The Hazards of Sleeping Alone

Author of G


the HAZARDS of Sleeping Alone

a novel

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“Walter and I have decided to live together.”

“Live together?” Charlotte had been Windexing the mirror and stopped, blue rivulets streaking down the glass. “Just the two of you?”

“Four of us. Walter, me, and a couple of friends.”

“What friends?”

“Mara and Anthony,” Emily said. “I don't think you've met them. Ant's the guy who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He's really fascinating.”

Her words bounced off the tiled walls, as if mocking Charlotte's tattered slippers, her bucket of cleaning supplies.

Emily sighed, an amused sigh. “It's fine, Mom. It'll be like one big happy family. I promise.”

Charlotte felt a twinge between her eyes.
Happy family:
it sounded so incestuous, so 1960s. She wasn't sure if this casual, communal environment made the living together better or worse. “I just—it's just that you're so young, honey.” She wanted to sound wise, but instead felt like she always did when trying to give Emily relationship advice: unqualified. “And living together, well … that's a big commitment.”

“Mom.” Emily's tone was matter-of-fact. “We know living together is a big commitment. We're not jumping into this blindly. Walter and I really love each other.”

Charlotte was jolted into silence. How could she argue with this? It was very possible her twenty-two-year-old daughter knew more about loving a man than she did.

Also by Elise Juska

Getting Over Jack Wagner


Sleeping Alone

Publication of POCKET BOOKS

DOWNTOWN PRESS, published by Pocket Books
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2004 by Elise Juska

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue
of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-13: 978-0-743-49350-5

eISBN-13: 978-1-439-10417-0

First Downtown Press trade paperback edition September 2004

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Unlike Charlotte, I have a big and boisterous family. Never has their supportiveness, good humor, and general greatness been more apparent to me than in the past year. Much love and gratitude to: Mom, Dad, and Sally; Grammy; Aunt Kathleen, Maureen, and Billy; Aunt Margaret, David, Gina, Tommy, and George; Uncle Tom, Aunt Laura, John, and Andy; Aunt Mare, Uncle Jim, Kate, Jimmy, and Krissy; Uncle Jack, Aunt Jeanne, Ryan, Kyle, Griffin, and Declan; Nana and Poppy; Uncle Billy, Aunt Maryann, Jim and Miriam, Kristin and Kieran, Kieran, and Kenan; Aunt Paula, Uncle Tony, Will, Emmy and Shane; Uncle Paul, Aunt Leigh, Jen, Paul, and Julia.

Huge thanks to my dauntless agent, Whitney Lee, whose energy knows no bounds and whose begging for the next chapter helped keep me going. To the wonderful team at Simon and Schuster, especially my editor Lauren McKenna and my publicist Hillary Schupf, who are not only razor-sharp but lots of fun. This book could not have had a more insightful group of advance readers: my mother, Dolores Juska; my fabulous writing students, Jenn, Matt, and Brendan; and my fellow writers and dear friends Diana Kash, Clark Knowles, and Kerry Reilly, capable of whipping up profound feedback on command and always pushing me to reach further and write harder.

Book One

chapter one

creak. A shift. The pressure of a footstep on the living-room floor. But if it were a footstep, wouldn't there be more than one? Wouldn't the creak be followed by another? Many others? Unless an intruder just happened to strike the single weak spot in the floorboards—Charlotte doesn't know yet if there is such a spot—and is, at this moment, creeping undetected toward her bedroom door.

But wait. If there's an intruder, he must have broken in. A break-in would cause more commotion than a single creak. A window shattering, a door kicked in. Charlotte would have heard him. All she heard was a creak, a shift, just the sound of a—what had her mother called it when she was a child?—“a house settling into itself.”

Then again, what if the creak had been the sound of the door opening? Unlocked by a skinny MasterCard? A toothpick? Bobby pin? Charlotte can picture the sliding door in her new living room, the meager pane of glass separating her from the outside world. It wouldn't be too loud, the sound of that door sliding open. The intruder could have broken the lock, nudged
the door an inch or two, and slipped inside. Which would mean he's in her living room this minute. He's easing his feet across the plush beige carpet that came with her new condo and that she doesn't like—not because it's beige, Emily's always teasing her about her wardrobe “the color of pantyhose”—but because a rug that thick could easily swallow the footsteps of a man as he made his way toward her room.

Charlotte snaps on the bedside lamp. The room is assaulted with pasty white light. She swings her legs over the side of the bed, steps into her slippers, walks down the short hall to the living room, the kitchen, throwing on lights as she goes, her white eyelet nightgown billowing behind her. She hums a little, an efficient hum. See? Nothing wrong. Everything intact. The yellow refrigerator with the “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” magnet she received in the mail from Millville County Electric. The coffee table strewn—well, not strewn exactly, but piled—with
Prevention, People,
the latest
TV Guide,
Martin Sheen's face gazing sincerely from the cover. On the mantel, Emily framed and smiling at ages four, ten, fifteen, twenty-two.

Just think, Charlotte reminds herself, in less than twenty-four hours Emily will be sprawled on this very couch. Emily will be regaling her with stories of the great book she's reading, the students she's teaching, the foods and philosophies she's discovered since the last time they talked. Emily holds passionate opinions about everything. Charlotte smiles, imagining the way her daughter will flip critically past the celebrities in
tongue ring clicking between her teeth.

She realizes then that there can be no intruder tonight. It would be impossible, someone breaking in the night before Emily arrived.

In the kitchen, Charlotte retrieves a glass and slides it under
the icemaker. She never had an icemaker in the house on Dunleavy Street and likes its efficiency, its dependability, the endless supply of cubes shaped like smooth half-moons. She pours herself water from her Brita (as if water had been her objective all along), then strides back toward the bedroom, nightgown swishing by her heels. She misses having two floors, misses the feeling that the space for sleeping is separate from that for being awake. But the condo is more compact, she reasons: life minimized, simplified. Condensed. Lately, Charlotte can't help but feel that she is en route to old age. That she has entered life's downward spiral, when accumulating begins to seem, well, just not practical anymore.

In the foyer, she double-checks the front door. There are three locks: the standard doorknob, the attractive (but basically useless) linked chain, and the deadbolt she had specially requested. After tugging on the door a few times, satisfied it isn't budging, she makes her final stop: the bathroom. It has an unfortunate underwater theme: fluffy toilet seat cover an algae green, tiled walls swimming with flat blue fish. At night, the fish look vaguely menacing; they don't appear to have pupils. Charlotte keeps her eyes on the floor, avoiding the fishes' blank stares. She is careful not to flush so she doesn't wake her upstairs neighbor—B. Morgan, according to the Victoria's Secret catalogs that bulge from her mailbox for days at a time. Not that B. cares about waking Charlotte. Her first few nights in the condo, Charlotte woke in a panic to the sounds of laughter and footsteps ricocheting in the stairwell. Then, the churn of bedsprings: a grating squeak that reminded her of a dentist's instrument. She imagined B. and her male friend in all sorts of contorted sexual positions. With all that noise, she'd never hear someone breaking in. Sleep was out of the question until it was over.

Marching back to her bedroom, Charlotte is annoyed with herself for letting fear get the better of her. Now it will take forever to get back to sleep. She stops and considers the gadget Emily sent sitting by the foot of her bed. The Dream Machine, it's called. It looks like a miniature white humidifier, a huge Excedrin tablet. When Charlotte moved into the condo, two months ago, she mentioned to Emily that she was having trouble sleeping. The Dream Machine had arrived in the mail two days later, addressed:
It simulates all kinds of apparently comforting noises: ocean waves, nighttime forest, tropical rain.

Not that Charlotte hadn't had trouble sleeping before. She can't remember the last time she slept through the night. But here in the condo, her worries and fantasies have intensified. For the past twenty-four years, the house on Dunleavy Street was all she'd ever known. She moved there when she and Joe got married and stayed on when he left. It had been a simple decision, staying. She liked the neighbors, the mailman, the supermarket, the teachers at Emily's elementary school. Plus it was important for Emily to have that kind of stability, a home to come home to, especially as a child of divorce. She hadn't stayed (as her book group speculated) because she was clinging to memories of Joe. (It bothered her how the group felt it necessary to find symbolism in everything, as if to constantly prove themselves good readers.) Charlotte had missed Joe a lot, then a little, then only now and then. His absence felt natural, somehow. Even when Charlotte played house as a child, it was the make-believe sons and daughters who were well defined, while the make-believe husband was vague, absent, away at the office or cloistered in his study with the
New York Times.
In a way, being alone and raising a child, manless, was how she'd always imagined her life would be.

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