up, please?”

He zipped her up. “You’ve been sleepwalking, Julia. And I can’t take it. It’s not normal behavior.”

She sat down at her vanity to put on her jewelry. “That’s silly, of course I don’t sleepwalk.”

He sat back down on the bed. “You’re right, I must have dreamed it.”

She smiled at him, “See? I wish you wouldn’t fabricate problems, darling. You’ve always been too imaginative for your own good. Now let’s go and have a good time tonight.”

Cocktails at the Petersons was the usual trite ritual of false cheer, gossip and drunkenness masquerading as cleverness. He always left feeling that the evening didn’t deliver as promised. What was promised? An adventure? Flirtation? A revolution? This night was no different. Feeling vaguely depressed and wary of tomorrow’s hangover, he drove them home shortly after midnight.

At a quarter past three in the morning he startled out of his slumber. Julia was gone. He listened for a noise but only an oppressive, inscrutable silence reigned over the house. He got up and walked barefoot down the hallway. Kitty and Johnny were sound asleep in their rooms. When he got downstairs he peered through the glass in the front door and was relieved not to see her on the porch. After a search of the pantry and sewing room, he finally found her standing at the top of the basement stairs.

She turned to him and said, “It’s not there.”

He felt suddenly like he wanted to cry, a long-forgotten sensation reverberating out of the shadows of childhood.

“What’s not there, Julia?”

She repeated herself, “It’s not there.” There was no sorrow in her voice, but she sounded wistful, the way she did when she talked about summers at the lake or the night Johnny was born.

This time she let him put her back to bed, but he knew he couldn’t stay there. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep for worrying that she’d get back up again. He would fixate on what she’d said. What wasn’t there? He thought back to his dream and his airplane that wasn’t there. Could that be what she was talking about? But that was ridiculous, because that was his dream, not hers.

He slipped out of bed and got dressed. As quietly as possible, he let himself out the front door. Once behind the wheel of his Continental he backed out of the driveway without the headlights on. A few turns later he found himself en route to the Petersons.

The road was shifting ahead of him. He rubbed his eyes. He was exhausted to the point of alternately feeling like his head would float away like a balloon or fall off like a boulder, and probably still a little drunk. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find. Maybe that the party had gotten a second wind and would provide the fun, the satisfaction, that was promised. They’d just left too early, that’s all. But when he pulled up to the Peterson’s house the porch light was off and all of the windows were dark.

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