The Sleep Room

The Sleep Room by F. R. Tallis

Book: The Sleep Room by F. R. Tallis Read Free Book Online
Authors: F. R. Tallis
Tags: Fiction, Horror
Jane’s warmth, her corporeality, the smoothness of her skin, the hard certainty of her bones. The world seemed solid once more – trustworthy, reliable. I abandoned my inner deliberations and went back to sleep.
    On waking, I reached out for Jane but my hand met no resistance. She was gone. I opened my eyes and looked at the face of the alarm clock. It was six thirty and the room was suffused with the grey light of an indifferent dawn. I did not get up, but stretched my limbs and let my head fill with images of our lovemaking. Desire re-awakened and I hoped that it would not be very long before Jane came knocking on my door again. This state of lazy self-indulgence lasted until I remembered the phantom intruder. I had no cause to revise the explanation that I already favoured. Indeed, I was even minded to recall the technical term employed to describe such hallucinations. In textbooks they are commonly designated hypnopompic : from the Greek hypnos , meaning sleep, and pompe , meaning to send away. Still, something was troubling me, something unresolved, like a scruple or a niggling doubt.
    I raised myself up and found my cigarettes. The first drag made me cough. I looked around the room and noticed the pile of books: the pile that had fallen over while Jane and I were kissing in the hallway. Now that I was at leisure to give the disturbance more detailed consideration, I couldn’t help but notice (with some attendant perplexity) the pile’s modest size. This was curious, because I remembered the thud produced by its collapse as having been extremely loud. The floorboards had actually vibrated. I got out of bed, crouched beside the pile and examined it closely. The brittle spines of two older volumes had cracked. It was damage that I had never noticed before. After a few seconds, I pushed the pile over. The books tumbled across the carpet and the noise they made was relatively muted.
    It occurred to me that the method most likely to reproduce the effect of the previous evening would be to collect all the books together again and drop them from a great height. That – and that alone – would be sufficient to send a tremor through the floorboards.
    I sat on the side of the bed, staring at the jumble of books, and when I had finished smoking my cigarette I lit another immediately after.
    Maitland hadn’t got back to me concerning Hilda Wright and I found myself worrying about her. In the end, I decided that I should probably return to Rose Cottage – if only to ensure my own peace of mind. I explained the situation to Sister Jenkins, who was very understanding and who suggested that I might ask Mr Hartley to give me a lift: I could then accomplish the round trip in less than an hour. Hartley was amenable to my request and I was soon standing at Hilda Wright’s bedside conducting another examination. Fortunately, her condition had not deteriorated and I was able to offer some words of comfort to Mrs Baines. I knew, however, that I would be much happier once Hilda Wright was admitted onto the women’s ward and being regularly monitored by nurses.
    The following afternoon I received a phone call from Maitland and he came straight to the point. ‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. The patient you assessed on Saturday – Hilda Wright – she died last night. Must have been the peritonitis.’
    I was shocked: ‘How awful.’
    ‘Yes, a terrible shame.’
    ‘I went back to see her again only yesterday.’
    ‘Did you?’
    ‘Hartley was kind enough to give me a lift. She wasn’t very strong, but all the same . . .’ My sentence trailed off and I listened to the crackling of electricity in the earpiece.
    ‘Well, you never know where you stand with tuberculous peritonitis.’ Maitland’s tone was benign, supportive. ‘I’m sure you did everything you could.’
    When Maitland arrived the next day, he invited me up to his office for tea and crumpets and asked me if I wouldn’t mind going to Hilda Wright’s

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