3 The Potomac — Quiction
Summer 2015 — THE POTOMAC


  Nathan Leslie

Jim Billings had been known to sleepwalk. When he was a boy he would wake up in the middle of the night in the kitchen, under the deck. He would draw on the sidewalk with red chalk. At times he would find inexplicable scratches on his arms. Jim would brush his teeth in his sleep. He would play with knives, light matches. He would fall down the stairs. His parents would find Jim sorting through their closet, asleep. They became wary of Jim, afraid of what they might find him doing. Though his parents never wanted to lock Jim in his room, they were forced to for his own sake. They locked the windows as well.

Once, when Jim was in his early thirties, he wanted to see what would happen if he didn't constrain himself. Two days later Jim stood in the residential street outside of his house, only waking at the blaring sound of a horn. Jim finally decided that some irrepressible part of him just didn't want to rest, didn't want to lay still. He began locking himself in his room for his own safety, hiding the key.

Jim always wondered if his sleepwalking scared women from marrying him. Kelly was never comfortable feeling trapped in a room. Judith hated thinking that at some point Jim might unconsciously hurt her. Anna didn't like the idea that he was out of control, that some unconscious element overrode Jim's better instincts. The women in his life would find him lurking over them, standing at the window, bumping his head against the wall. Eventually Jim's sleepwalking got the best of Kelly and Judith and Anna. Jim would try to explain that he couldn't help it. This didn't necessarily make matters easier.

During the day Jim was an ordinary bank teller. The job had short hours, and though the position didn't offer much in terms of pay, Jim enjoyed interacting with the regular customers and he enjoyed offering small bits of financial advice. Jim appreciated the feeling that he was doing his small part in maintaining the small workings of society. He felt emboldened by helping others. If he was honest with himself, Jim would admit he enjoyed handling money.

At night Jim never had a difficult time falling asleep. Jim rarely dreamed. Jim found it difficult to remember if he sleepwalked or if he didn't sleepwalk. If he didn't wake up in a foreign environment (the street, his yard, the kitchen,), Jim wouldn't recall a single detail regarding that night. His parents said he slept "like a stump." It just so happened he was a stump that got up and walked at night.

One March night Jim woke at three twenty one in the morning, climbing into his own kitchen window in The Bottoms. Jim was startled when he realized where he was. Since his brief experiment in his thirties, Jim locked his bedroom door and his windows. But what Jim realized was that in his sleepwalking state he must have discovered how to unlock the window. This terrified Jim: if his unconscious state could process thoughts, if he could let himself out of his room, how could he stop himself from committing even the worst actions?

The next afternoon, Jim decided he should go for a walk, something to clear his head. He walked up Bottoms Drive, to the entrance to Meadow Haven. Jim knew Meadow Haven was a gated community, but the property on the exterior of the gate was fair game. That evening, he walked the perimeter of Meadow Haven. The woods were cool. He could see smell the red maple trees. Jim could see into kitchens and bathrooms and bedrooms. Somehow this relaxed him.

Jim felt the urge to buy seeds. Never having cultivated an interest in gardening, this surprised him. After making a pot of Kraft Macaroni and cheese, Jim drove to the grocery store and bought six packages of snap beans. He liked the mental image this gave him. He could imagine snapping the beans between his fingers. Outside of the store, Jim sat on the hood of his rusty 1993 Volvo Station Wagon. He squinted through the murky scrim of light pollution at the outline of stars. Saplings grew. In an island in the middle of the strip mall parking lot. They were the only trees in sight. Jim wondered how many Safeway customers know the name of those trees. He didn't. He doubted more than a handful did. Fifty years ago all this was common knowledge, Jim thought. So much has been lost. On the drive back to The Bottoms, Jim noticed the milky outlines of the trees against the glow of Route Seven.

Jim placed the snap beans on the kitchen table next to a stack of bills and a picture of his mother and father. In the photo his parents wore matching red and white sweaters. They looked into each other's eyes and beamed. To Jim their direct and unmitigated happiness was almost too much to bear.

That night Jim fell asleep at eleven thirty and by two thirty he was sleepwalking. He walked to the kitchen and gathered the seeds and pulled a spoon from the utensil drawer. Jim walked out of his home and to the Meadow Haven gate. At the perimeter of the gate, Jim began digging holes with the spoon. In each hole Jim placed a snap bean seed. He worked his way around the gate in this way, planting seeds in the hard ground. He planted six packages worth. Then he woke up.

When Jim awoke he was shocked. He didn't know where he was. Except for the few exterior lights, it was dark and he grasped the gate for support. When he remembered Meadow Haven, he had a sense of his location. He let his eyes adjust. Like a blind man, Jim held onto the fence-letting it guide him back to Meadow Haven Way. It was cold. Jim was freezing. His shivers kept him awake. He thought it couldn't be any warmer than thirty five degrees.

As he made his way home, Jim drew a hot bath for himself. He soaked in the bath for an hour, listening to the sounds of The Bottoms waking to start a new day: cars starting, high heels on sidewalks, the jingle of keys, doors thumping shut.

Jim didn't know why he clutched a spoon in his left hand. He couldn't let it go. He felt alone in this world.

Jim decided to go see his doctor. The doctor prescribed him a small dose of Lorazepam, to be taken before bedtime each night. The appointment took five minutes. The doctor said he read one report that suggested ions could induce some patients to sleepwalk.

"What do you think of that?"

Jim shrugged. It was a thought. There wasn't much he could do to defeat ions.

He had researched sleepwalking on the Internet. Various sites suggested relaxation techniques, stress reduction, hypnosis, psychiatric intervention, elimination of alcohol and coffee from the diet. This made it that much more difficult to face the night. He read of cases where husbands stabbed their wives in their sleep- or so they claimed. In some ways Jim was glad he wasn't married.

Deciding to restrain himself again, Jim slept with his bedroom door secured by a combination lock, his windows barred. Nevertheless, at three o'clock in the morning, Jim found himself driving home from the 24 hour grocery store, ten packages of spinach in a plastic bag on the passenger seat. The next night Jim constrained himself further: chaining himself to the bed, hiding the key in the pages of a magazine. At two forty five the next morning, Jim awoke to find himself planting spinach seeds along the eastern face of the Meadow Haven gate, the key to his bed chains in his pocket.

Despite it all, Jim didn't recall a single dream. In fact, as far as Jim could remember, he hadn't dreamt in years.


In April Jim took afternoon walks to witness the growth in his snap beans and in his spinach. By mid-April he could see spinach stalks rising from the garden bed. He didn't see snap beans. When he asked one of his colleagues about the beans she told him it was far too early for beans. "Not until May," she said.

At night Jim would repeat these walks.

One night Jim was unconsciously circling Meadow Haven when he came across a woman doing the same. She was tall and her back was stiff. She wore a sleeping gown adorned with a pattern of bald eagles carrying olive branches. Her dark hair was cut in a short bob. Her face was soft and open, eyes set wider than most. Her face looked Eastern European. The pockets of her nightgown were stuffed with bark.

"What are you doing?" she asked. Her hands probed the darkness.

"Spinach testing," Jim said. "You?"

"I'm collecting bark," she said. "Samples."

"That's good," Jim said.

"Amelia," she said, fingering the bark in her packet.

"I'm Jim," he said. "I'm a banker."

"Housewife," Amelia said. "Homemaker. Someday I might teach math again. I enjoyed that."

"What is the square root of nine?" Jim asked.

"Too easy."

"Well," Jim said.

"What is the square root of 37?"

"I have no clue," Jim said.

"6.08276530. And it goes on and on."

Amelia kissed Jim on the forehead, right between his eyes. Then she wandered back into the darkness toward her house in The Bottoms. When Jim awoke, he was in his bed. He didn't remember a thing.


Sleepwalking, Jim and Amelia began meeting in the woods each night. She never kissed his forehead again. Some nights they would hold hands. Amelia showed him how to collect the best bark. She even taught him a math trick or two.

They had long conversations about ideals, family, future, unfulfilled dreams, politics. Amelia was a third grade teacher. Her mother had a stroke and she was worried. Her husband watched too much television, she said. He was on the computer all the time. Amelia said she sometimes felt lonely. She wished she could connect to someone, really experience a union of souls. Jim talked about sailing-how he wanted to get back to that. He wanted to live near the water, listen to the caw of the seagulls.

"I wish I wasn't so lazy," Jim said. "There's so much I'd like to do. I just can't seem to start the engine."

"Like what?" Amelia asked. They stood there inert, eyes closed, breathing heavily.

"I think I could be an inventor. I'd like to do that. To imagine objects that don't exist, to bring them to life."

"I'd like that too," Amelia said. "And I'd like to invent numbers. I know that sounds impossible."

"There are so many things we can talk about," Jim said.

"It's true," Amelia said.

They held hands and talked in this way.

Amelia and Jim walked around and around. They slowly circled Meadow Haven hundreds of times. If you saw them walking together through the woods you would think they were a husband and wife on a romantic stroll. If either of them awoke during their sleepwalking spells, they would see they wore a trail through the woods. The gate wasn't far off. The Bottoms were out of sight. But they didn't wake up and they didn't remember a thing. They never did.

Top | Home / Mailing List / Contact
All materials, text, images © The Potomac. All rights reserved.