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by Meredith Benson

Sometimes Caroline had trouble sleeping. She would try drinking a cup of warm milk or counting sheep, but on those nights she just never could close her eyes. Other nights she went to sleep right away, and the next thing she would hear was her alarm clock at seven in the morning reminding her of another day of work.

Caroline’s life was not out of the ordinary. She worked a nine-to-five desk job and occasionally treated herself to a glass of red wine. She had a couple of friends, but mostly enjoyed time spent alone. Really, the only thing out of the ordinary was her few bouts of insomnia each week.

At first, Caroline did not mind; she would choose to read a novel or watch some television. However, as these nights became more frequent, no matter what she did, she would stay awake for the length of the night. In the beginning, she would have one too many glasses of wine to make herself drowsy, but no matter how much she drank on those nights, sleep was out of the question.

Around her third month of experiencing occasional sleepless nights, she decided it was time to see her physician. The doctor prescribed a small blue sleeping pill; however, on some nights the sleeping pill would have no effect. It was the most baffling thing, and Caroline began to spend almost all of her time trying to determine the true reason for her sleepless nights.

She took a leave from her day job and decided to lie in bed most days and see if she could will herself to sleep. Though she felt as if she were more rested, she still experienced nights where she could not sleep a wink.

After a while of this, she realized she was only sleeping once a week. Maybe twice if it was a good week. Caroline only left her apartment after the days that she slept, and even then it was becoming harder and harder for her to get herself out of the house. She could not remember the last time someone had given her a call or visited her. Occasionally she felt guilty—her mother used to remind her that she should not let herself get into these slumps. However, Caroline only felt guilty for her mother’s sake and realized maybe it was not so bad to see the world in black and grey.

By the next month, Caroline did not dream at all. She swore her eyelids never closed, not even to blink. She decided to spend her time counting breaths and swallows. It made the days go by a little faster.

*   *   *

Eventually, Bethany began to worry about Caroline. Though they had worked together for quite some time, Bethany did not necessarily consider them friends. However, her coworker’s insomnia continued to trouble her. It was always obvious to Bethany after Caroline suffered from a bout of no sleep, and Bethany could not believe how much those eight hours aged her. At first, Bethany only noticed the dark circles under Caroline’s eyes, but as these sleepless nights increased, her cheeks sank in and her bones became defined.

After Caroline’s continued absence at work, Bethany chose to swing by Caroline’s apartment on her lunch break. As she approached the complex, she saw police cars surrounding the apartment building and knew something terrible had happened. A line of people began to form as a black bag was carried out on a gurney. Bethany dreaded asking the officer about what had happened, but it was as if Bethany already knew the contents of the bag.

That night Bethany laid her head on her pillow to get some much-needed rest. As she was drifting off, she began to think about how Caroline was finally getting the sleep she needed. This thought comforted Bethany enough to finally doze off until morning.

*   *   *

It had been many more months, maybe even years, she thought to herself. However, Caroline still spent her time counting breaths and swallows. It made the days go by a little faster.

Meredith Benson is a 21-year-old from Minnesota. She’s always had a passion for literature and hopes to continue writing flash fiction. She will be graduating in May with a BSN.

Lead image: “Insomnia” (via Flickr user Alyssa L. Miller)