The Rhythm of Sleep
Is gonna getcha.
Sleeping Nude (1954) by Dorothea Tanning
more radiant than maybe, more dangerous than whatever, bursting all over, rebuking the silence, reproaching these dry hills, resisting the rhythm of sleep
The rhythm of sleep is gonna getcha, as Gloria Estefan once tried to explain to the world. But the executives at Epic Records made her cut the ‘sleep’ part because it was too confusing. It almost sounded like she was saying DEATH IS COMING FOR YOU.
But that wasn’t her point, not at all, not even a little bit.
“No, listen to me.” Gloria pressed her palms into the polished oak table. When she lifted her palms, there was a moist shadow of her hand for a second, then it disappeared. “The rhythm of sleep is like… a metaphor for that slow, sinking feeling you get when you’re at a packed dance club at midnight and you’re moving to the beat and sweating and everything is beautiful, and then suddenly you realize: This moment means nothing and I’m going to die some day.”
The suits shifted in their seats. “Yeah, that’s not…”
“But then you dance even harder, you know? Because as long as nothing matters, why not really live, you know? Bathe in crème fraiche! Or move to Paris! Or have a little fling with your costume guy, Mark, who’s secretly straight, and who told you last Thursday that he dreams about you every night, the way your delicious 25-inch waist gives way to the curve of your 35-inch hips…”
Gloria didn’t say that last part out loud, but Emilio was already leaning toward her from across the table.
“Baby.” He ran his tongue across his coffee-stained teeth like he always does when he’s mad. “Baby, baby, baby. Don’t be like this. We talked about it already. It’s pop music. It’s sunshine. Remember?”
He had some bagel stuck in his teeth. I was 19 when I met this man, Gloria thought. Dios todopoderoso granted me my one and only boyfriend. I can sing like a bird and move like a cat, but I only get one man for the whole stretch of my days on this planet. Gracias Dios, for every new day is a gift.
She imagined Mark, lying on his back in a lounge chair in the penthouse suite at The Setai, his tan chest glistening in the sunlight. 23 years old, not too young at all, totally respectable. Mark would open his eyes and turn to her and say…
This part was hard. Mark tended to talk about clothes most of the time, how Gloria would look in bias-cut pink silk, whether or not a bright blue stretch velvet would flatter her 5’2” frame. He was always putting her in nude dance pumps, to make her legs look longer. “Look at those stems, qué hermosito!” he’d gasp. It was so cute how he would mangle Spanish just for her. But was he really straight?
Gloria imagined the two of them, rolling around in the waves, their bodies twisted together like seaweed. Yeah, Mark was straight. Definitely straight.
Plus, didn’t he say he was dreaming about her? Maybe not over and over but he did say it happened once. In the dream, he was marveling at her beauty, he said, but then something was falling off her Versace gown, and when he looked closer he discovered a rainbow of beads flowing from the dress like a waterfall, onto the floor, skittering away, and he couldn’t catch them — they disappeared into the corners, under the furniture. When he looked up again, Gloria was wearing a starchy black sheath, no beads in sight. “It was almost like tar paper,” Mark said, his eyes wide and shiny like he was still dreaming. “I mean, eww.”
It was so sweet how he worried about her like that, even when he was unconscious. That was more than you could say for Emilio, who didn’t even remember that they’d already discussed this, this album was supposed to be dark around the edges, filled with a kind of creeping despair that almost turns you on a little, a mournful feeling that yields to surrender, like that sick sensation you get as the plane lifts off the ground.
“Gloria.” Emilio was using his whispery voice, the one he used on Nayib when he was trying not to lose his temper.
“The rhythm of sleep,” she said. “It’s an Afro-Cuban rhythm. Remember when they tried to take out all of the extra percussion and it sounded like motherfucking Madonna, praise the Virgin Mary mother of God?”
Emilio looked down at his plate full of bagel crumbs.
Mark hadn’t called her back all day. She’d left a message on his answering machine, saying she wanted to meet him for a drink when they returned on Saturday. With Emilio staying in New York for more meetings and Nayib still at camp, Gloria would be free to do whatever she chose for once in her godforsaken life, eterno agradecimiento al padre, y al hijo, y al espiritu santo.
She closed her eyes. You can’t stay in this agitated state, Gloria. You have shut it off, sleepwalk through the hours, so you can keep on making number one hits, keep on having sex with the same man you mauled on a whim after a really good Miami Sound Machine performance, when everyone was pumped up and Enrique told you that Emilio had a crush on you but you were only a teenager so he was trying to behave honorably. You’d had three vodka tonics and the world was soft and furry around Enrique’s face and you thought, But Enrique, don’t you see me at all?
And then the world got even softer, and Enrique’s face became Emilio’s, and then there were world tours and a baby boy and the years rushed by like the shadows of tall buildings through the windows of the train, making you so dizzy you had to close your eyes. The rhythm of sleep was gonna getcha and then?
It gotcha. As was foretold.
“Sunshine, Gloria.” Emilio was next to her now.
“Is there a phone nearby?” Gloria asked the assistant whose chair Emilio had stolen.
“You can use the one on my desk, down the hall on the left.” The girl’s curls formed a tacky halo around her smiling face, a shadow of sour impatience weighing down the corners of her mouth.
Gloria got up without offering an explanation. Her heels echoed down the shiny hallway to the assistant’s office. She sat in the ugly black chair behind the desk and dialed her answering machine and punched in the code. There were three messages. The first one was the upholstery guy, telling her that the wine stain wouldn’t come out of the white sectional at the beach house so they’d have to take extreme measures and re-do that segment of the couch.
Enough, I get it! Gloria picked up the clear oval paperweight on the desk that said WORLD’S BEST SECRETARY and made it stand up straight, so it almost looked like a People’s Choice Award.
The second message was Nayib’s fifth grade teacher, saying that his permission slip for the school trip was late. Gloria hit 3 for save and 1 for next message quickly.
The third message was from Mark. The sound of his voice conjured warm ocean waves rippling over their bodies, the taste of salt on their tongues. After they showered off, they’d be lying on the bed in robes, and Mark would tell her that he’d been waiting all his life for someone like her.
“Lady cat!” Mark purred. “Mi amor is visiting on Saturday, but maybe next weekend when papi leaves, okay?”
That Saturday night, Gloria was lying on the white sectional, wrapped in the quilt the housekeeper had used to cover the part of the couch where the cushion was missing. The house was growing dark but she hadn’t bothered to turn on any lights. Pope John Paul II was giving a speech on the Catholic radio station. The Italian echoed in the background like a lilting violin, while a high nasal man’s voice droned the English translation:
The word of God – the divine word – must continue to be the focal point of your spirituality, the object of your daily prayer and meditation, so that it can be the source of your joy and fruitfulness. To use the words of John the Evangelist, the Incarnate Word must become for you something you have seen with your eyes, something you have looked upon and touched with your hands.
Gloria thought about touching the word of God with her hands. It would feel like buttercream roses on a cake, smooth and white and sweet, smelling like almonds and guava. She could almost feel it, soft and cool like an afternoon breeze from the ocean in the West, slipping through her fingers and out the open window toward the East, winding its way over miles of hot concrete and little pink houses, drifting over the gated labyrinths of McMansions, with their sharp green grass and winding mazes of moats, and then slipping into the vast rotting swamp beyond. Death is coming for you. Alabado sea el señor.
Thank you for reading! Wheeeeeee!