Archie Sheridan slept with the light on. The pills on his bedside table were Ambien. A year before they would have been pain pills. Vicodin. Oxycodone. A cheerful skyline of amber plastic bottles. Even now the table looked empty without the clutter. Just the Ambien, a cell phone, a week-old glass of tap water, and a red gooseneck lamp from IKEA.
His kept his gun in the drawer. On the nights the kids weren’t there, he slept with it loaded.
The Ambien prescription was untouched. Archie just liked to know it was there. Sleeping pills made Archie groggy, and groggy wasn’t a luxury he could afford. If the phone rang, if someone died, he needed to go to work.
Besides, it wasn’t getting to sleep that was the problem. It was staying asleep. He woke up every morning at three A.M., and was awake for an hour. That was how it had gone since the flood. Now he just figured it in. Went to bed an hour earlier. Compensated. He didn’t mind it. As long as he controlled his thoughts, kept his mind from wandering to bad places, he was fine. Focus on the present. Avoid the dark.
The gooseneck lamp stayed on, its red metal shade getting hotter by the hour.
Three-ten A.M. Archie stared at the ceiling. The apartment was sweltering and his bedroom window was open. He could hear the distant grind of the construction equipment still working to clean up the flood damage downtown. They’d been at it in swing shifts for three months, and the city still looked gutted.
If it wasn’t the noise from the construction, it was the trains he heard at night: the engines, the whistles, the wheels on the tracks. They traveled through Portland’s produce district around the clock.
Archie didn’t mind the noise. It reminded him that he wasn’t the only one awake.
Everyone had a cure for insomnia. Take a warm bath. Exercise. Drink a glass of warm milk. Eat a snack before bedtime. Drink herbal tea. Avoid caffeine. Listen to music. Get a massage.
His shrink told him to stay in bed.
Don’t even read, she said. It would just make getting back to sleep harder.
He just had to lie there.
But his pillow was too flat. The used mattress he’d bought groaned every time he turned over.
The heat made his scars itch. The new skin was tight and prickly, reminding him of every place her blade had sliced his flesh. His chest was knitted with scar tissue. Patches of dark hair sprouted around the thick pale pink gashes and pearly threads, unable to grow through the tough flesh.
That sort of itching, in the middle of the night, can make a person crazy, and sometimes, while he slept, he scratched his scars until they bled.
Archie ran a hand along his side, the scars pebbly under his fingers, and then over his chest, where his fingers found the heart-shaped scar she had carved into him with a scalpel. Then he made a fist with his hand, rolled over, and pinned it under his pillow.
* * *
Archie’s cell phone rang. He turned over in bed and looked at the clock on his bedside table. He’d been asleep ten minutes. It seemed like longer. His eyeballs felt gritty, his tongue coated. His hair was damp with sweat. He was on his stomach, naked, half his face smashed against the pillow. As he reached out and fumbled for his phone he knocked over the bottle of Ambien, which toppled and rolled off the bedside table and clattered to a stop somewhere under the bed.
Archie brought the phone’s glowing LCD screen to his face and immediately recognized the number.
He knew he should let it go to voice mail.
But he didn’t.
“Hi, Patrick,” Archie said into the phone.
“I can’t sleep,” Patrick said. His voice was a strained whisper. Probably trying not to wake up his parents. “What if he comes back to get me?” Patrick said.
“He’s dead,” Archie said.
Patrick was silent. Not convinced.
The official report had been death by drowning. A half-truth. Archie had held Patrick’s captor’s head underwater, and when he was dead, he had pushed his body into the current of the flooded river.