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How Did You Sleep?
This is the winner of the Writer's Union of Canada's annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. And these are the jury's comments:
" `How Did You Sleep?' is highly innovative and well-wrought. It intrigues in its layered texture, it discomforts and richly rewards its reader."-Dionne Brand, author of In Another Place, Not Here (nominated for the 1997 Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award);
" `How Did You Sleep?' rises up from the rumpled bedclothes and broken dreams of uneasy minds, captures the peculiar feelings of the disintegrating relationship between its unnamed couple through precisely noted particulars of architectural detail. This is an entirely fresh, weirdly angled story that's full of style without being empty of substance. Here's inventive writing of a very high order-very nuanced, very droll. Here's a voice I want to hear much more from as soon as possible."-T. F. Rigelhof, author of A Blue Boy in a Black Dress (nominated for the 1996 Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction);
"I found `How Did You Sleep?' to be intriguing, baffling, surprising, sometimes disorienting and consistently delightful. In short, it measured up to the expectations that I have of any good piece of writing: that it should keep me engaged, that the intricacies of its construction should be strong but remain visible, that it should operate on more than one level, and that it should contain music, i.e. that the language should, in some way or other, sing. The author, while creating a work that is by times whimsical, by times dark, has succumbed to neither sentimentality nor predictability. The story which unfolds is presented to us almost entirely in image and metaphor; a risky undertaking, but one that, in the end, leaves the reader satisfied. What has been accomplished here is really quite remarkable.
-Jane Urquhart, author of The Underpainter (winner of the 1997 Governor General's Award for Fiction)

How did you sleep?
Like a Scottish hunting lodge.
Of logs?
No, of rough grey fieldstone, double walls unsmoothed by the weather, but lined with tapestries.
How did you feel about the trophies?
Actually they were nice. They seemed happy there with their eyes closed and the fire warming them. You?
Like a Palladian mansion.
That's quite a sleep.
It was big, but not huge. Like a villa, square and well proportioned, with a rotunda, and trompe-l'oeil quadratura.
Quadratura? I can't imagine. Isn't it a little.grandiose? All that space must...
No, really it was very restful. All the staircases went somewhere.
I miss staircases.
I can see that. Maybe tomorrow.

How did you sleep?
Like a Ligurian villa.
Not Tuscan?
Not Umbrian or Piedmontese?
Ligurian. White shutters open to the sea. Cement walls bleached by sun and sea salt. A roof of undulating red tiles that inhaled the heat.
The sea? Was there a view?
Of course, an azure view. But...
A calm sea?
Never mind the sea. The floor was of terra cotta tile, big two foot tiles an inch thick. Thick like ginger bread slabs but with great flowers of salt stains. Listen, maybe you could see a professional.
About what?
About your sleeps. To spruce them up. You have to admit they show a certain architectural naivetÚ. Maybe a professional could help.
I can't believe you'd suggest that!
It's nothing against you. I just think you should think about it.
I can't believe you.
I slept like a pyramid.
You would.
A modest pyramid.
How can you sleep like a pyramid?
You know, like a pyramid, as high as it is wide, stepped but tiled almost smooth. It cast an elongated shadow on the sand.
And stairs I guess?
Almost only stairs within. Long galleries of stairs, three metres wide, ascending at forty-five degrees through the torch-lit cold. Each step was forty centimetres high-a bit of a stretch. Occasionally a landing would precede a right-angled turn. Hmm...You sleep in metric.
You don't like my sleep?
I'm sure it's nice for you.

How did you sleep?
Like a mountain cabin.
Adirondack. In mid December, with a light snow falling, accumulating on the long eaves, icicles dripping down the white clapboard.
A cabin owned by green wing-back chairs, woven cotton blankets and windmill pattern quilts. A space riddled with deep window seats and inglenooks.
How quaint.
There's no need to say it like that.
No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to diminish your sleep. It sounds very... American primitive.
It's OK. I'm oversensitive. There were cracks in the chimney masonry and the beam seemed to sag...
Mine was good.
Not too much, barely perceptibly, but a long dry crack ran through it.
Through what?
Through the cedar beam.
I slept like a Victorian greenhouse, a rising pagoda of rippling water glass and bent iron. The bolts were an inch thick and pale English sunlight trickled through the tracery.
It makes me shiver. How can you sleep like that?
Oh, it was very healthy. I could smell the humus in the soil, and feel the gravel shift and grind under my heels.
I can't see that. How could you dream in a sleep like that?
No need to dream; the flowers were growing. Have you thought about what I said, about renovating your sleep?
No, I don't want to hear about it. I'm perfectly happy with my sleep.
That's just because you don't know better. You need to expand yourself.
No thanks.

You didn't sleep last night.
No, I couldn't. I tried and tried, but I felt... I don't know, locked out of it. Yes, that was me.
What do you mean?
I slept your sleep last night.
You needn't look so smug about it.
Don't be so protective. I think you'll like what I've done with it.
With what?
With your sleep, that one of yours, the villa. Of them all I thought it showed the most promise.
Oh, I'm flattered, really.
I'm not a professional or anything, but I know a few things, and I thought once you'd slept it you'd begin to appreciate the benefits of a well designed sleep.
Any sleep would have been nice.
I know, I know, but it was just an inconvenience, while I renovated. Of course, I couldn't move your sleep to Umbria or anything, but I did what I could. I put in a cool granite swimming-pool in the back, and wrought-iron stairs up to a Romeo and Juliet balcony, so you could see the sea.
I didn't want to see the sea.
Oh you would now, with the lawn terraced up from the cliff side and the mosaic terrazzo, oh and the linen curtains billowing behind you in the sea breeze.
You could at least try it. I put a lot of thought into this. For you.

How did you sleep?
Earthily, like an Irish broch. No, not a broch. Round like that but... more, like a turf hut on the prairie.
Really? That's awful. You should have slept the villa again.
No, no, the turf was wonderful, full of soothing peat smoke and a great brown-ness. The roof was arched perfectly like a hill or a barrow grave.
You can't be serious? Look I can put you in touch with someone.
The snow drifted up around the turf walls, soothing and insulating. It was a sleep deep under blizzards and woollen shawls.
Sounds dreadful. It's almost like you sleep these little sleeps to spite me.
Almost. How about you? Was the couch really bad?
I slept like a Frank Lloyd Wright, blocky and sturdy, a prairie school sleep.
That sounds like you, poured concrete, hewn logs, open staircases without risers; you'd like that.
Yes I would except...
Except that it was marred by strange incongruities.
A rag welcome mat behind the thick maple door, a big provenšal country armoire against the curvilinear pearwood of the bedroom, a porcelain cookie jar on the slate counter. Little things that just spoiled it.
Where was your consulting architect? How could he let this happen?
Don't gloat. It doesn't become you.
I'm just saying.
Yes, you're just saying.

How did you sleep?
Like a lighthouse.
That's interesting.
It was beautiful. All the rooms of my sleep were round. All the floors of my sleep were big circles. The windows were arched at the top and curved to fit the round walls. It sat on big round boulders and drank up the sea water.
By the sea, that's great.
Yes, it drank up the sea water like a big tree.
No, no staircases. Well there must have been staircases, but I didn't see them, and I really couldn't be bothered. Listen, get over the staircases. I have.
Oh, OK.
Anyway, you don't look so good. How was your sleep?
Like a house of wattle and daub.
Like the Yeats poem?
Yes, like the Yeats poem.
I never liked the Yeats poem, so full of symbolism.
Gyres and towers. It could be tedious, but it wasn't from the Yeats poem.
Did the wind leak through the wattle and mice play in the thatch?
Not especially. It was a low sleep, big enough for my head but always hinting that I should duck. And yet I thought the roof might blow off.
Did it?
No, but I thought it might. I'm going to have to talk to my engineers. I really feel something's going wrong here. The thatch was of straw rather than reed and this to me seemed a flaw.
It needn't be a flaw. Perhaps it was design intent.
Some design. I'm really disappointed with myself. I'm really letting my sleep go. I don't blame you though.
That's very big of you.

How did you sleep?
Like my friend's brownstone.
What friend?
No one real, just a friend. I knew I knew her, but I also knew she wasn't real.
Did you feel like you were trespassing?
No, it was a real friend's house. It had a stone stoop leading to a double door, freshly painted glossy black with a bright brass handle.
I don't believe you.
What do you mean you don't believe me?
No one sleeps like that. It's a fallacy, unattainable like English Garden City sleep. If you say so.
Describe it.
A brownstone sleep, three and a half stories high, part of a terrace row a block long. Tall and quiet and faced with brown sandstone. Inside, the banisters were dark old oak with cracked varnish. The doorways were trimmed with ornamental casing and rosettes silted with dozens of paint coats.
There's no need to get wound up. Let's forget it. Tell me about yours.
I don't want to talk about it.
That's not like you. Tell me about your sleep.
If you must know, I slept like a paper house. Like a Japanese paper house.
Good for you. You'd appreciate that.
No, not really. It was a sleep disturbed by constant and indecipherable movements behind the walls, a puzzle of silhouettes.
A light sleep. That's not always bad.
The floor trembled as if anticipating an earthquake. The walls were unevenly translucent, opaque in spots as if painted over. Fingerprint smudges marred the black lacquered teak. And fires. Fires in a paper house, just little ones in wastepaper baskets and incense pots but still, it's unsettling. I had to keep putting them out.
You look awful. I'm so sorry.
It couldn't be helped.
No, I'm really sorry.
Don't be. It's not like you were setting the fires or anything.
No, I suppose, it's not like that.
Are you OK?
I think so.
Should we say something? Should we say it's over?
No, no just leave it.
Can I do anything?
I'll pick up my things later.
Sleep well.

 Paul Glennon, of Richmond, Ontario, has an M.A. and B.A. in English from the University of Ottawa. While there, he studied writing with Gerald Lynch and Seymour Mayne. He also received the Department of English creative writing award. He has published short stories in Descant, Matrix, Canadian Fiction Magazine, and the Blue Penny Quarterly. He has written two longer works, a series of interconnected stories called The Fullness of Time, and a conspiracy novel called The Big Picture. Both are unpublished. During the day, he works as a software human interface designer.


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