Una is having trouble sleeping.
Not trouble, she thinks, kicking off the sheet, that isn’t the right word.
She repeats the word until it becomes meaningless. Cubble, mubble, wobble—bubble.
I am having bubble sleeping. No. I am having double sleeping? Don’t I wish, she mouths to the popcorn ceiling.
The ceiling isn’t really popcorn, but sometimes she lays in bed with her mouth open hoping that a bit of buttery, salty goodness might fall from above. The wind kicks up, and a moaning snow squall batters the old windowpanes.
Una wishes the furnace would turn on. Perhaps the grumble of metal, the blowing, moving air, would lull her to sleep. Furnaces are a comfort. Simple, robot friends with whispering voices. Nothing better than dozing atop a warm vent on a frigid day. In places where the winters are long and harsh, anyone born with a lick of sense makes friends with the furnace robot.
Bored, popcornless, she returns to her growing list of possible inventions.
#63: Prescription auto and/or power boat windshield glass. Nobody would be able to steal your vehicle, but you’d need a lot of Windex.
#64: That vomit sanitizing sawdust but made to order in school colors. Or, rah rah red, white, and blue for the military. Maybe silver and gold for comic book conventions? Lots of vomiting there. Had to be room for competition in the vomit powder industry. For all she knew it might be an unchallenged monopoly.
#65: Sexxxsongs. Dirty duets that couples sing while making love, the lyrics tailored to include pet names and their specific turn-on’s/fetishes. Gleeks and karaoke-fiends would eat. That. Shit. Up.
Silk corset swishing, Elizabeth Cady Stanton pads into the bedroom and climbs into bed. She lies face up, arms folded over her chest.
“Everyone in space would be bald,” she says.
“Why is that?” Una asks.
“Um, well, gravity holds your hair to your head, and there’s no gravity out there.”
“Really? That’s what you think?”
“Mmm hmm. Gravity is just a theory anyway.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton turns on her side and pulls a crumpled paper pamphlet from under the pillow. She hands it to Una. The pamphlet is saddle-stapled, crudely drawn crosses and comic sans font. Irritating.
PUBES VS. PROPHECY: Are you spreading STDs—or the Gospel?
Elizabeth Cady Stanton grins. “Funny, huh?”
“I guess,” Una replies, suppressing a yawn. “Religious nuts are easy targets. Why not make fun of the Founding Fathers while you’re at it?”
“My old roommate once claimed that Shaq is the modern day, Benjamin Franklin.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton snorts. “Because they’re both ‘big dudes who like to party.'”
There’s gooseflesh on Una’s legs. “I can see that.”
The two women lapse into silence, now lying face to face, like the handles of a Grecian urn. Elizabeth Cady Stanton hums a few bars of a familiar tune, then stops. “Do you want to sing a duet?” she asks.
Una flips onto her back. “No.”
“Okay. At the laundry this morning an agitated-looking Japanese tourist ran in. He was wearing a rumpled, cream-colored Miami Vice-type suit, but not carrying a camera. He shouted: ‘There’s a monkey in the river!’ so we all ran outside to look. It turned out to be a beaver. When we explained the difference, he looked confused, then stomped away angry. This is Minneapolis for god’s sakes, not the Mekong Delta—”
A sudden rattling noise fills the room, and Una thinks: please let it be the furnace, but it isn’t. A rumble sidles up next to first noise, like a train is passing on the street beyond their window. A glasses case, a box of tissues, and a dog-eared copy of Estelle Getty’s autobiography “If I Knew Then What I Know Now…So What,” all vibrate to the edge of the nightstand, tumbling onto the floor.
“Earthquake?” Elizabeth Cady Stanton asks. Her face is serene.
“Yep, guess so.”
The bed creeps across the floorboards.
A framed photograph of Angkor Wat tumbles from the wall, glass shattering into a thousand tiny shards—wicked, glittering wasps. The furnace kicks on with an audible growl and a loud thunk. Gusts of humid air fill the room, redolent with the heady scent of rhododendron and monkey shit.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton rises and opens the bedroom door. Pink lotus flowers dangle from the cracked plaster walls of the hallway. The shiny wasps sting her feet, and she leaves wet, crimson footprints on the yellow linoleum. “The robot’s awake. Are you ready to leave?” she asks.
Una barely registers the stinging of her feet, the warm blood. Her legs have become pitted stone towers clothed in twining tendrils of jungle green, ancient, each step a thousand, thousand miles. She listens for the high-pitched song of the bamboo forest, birds and insects and the whispering wind, an almost mechanical sound.
“Where will we go first?”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton smiles. Teeth for days. “I think we should start with the river. How about Trung Binh?”
“Oh good, I parked my power boat there.”
“Well then, I guess you’re driving. Do we have enough Windex?”
Una nods and smiles. Teeth for years. “Plenty.”