Francine Cunningham, "Asleep Till You're Awake"

My dead mom was sitting in the waiting room at the walk-in clinic. I was there because I’d been falling asleep in weird places. The first time happened in a grocery store. I was holding two boxes of cereal and I got tired so I sat down in the aisle. I never used to just sit in grocery stores but when you get that tired you have no choice. When your eyes are burning and the blinks are coming slower and slower it become impossible not to sit. So I sat. And then I leaned. I should never have leaned. I should have sat straight like someone who does yoga but I don’t do yoga. I don’t even stretch really.

So I was sitting, then leaning, and then a man with a brown coat and black sneakers was shaking my shoulder asking me if I was dead. Okay, he was asking if I was fine but basically that’s the same thing. So he asked me if I was fine and I said no. And then he just walked away. Like who does that? I said no, you’re supposed to help, but he walked away and I got up. I didn’t even buy any cereal. I just went home. And the days kept happening like that. Being shaken awake by strangers with glasses, or who smelled like lemons and lavender, or who wore lumpy sweaters, or had stinky breath, or frizzy hair, or dry patches of skin. It was annoying.

So I went to the doctor. I sat in the office for like forever and then she was shaking my shoulder, the doctor, waking me up. I mumbled an apology that I didn’t mean. How many of those do you think we do in a year, apologies we don’t mean? I must do a hundred. Or maybe more, maybe more than 300 hundred even. I don’t know. I should track it like a food diary addict tracks calories. But I know I won’t.

This doctor, she was all in my face asking me questions, like I just got up lady, give me a second to breathe. But you know how it is in those offices, they’re like little rats scurrying from one beige office to the next, five minutes staring into the desperate eyes of a person wanting to feel better from a cold that’s caused by a virus, and knowing there is nothing they can do. Like have you never seen a bus ad before person? Fluids and rest stupid. No, rich people don’t take the bus. They never see the ads us poor people do.



As it appears in The Malahat Review's fall 2020 issue #212