Insomnia Island


Then it was August and I was tired. It was the heat, or it was the ghosts. I sleep with the ghosts. This is a kind of insomnia. What is it about ghosts that threaten the sleep? I think I know the answer – they live in no time, measure no intervals, and live in a continual present. — postcard from home

Martha was insomniac and did her best thinking while neither asleep nor awake. She said sometimes to Maria that it would have been better if she’d invited lepers into the house, more socially acceptable.

“I brought a leper into my house,” she said to Maria one morning, after she’d been not sleeping for a week or more and the ghosts had been having an especially exuberant period. Her skin was bright white, and her eyes shining – she was in one of the interludes of calm brilliance that prolonged sleeping or not with ghosts seems to bring on.

“Belladonna makes the eyes bright, doesn’t it?” said Maria, looking at Martha and wondering again how to make her sleep.

“Belladonna means beautiful lady – does that make the eyes bright?” Martha said in response, and she smiled again with that sharp, shattered look, and the two of them decided silently, together, to go somewhere else, to leave the ghosts behind for a week or two, or until Martha slept an entire night through. They packed their gear and their soft camping clothes and they went to her happy island, where ghosts may not enter, and there they stayed for almost one month.

Now it is September, and I’ve been sleeping for one week. There are no ghosts, there are no mosquitos, there are no questions in my sleeping mind. Sometimes I see shadows in the corner, but when I turn and look, these are usually animals, the ordinary, evasive animals of island life. A gecko, a gull, a small mammal with little feet like hands that looks at me curiously and leaves if I stare too long. Maria has brought me pineapple and mango and fish, and we’ve cooked and slept and dreamed, and there are no ghosts, no lepers, no forbidden spirits to enter our resting place on this bright white beach. This morning I walked into the shallow blue water farther and farther away from the shore, and I could see every shell, every bit of sand, and my ankles are warm in the water. I turned around and looked behind me, and there she is, waiting for me like I’m a sailor coming home from the sea. — postcard from Insomnia Island

At the end of the month, they went back home. Martha got brave, taking a few risks every day, reading and talking and watching whatever she wanted, and the ghosts did not come back, and the lepers stayed away from the door, and the sun when it shone through the bedroom window found them both sleeping, each with one leg hanging out of the sheets in the cool early morning air.


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