By: M.A. Stirnaman
Not all sleeping bags contain surprises, but the simple fact that some do is cause for investigating every fold of fabric inside the machine-sewn cavern.
West, the boy that most describe as imaginative with a chuckle and a shared glance to the other adults that share a flawed understanding of subtlety and the perception of a child with a well-worn library card, checks the batteries in his flashlight three times. His aunt bought him a colorful super hero flashlight, but West prefers the reliableness and sturdy construction of the one he saved up for and bought from the scary man at the army supply store. He thinks of that man sometimes and the customers that seemed to always be there. That stale odor that West eventually learned was from cigars. West thinks often of that night too.
West has spent time waiting for his mother in many church basements. Sacred ground doesn’t always spread to the foundation.
West slides up the button with the palm of his hand and surveys the gray interior. Three sweeps later he has the confidence to slide his bare feet into the mouth of the bag followed by the rest of him. With his book closed and placed neatly in the corner of his tent West exhales and turns off the light. The house is quiet where it’s supposed to be. The chain clinks against the ceiling fan light fixture.
At nine thirty West shines his light on the zipper of the closed tent flap.
At ten thirty West reaches out in the darkness and pushes against the fabric.
At eleven thirty West checks the padlock securing the zipper.
At an unknown time, his eyes glued shut from sleepy mucus and his brain unconvinced of reality, West hears the bottles clank.
West rubs his eyes clear just in time to see a sliver of light and shadows project on the tent. Creaks and the sound of furniture sliding across wood floors in clumsy and erratic fashion echo throughout the house. Booming voices bounce through the air vents. The Steve Miller Band abruptly plays on the living room stereo.
West coffins himself inside his sleeping bag, leaving a small gap that he stares out of. A small square of light floats on the fabric of the tent. He focuses on it.
His fingers still burn.
Strong coffee and yesterday’s doughnuts. A cult of denial.
West shrinks, curling into his bunker, making himself smaller as the light grows larger.