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For Pain with Sleeplessness

For Pain with Sleeplessness

by Brian Alan Ellis




So you’re either (A) going through my shit, or (Z) browsing some small-time periodical. (Reasons B through Y are very improbable, and it would take up far too much space if I were to divulge into each one minutely.)

If it’s Reason A, I advise you to mind your own business and to stop whatever it is you’re doing—immediately; Reason Z people should skip all that follows.

(I mean it.)


Still reading?

That means you are persistent. (And nosey, too.)


I’m assuming you are a stranger, that you probably know little about me. (Chances are, you’re just bored and don’t care.) That’s good. All you need to know is that I exist—or at least I did, at one time or another. So in order to have done that, to have existed, I had to have been born some time and place. (That I know.) But from where, from where?

I like to think that I may have fallen out of the clouds, or was maybe plucked from the ground like a flower. Though it’s likely I came from the same place everyone comes from.


And into this world I sloshed (head first, presumably) out of Mother’s womb (nine painstaking months, was it?), after my father (whoever he is) laid claim inside her. (Typical, I know.) Yet I never knew this man, the one who filled Mother up with his tiny ghosts; she may as well been laid by an apparition, an idea.

And as I too became a man I never asked questions—it’s better not to, I find—though I guess there were times I could’ve benefited from having at least some validation to the origin of my existence: a clue; an answer; a history; a God; a bone to be thrown my way—but mostly a father in which I could trace the looks, traits, and neurosis that I had but Mother lacked.


Hell, perhaps you didn’t need to know that I exist.

Just know that I am writing to you.

I am writing to you out of boredom and impotence.

I am writing to you from a room. Not a park bench or a bus that’s leaving or going somewhere, nor even a fancy bistro outside of an exotic locale such as Paris or Spain or Hades, just a small room with walls and bugs and lint; a rented room paid for on a dishwasher’s salary. (A cheap room.)

And from this room I am writing to you an obituary—mine. There is a beginning to it, perhaps a juicy middle portion, but as of yet no conclusion—at least not a suitable one. (I’m no good with those.)

A famous painter (I believe it was Dali, though I lack confidence in such matters) once said that a work of art is never complete.

Think about it.

In death, one leaves behind things: bad credit, expired food, unpaid parking-tickets, dirty socks, creations, unrequited loves, and so on.

Life, as far as we know, lacks any veritable closure. So why should thought or art or anything spawned out of impulse be any different?


When watching a movie—be it Drama, Comedy, Sci-fi or otherwise—I wish for only one thing to happen before the credits roll: the main character to get on a damn train (scooters and horses are fine) and leave. I don’t care where he or she is going, or what will happen once they arrive, I just want that void of imagination to swell.

Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, a void such as that will cause a hangover.


Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can escape the hangover through sleep. But of late, I haven’t been able to escape anything: humiliation, degradation, existential turmoil, it all crashes into me like waves. I am drowning in myself.

My existentialist buddy, who I’ll call “Carl,” says that in order to obtain “proper” sleep, man needs but two things: alcohol and pills—“An admixture of two holy vices,” he says. Yet all that’s ever brought me were dark circles and bad dreams.

Then again, the other reasons I drink are just as dumb:

I drink to either find a woman—or to forget one. (That’s very bad reasoning.)


For Pain with Sleeplessness—the package says to place the powdery contents on your tongue, then to chase it all with a glass of water. “The water is pretty bad here,” warns Carl, “so I’d go with beer, instead.”

It’s to the point where sleeping supplements won’t work for Carl unless he brings a friend along, and that can’t always be good.

Carl, drifting: “We’re all just a bunch of toy robots… on the edge of a table… We move in circles… without much direction… Eventually, though, we fall and break into pieces… Such is the lot for the toy robot… such is the lot of us…”

Sadly, Carl is about as good at philosophizing as I am at writing.

But it seems (to me, at least) that writers do two things: they write and they medicate.

Oh, and they daydream… when they can.

So that’s three things (plenty), but, for the most part, they can only do one of them well—and it’s usually not writing.

(It’s something else.)  


Over the weekend “Carlita” (no relation to Carl; but, yes, another clever pseudonym) moved in down the street from me. I watched through the blinds as her and her new lover carried in boxes and furniture. That’s a very humiliating thing to watch. And I don’t miss her; it’s not that.

(Again, it’s something else.)

I remember the night the two of us lay drunk on the beach. It was after the bars had closed, summer of last. Carlita’s toes were hidden in the sand. (I insisted she paint her toenails red; they look good that way.) Soon she began shoveling the sand with her feet. “Look,” she said gleefully, annoyingly, “I’m kicking life into the sand! The sand is dead, but right now I’m giving it life!”

(Those are the stupid things you remember most, whereas the wild drunkard fights of accusing each other of cheating melt into a tiny blur.)

Carlita then, shedding clothes, ran towards the ocean, away from me. I called out to her. “I love you,” is what I called out, but she didn’t hear me. (Or maybe she had and just didn’t care.)

“Come in, the water’s nice!” she said, her legs halfway covered by sea-foam. “In a minute,” I said back.

Then I listened to the waves crashing in time to the sound of my heart breaking. I knew I wouldn’t have Carlita for long. The sea was all hers, and I hoped soon it would swallow her. But it didn’t.

(Now that I think about it, I should have drowned her—right then and there.)


“I think what a person wants most… is to lose all self in another person.” This is what Carl once told me. “All that freedom, that independence,” he said, “is like a cancer eating away. Better to surrender all rights to your person, whomever that person happens to be.”

He might have had a point.

I know from experience that it’s much nobler—much easier, in fact—to play the Imbecile than it is to play the Genius. There’s just too much of that stabbing emptiness when it comes to being an individual.

“I think it’s much nicer to be in love than it is to be right all the time.”

“Have you ever been in love, Carl?”

“Uh-uh,” he said. “Fuck no!”


I pick a book up off the dirty wooden floor, a borrowed book I have yet to read. I blow dust from it. I turn to a random page, begin reading. I find a sentence I like:

                In God is my hope, though the Devil will have scope.

I circle the beloved sentence with a pen that is also borrowed. I shouldn’t have to borrow the pen. After all, the pen is mine; I paid for it with money. (I think?) It’s just that I’ve never been comfortable with calling things my own—everything I’ve ever possessed has been lost, taken, or given away.

Can anyone really own anything? If you think about it, people don’t even own their own lives; they borrow them from somewhere.

Look at it this way:

You borrow life the day you’re born. Then you give it back the moment you die. A person couldn’t keep life forever, even if they wanted to—and who would when there’s a June, a July, and an August to exist through every year?


In fact, the calendar on the wall (a lovely Bettie Page calendar given to me at last year’s employee Christmas party) rests vindictively on one of these cursed summer months, when the heat outside is just terrible, so unbearably wretched that suicide seems more like a welcoming coolness than anything else. (That’s not so good.)

And it was so hot that I couldn’t sleep at all last night. (Or was it this morning?) I couldn’t sleep, so, heeding to Carl’s advice, I drank—and drank and drank and drank—until finally passing out.

The last thing I remember (before passing out) was some pathetic attempt at masturbation. That’s very difficult to do in the a.m., especially when drunk and miserable and hot. But you keep at it—jerking dead flesh that wishes only to stay dead. You’ll try anything, just to make the hollow within yourself subside—if only for a few orgasmic seconds.

Still, it’s never any use. Your fantasies are never potent enough to handle the distress of your situation. In fact, you’d beat off to the image of your sister—if you had one, and it did any good.


So to stay cool I pick at my grievances—like a dog picks at its fleas: hungrily. (I’m infested with them, the little buggers.) And I will go on scratching, hopelessly, until the room I am writing to you from resembles the aftermath of Mount Vesuvius (Pompeii, was it?), where I will stiffen in my despair for all eternity. And the walls will laugh—those panting white walls, with tiny nails driven into them like Christ.

Yet there are worse things than tiny nails to have either in, on, or hanging from your walls:

—Photographs of loved ones.


—Marijuana tapestries.

—Nude centerfolds?

—Maybe even a “Starry Night” replication. (I always found van Gogh’s difficult to look at whilst drunk or stoned or nothing at all.)

—Handcuffs, perhaps?

You can see them there, dangling above my defiled bed. I swear they were pillaged from Carl’s house. (In this case, “pillaged” probably isn’t the correct word usage—but I like it, so it stays.)

I’ll tell you one thing: whoever comes for the body will be very frightened—that, or very amused. The body alone isn’t enough to elicit such emotions; it’s the possessions that do it.

I guess that’s why people have things to begin with: to deflect others from themselves.

Without things there probably wouldn’t be much to do in a room like this one. Though I guess you could always create something nice, to solidify the worthiness of your own genius. Or, if you’re not up to that, you can just ponder the enigma of your past. But when all that gets old (and it will), you may as well go jerk one off.

If it’s not too hot.

And you’re not too sad, or anything.


Brian Alan Ellis lives in Tallahassee, Florida. His fiction has appeared in Skive, Zygote in my Coffee, The Whistling Fire,Monkey Bicycle, Corduroy Mtn., The Big Stupid Review, DOGZPLOT, The Splinter Generation, Flashquake, Underground Voices, Glossolalia, The Single Hound, Conte, Fiction Fix, Curbside Quotidian and NAP, as well as the anthology The Incredible Shrinking Story (Fast Forward Press). He also sings for the Ex-Boogeymen, and waits patiently for Better Off Dead to receive the Criterion treatment. www.brianalanellis.tumblr.com

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