While Emily made coffee, Ephraim slept in his catlike way, not quite fully curled over himself, but bunched up, lazily, with an occasional twitch. He slept on a coverless futon spattered with orange juice stains, his laptop cracked open on the floor like a clamshell, harddrive humming, a breezy, poppy tune I didn’t recognize playing through the tinny speakers. I didn’t know much about him — I’d only met him twice before, thanks to Emily — but I wondered if he heard the song in his dream, like a soundtrack; I wondered if he heard me, felt my presence, as I felt his. He was a quiet sleeper — eerily so, in fact — but all sleeping people make subtle vibrations, like ghosts. Even in a dark room, with earplugs, you’d still know they were there. And when I closed my eyes, I could feel him — still, sleeping, dreaming.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to watch people sleep. The summer after kindergarten, my mother forbade it in her house. “Summer, dear, I love you. But your father and I agree. We’re both tired of waking up and finding you … there, watching!” I did it anyway, sneaking into my parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night, like a little thief in my own home. Careful, careful. Mustn’t disturb a thing. A little thief, a bandit, perfectly stealthy, no vibrations, sure to escape before they wake. All I wanted to steal, though, was their dreams.
Maybe not steal so much as borrow, examine, take a look around. I wanted to see them inside and out, under and over, through and through, from every direction. I imagined myself taking the dream and holding it in front of me, expanding it, shrinking it, splitting it apart and cobbling it into something else, like Play-doh toys in a nursery school playroom. But with no one else around. Those little Play-doh figments are our most private creations. We don’t even intend to make them, but we do. We can’t help it, actually. We must make them.
But we can never share them, never recreate them, except in words or photos or creepy movies that aren’t actually anything like dreams at all. They’re just ours, little secrets, often even to ourselves. I know I dream every night, but I’ve only ever remembered one dream in my life. It was so simple: I awoke, and floated above my bed, watching myself sleep. And for a while I just floated there, silently, feeling the vibrations of the sleeping me fill the room.
“Coffee, Summer?” Emily handed me a mug. She had the look of a hard night to her face, like one of those movie stars caught in an unflattering tabloid spread. But she seemed happy enough. Unlike everyone else in the house, she always woke up early. “My body gets easily bored with sleep. Not enough to do,” she told me once.
Ephraim stirred, unfolding himself, then sitting upright, building up his shape like a cardboard moving box.
“Oh, hi Summer.”
“You sleep like a cat,” I said. “What do you dream about?”
“Nothing much, I guess. Work. The video game I’ve been playing.” He reached down and closed his computer shut. “I heard that song playing in the background though. Forgot about Hum. Whatever happened to them?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I never heard of them.”
“They were good. I mean, that song was, anyway. Is.” He yawned. “What’s going on today? And what’re you doing here? It’s… what time is it?”
Emily buzzed past, handing Ephraim a cup of coffee on her way. “God, too much. Too much is going on! Like always. Summer sent me an email about an hour ago. Said she was up. And so was I. Typically. We’re going to check out Red Roof for lunch later. You can come if you want.”
“Isn’t that a hotel?”
“No,” Emily said from the other room, though she seemed to barely hear the question.
“After lunch,” I said, “there’s a movie I sort of want to see, a real shocker. Some Italian director packed it so full of blood and guts it didn’t get shown in the U.S. for twenty years.”
“That can’t be true,” Ephraim said, not as a challenge but as a dismissal.
“That’s what I heard.” I shrugged. We were silent for a minute. Then I asked him if he liked horses.
“I rode a few times as a kid. Why?”
“Okay, so, there are stables over by the edge of the park, near Fort Hamilton. By my apartment. I have a horse there.”
“No, but I can ride it whenever I want.” I thought of the park, the people riding through, so high and happy. You really get to know a horse when you ride it. It’s an extension of you, like a puppet, except real, flesh and blood and fur and mane. Or that’s what I assumed, anyway. I’d never actually been on a horse, but I’d been close, and it seemed so easy. I could imagine it. I knew I could do it.
“Well, that’s only one horse,” he said, seeming both interested and skeptical. “What am I going to ride?”
I thought of the boots and the riding hats, of English lords on fox hunts, of old Westerns, of Indians and cowboys and explorers and covered wagons. I thought of the park, on a sunny afternoon. Riding through it would be just like jogging, the sturdy trot below you, the subtle bounce. Except higher off the ground, and with whatever it was the connected people and horses, the oneness, physical if not mental.
“I can get another one. I know another girl. She never uses hers.”
Emily shouted from the other room: “Why does she have it, then?”
Ephraim looked annoyed. “You’re going to wake the others. Like you woke me.”
“Well, you shouldn’t sleep out here, then,” Emily said.
“I don’t know why she has it,” I said. “She just does. But she likes my horse. And me. Thinks I’m good with animals, that I know them well. She told me it’s something special I have. I don’t know about that, actually, but I know we can use her horse.”
“What about the movie?”
“I didn’t really want to see it.”
“Then let’s go riding.”
“After lunch.” Ephraim stood up and headed for the bathroom.