Aphelion Issue 219, Volume 21
July 2017
 
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Your Sleep Is My Sleep

by Dimitrije Medenica




Professor Phil sat in his fourth-floor apartment he rented at the famed Apthorp building, editing student papers under the bright arm of an architect’s table lamp. He yawned and took a sip of coffee. Pulling his antique silver pocket watch from his pants, he sighed as the chain jingled against the mahogany table legs: three o'clock on Monday morning and he still had twenty term papers to grade before the week's end. Phil was past retirement, but he loved teaching. He had been sleeping four to five hours each night for a fortnight, and he felt the sagging weight of his rosy under-eye bags. Coffee helped, but not for long. He had tried to brew the strong Turkish coffee, yet he could not become used to its taste. He was particular and favored highly-caffeinated espresso from his beloved machine.

Phil closed his folder and slipped it into his discolored, leather briefcase, a wedding anniversary gift from his deceased wife of four decades. Five years earlier, she had suffered a massive heart attack while sleeping. Ever since, Phil had buried himself in architectural history books and passionately taught the subject at Columbia University. Phil lived with his cat in the 1,300 square foot, rent-controlled unit he and his wife had rented decades ago. As architects, both had marveled at the grand, inner courtyard and the barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling of the building entrance. Everything about the apartment building had reminded them of Italian palaces in Rome: the massive iron gates, the interior courtyard, the vaulted entrance, and the use of architectural order. They were mesmerized by the detailed plaster decorations that varied with each unit. They searched for a unit, and when it had become available, they had jumped on the opportunity. Phil and his wife never renovated the unit as it was a rental, except for occasional painting. They had been intellectuals and though they never had done much repair, they had never abused the unit either. A scratched, wooden, zigzag floor linked the bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. Every time Phil looked up from his books, he felt a pervading sadness about the once-lively bird nest.

Over the years, the Apthorp had become the home of celebrities such as Cindy Lauper and Al Pacino, but the couple always found friendly faces who had lived in the units long before they had moved in. Many of the new tenants who did not benefit from rent control complained against the management company, but Phil had never had any problems and the superintendent stood ready to help him anytime. When his wife was alive, Phil and she would often visit neighbors for coffee over discussions on architecture, history, and politics. He had even participated in a lawsuit against 390 West End, the owners of the Apthorp, when they had threatened to use the "luxury decontrol law" to raise rents on some rent-controlled tenants. Phil's side had prevailed, but after the death of his beloved wife, Phil had withdrawn into his teaching. Neighbors talked less with him, though they always greeted him lovingly. Then some of his oldest neighbors died and newcomers bought into the condo market. It had been a sudden conversion, and the lefty Apthorp began clashing with their new, glamorous residents. Phil often strolled through the grand courtyard and heard construction workers cussing, new tenants arguing with elderly property caretakers, in addition to the familiar ranting of the old occupants. Only in his work did he find solace. Only in his teaching did he feel the timelessness of architecture.

With rent control and a tenure at a prestigious architecture school, he had no worries other than a lack of time for all his teaching aspirations. He loved teaching architectural history, but he constantly complained to his colleagues that his productivity had declined in his old age. His zeal to impart respect for the built environment kept him from dwelling on an oppressing loneliness. His knees pained him, as did his back. He feared death would take him before he had a chance to leave a legacy.

"Let's have another espresso." He wobbled to the kitchen, leaning on his tall dining chairs, and poured espresso into his cup. Slurping, Phil savored the warmth in his quasi-toothless mouth. He picked up the New York Times, sank into his plush leather couch, and watched a page fall out. "Damn it!" He bent to grab the page and he felt stabbing pains in both knees. They cracked and he cursed, but an ad caught his attention on the page he held. He read out-loud: "Do you need more time? Do you feel as though you can never get enough done? Think no more and call Dr. Fudenberg, your sleep doctor!"

"Really?" Phil said. "Really, who wouldn't need more time?" He deciphered the ad letters through his glasses at the tip of his nose. Then he scratched his thinly covered scalp that irritated him, because it reminded him that he sported the typical gray side hair tufts of a mad professor! "Call 45.7.46.78899.3.3423.000.87 now and never worry again!" Phil read. A strange phone number. "Never heard of this. Who's he kidding? We all need extra time!" He looked at his watch and thought about the student papers.

"Let's just call for kicks and giggles." He took his rotary phone, placed it on his lap, and dialed. He may have been old, but his spirit was not, and he felt a certain curiosity grow.

"Dr. Fudenberg's Sleep Solution. May I help you?" A lullaby voice answered.

"Yes," Phil was surprised the number worked. "Is this a New York City number?"

"This is local and we are in the Empire State Building. Ask for Dr. Fudenberg, the sleep specialist when you come downstairs. Everyone knows us here!"

"Is this some kind of joke?"

"No, sir. We wouldn't put an ad in the New York Times to make a joke. Why would you even think that?" The voice still had a lullaby tone.

"Is Dr. Fudenberg real? I need someone to help me manage my time. Maybe I'm just worried I won't have time to finish it all," Phil said. For some reason he liked the motherly voice on the phone. It spoke of youth.

"Of course, Dr. Fudenberg is real. His degrees are numerous as you will see when you come, and his experience spans decades. Why don't you come and see for yourself?"

“Well, do I need an appointment?” Phil asked. "But what does he do, exactly? I mean, does he dispense medicine, give counseling, or something else?"

“The answer to your first question is yes, but for a first visit we are flexible: our hours are two to three in the afternoon, every day of the week, except on weekends. For your second question, the answer is he sleeps.”

"What?"

"Oh! Please sir. I'm not making fun of you, I'm just saying he sleeps so you have more time and energy."

“I see. You don’t have any other hours?”

“No, sir. Dr. Fudenberg must spend the rest of his time sleeping. Would you like to make an appointment for today?”

“Yes, yes!” His curiosity piqued, Phil felt that he had nothing to lose. Maybe, just maybe, this doctor could improve his sleep and his productivity.


* * *

After returning some term papers, he promised to finish the others on time. As usual, his lecture on American architects, punctuated by his humorously reenacted classic tales of Frank Lloyd Wright’s leaky roofs, endeared him to his students. He buttoned his beige raincoat, opened his wide umbrella, and shivered as he stepped into his first puddle off the steps of Avery Hall, Columbia’s famous architecture school. He took the subway just in time to make the appointment. Once in the golden lobby of the Empire State Building, he wobbled to the front desk with his cane, holding his umbrella and bag. "I'm coming to see Dr. Fudenberg, the sleep doctor," Phil said, catching his breath. Did this doctor even exist?

"Sure, he's on the 12th floor, one and a half doors to your right. You'll see, you can't miss him." With a grin, the doorman pointed to the elevators, beyond the security tables. When the doors opened onto the twelfth floor, Phil confirmed that the doorman had been correct: A door with number 1216.5 stood to his right. He walked down the corridor and stopped where the light was dimmest. One lightbulb was out just in front of Dr. Fudenberg's dark mahogany door. It was different than the other office doors because it looked like a narrow closet door.

“Dr. Fudenberg, Sleep Specialist," Phil read and turned the knob, but saw nobody as he squeezed sideways through the narrow opening. He decided to sit in the candle-lit waiting room and wait for someone to notice him. To his right stood the secretarial desk, a large antique wooden desk too big for the small waiting room. It seemed to Phil the desk had survived more than a couple of generations and was perhaps a family heirloom. Behind hung various diplomas, awards, and portraits of Dr. Fudenberg standing with various personalities. Some included former presidents, and on closer inspection, it seemed to Phil that some portraits had been doctored as when Dr. Fudenberg stood next to President Lincoln. The same seemed true about some of his diplomas that included a Harvard Medical School Diploma from 1895. Even if Dr. Fudenberg had been a student then, that would have made him at least a hundred years old. Phil looked at the other walls. Dreamy Victorian landscapes formed a tapestry background in front of several sculptures. He wobbled to a stunning marble life-like statue of the Madonna. It stood about four feet tall, and it bore a striking resemblance to Michelangelo's Madonna in the Vatican Museums. Phil pulled his reading glasses out of his coat pocket and read the inscription on the marble base: "To my friend and savior, the honorable Dr. Fudenberg, from his most thankful patient Michelangelo Buonarotti, June 1511."

Phil laughed. "I've gotten myself a quack!"

The only door opposite the entrance opened.

"Hello, hello, please come in. I expected you Professor Kaltwasser," said a long-bearded hunchback. "Glad to see you are amused by my art collection. It's a few of my patients who thought I saved them from disaster. Particularly Mr. Buonarotti who ran into some problems sleeping while painting the Sistine Chapel.

"I appreciate your sense of humor, Doctor!" Phil said, stunned by the sudden entry of the doctor.

Dr. Fudenberg waved his cane to invite Phil into his office. Next to this doctor, Phil looked as a young man in his prime. Maybe I made a mistake, Phil thought. He could not take his eyes off the enormous lump on the doctor’s back. "Why do you have these fakes in the waiting room and all these diplomas..."

"They're not fakes. They were gifts from my patients. And the diplomas, well, I earned them. Wouldn't you display your qualifications? People have to trust you, or your work's in vain." Dr. Fudenberg said without a hint of irony.

"Doctor, if I may call you so--Doctor, you are a good joker," Phil said. "But really, what do you do? With all due respect, you must be way past your retirement age."

“Ah, yes. You see, professor, I'm a very old man! I sleep, so I don’t move a lot. It leads to a very stiff lifestyle." Dr. Fudenberg sat on a large plush couch and smiled, noticing Phil’s discomfort. He did not invite Phil to sit.

“They say you're a sleep specialist, but everything I see here makes me think you're not. Phil stood, leaning on his cane in the windowless room. He strained his eyes to see the doctor among ruffled bedsheets and pillows on the couch. "I need some convincing, Dr. Fudenberg." His knees stabbed him. "I realize that's silly. I shouldn't be here to question you, but..."

"Not at all, Professor Kaltwasser! Your request is not strange at all," Dr. Fudenberg twirled his long gray beard around his index finger. "You see, what I do is quite simple: I sleep, so you don't have to sleep."

Phil slowly repeated the doctor’s words in a whisper. "And it works? You expect me to believe this?"

"Of course. You get a free trial for one night, and then you can setup regular payments through PayPal. No signing needed and my email is: DrFudenberg@YourSleepIsMySleep.slp. So, what do you say?" He asked while pulling blankets over himself.

"Are you going to sleep?" Phil asked, pinching himself. It hurt.

"Yes, I have many patients and I need to go to sleep so they don't have to."

"Ok, I'm a professor, so a bit of logic would help. Are you trying to make me feel better by trying not to tell me I need medicine? Is this some psychological test?" Phil was becoming annoyed. This charlatan was wasting his time!

"It's really simple. I don't want to waste your time and you shouldn't waste mine. If you believe this is some trick, then by all means the door is there." Dr. Fudenberg frowned and pointed to the door with his cane.

"No, no! I mean..." Phil was taken by surprise. "I just don't understand what it is you do--How can you help me?"

Dr. Fudenberg took a long look at the skeptic. "Come closer and give me your hand."

The doctor took Phil's free hand into both of his. Phil felt the warmth of the old hands. He had not expected the doctor's hands to feel so warm. The doctor turned Phil's palm up and followed the wrinkled life line with his index finger. Then he poked Phil's palm near his wrist.

"Ouch! What do you think you're doing?" Phil tried to pull away, but the doctor did not let go.

"Hold still!" He pressed his index finger deeper into the palm. "How are your knees, Phil?"

Phil felt a surge of energy run through his legs and the pinch in his knees lessened. "I... I don't feel the pain very much--the pain very..." Phil looked at the doctor. "How'd you do that?"

"Quite simple, really. Everyone has sensitive points in their hands and feet. Each corresponds to a part of our body. I pressed your point and relieved some pain in your knees. I also took what I needed from you to help you sleep. What hurts your knees is energy that needs to be redirected toward your time usage." Dr. Fudenberg smiled, yawned, and released Phil's hand. A speechless Phil took a step back without leaning on his cane. "You see, you didn't even use your cane!"

"Amazing, truly amazing!" said Phil. He came back to the doctor and sat on the couch's armrest.

"Please don't sit on my couch. You wouldn't want anyone to sit on your bed, would you?" the doctor said, a little irritated.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to..." Phil stood without using his cane.

"Well? Are you interested or not? Hurry up! My sleep is coming." Dr. Fudenberg lowered his eyelids.

Phil bent and stretched his legs without pain. He had not felt that way for ages. "Ok! I'll try it. But how do you know what I came here for?"

"I don't need to know; do what you want with your time. Your trial starts tonight. Coffee and sleep are not needed. Tomorrow morning you will feel younger. If you have any questions, here is my card." The doctor pulled a flimsy gray card from somewhere under his beard.

"But you'll be asleep?"

"Yes. However, my secretary Bella will answer the phone. She just stepped out to get me a new pajama! Have a productive night and don't forget to close the door behind you." Dr. Fudenberg blew the candle. Night lights showed Phil the way out. "Oh! Remember to setup recurring payments after tonight if you're satisfied!"


* * *

Phil rode the bus to the Upper West Side, greeted his doorman, and took the elevator. That night, he did not sleep, he finished editing all the term papers, and did not feel tired. The next morning, he gave one of his best lectures, ate ravenously with a few students, even forgot his cane in his school office, and flirted with a few retired teachers seeking advice. He felt younger. On returning home, Phil setup the recurring payments through his PayPal account and did not sleep for a week.

"What have you done? How is this possible?" his colleagues began asking. "You've got the energy of a young man and we can't figure it out. Tell us what you did, so we can be what we once were!" They begged. However, Phil preferred to keep his secret. After all, it would be very difficult to explain, he thought.

Following a month of no sleep, Phil still had the energy of a healthy younger man. He had never been as productive, and he started dating a colleague thirty years younger. Her name was Marlene. She taught architecture design for first year students and was a registered architect, although her firm was not doing very well. He had not felt attracted to anyone since his wife died. Although in her fifties, she looked at least a decade younger and Phil loved her vivaciousness when in class. What she lacked in height she made up in her toned silhouette. She had never spoken to Phil other than as to a mentor, and he had never thought he would feel something stir in him as he had for his wife.

Marlene and Phil sat on the same jury for a design project and, as usual, they tossed comments back and forth, hoping to improve the students' design. Sometimes, Phil was known for his harsh comments, and ever since he had started regularly paying Dr. Fudenberg, he had become a harsher critic. He now had the energy of a middle-aged man and he looked no older than Marlene. It was a stunning reversal to the image his students and the faculty had of him, and it often intimidated them. "Peter, your project needs some work! You say you based your design on the shape of an egg. That's all fine and dandy, but you must go all the way, then!"

The student fidgeted and wiped his forehead. He looked tired and had probably not slept the previous night. "Phil, I don't believe it's so bad. It just needs some tightening in the periphery. Peter, perhaps you could make the rooms on the sides a bit smaller?" She smiled, nudging Phil's shoulder.

Phil looked at Marlene and smiled. "Ok, Peter. Ms. Wallace seems to think I'm a bit harsh. She may be right. I do believe your project has potential, but you need to remove the second floor. It doesn't work for you and it looks awful!" The student remained quiet. Phil's reputation as a tough critic had earned him the respect of colleagues and students, but his recent bout of energy had taken a turn to the extreme. Marlene liked the new Phil. She asked him for a coffee at Cafe Lalo. Just like two youths, the professors began a secret relationship. Marlene often sneaked into Phil's building at night, and they spent sleepless nights working on lectures, in-between amorous escapades. He often watched her sleep and she did not know that he never slept. She was a well-known professor, after all, and she would not have believed him. He would not have believed the doctor either, had it not been for the way he had lifted his knee pain in the office.

With youth, came impetuousness. Although Phil was wiser than the Phil of thirty years earlier, his hormones sometimes took over and drove him to take risks. Those included spending money on his mistress at "Chic" stores. He also became interested in electronic gadgets such as the iPad, iPhone, and laptops. On his sleepless nights, when he needed breaks, he often purchased games. He also joined a gym and setup monthly payments. Phil had no need for sleep, and he needed no rest between exercises. He lifted weights and often ran on the treadmill till the gym closed at midnight. Then he often exercised with weights in his apartment, when he was not otherwise occupied with his beloved, or reading for his lectures.

His students envied his energy and felt embarrassed when their girlfriends commented on their professor's good looks. His mimicking of various personalities in the architecture world doubled the waiting list for his lectures. Not only did he feel younger, but his hair started growing and darkening, while his back started straightening. As to his knees, he forgot he had any. The cane was an instrument of a distant past.

Phil began enjoying a new nightlife in the city’s cafe’s. People reported seeing a jubilant middle-aged gentleman in his fifties enjoying the company of his girlfriend at Cafe Lalo on the Upper West Side. Though he never slept and almost always worked on his lectures, he still loved cappuccinos and espressos. He kept a running tab at Cafe Lalo, and even at bars in Time Square. Marlene and he often went to Broadway shows. Though his salary covered his low rent and living expenses, his recent spending habits began to affect his retirement savings. Marlene began to worry, because she wanted to marry Phil. She felt they both needed to sit down and think about their retirement.

"Phil, honey," Marlene said. She took his face in her palms and stared into his eyes. "We need to think of our future. I don't need you to spend so much money on me. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

"Marlene, I love you too. But I can't think of a future now. I feel so much energy and--"

Marlene smiled. "I know Phil, I can feel it too! But it won't last forever, this energy of yours. I don't know where it came from, but you must be careful in your old age."

Phil gently moved her hands away and walked to the window. With his back turned to Marlene, he said: "It may never go away."

"What may never go away?"

"My energy, I mean--I mean, I think I will be young forever." There it was. He had said it and Marlene sighed. A tear rolled to her lips. It tasted salty. Phil brought her a tissue and wrapped his arms around her. "I don't know how to explain."

"You don't have to, dear. I understand. You are tired of me and can't settle down. I'm getting older and less attractive to you." She walked to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Phil felt sorry, but he could not promise a marriage and retirement to Marlene, because he knew he would stay young and she would not. Besides, he did not want to retire.

Marlene came out of the bathroom, her eyes red, but she was composed. "Phil, I am going to Italy for a couple weeks with my students. I'm going to Florence to the Biennale Art Exhibition. Maybe you can think about us a bit while I'm gone. And if you don't want to be with me, don't worry, I can handle it." She began crying again and ran to the front door before he could catch up to her.

"Marlene! Marlene! Wait..." She grabbed the elevator and left. Leaning on the open apartment door, Phil felt confused by his encroaching youth. He did not want to think of what would happen when Marlene retired. Would he still be attracted to her? Would he be drawn to younger women? It was not his style, but he felt his hormones taking over.


* * *

A terrible storm hit New York City, and though Phil did not lose electricity, he lost his cable connection. Without a cable connection, no TV and no 3G cellular reception, only his rotary phone worked. It was close to ten in the evening. He decided to read a book and not worry about his cable connection. At least, he still had electricity! But in the morning, feeling a bit tired, Phil decided to call his cable company and ask about his building block.

"Sir, we don't expect to be at your block for another couple of days, maybe three. This storm has really disabled our infrastructure, but we are doing everything we can to restore service," a well-rehearsed female voice said.

"You don't understand! I have to check my PayPal account, and…"

"So do many others, sir. As I said, we are doing our best. Our customers are our priority!" Phil hung up. He felt tired and he took an aspirin for the first time in several months. What was happening? He donned his long rain coat, took his briefcase, and yawned all the way to his lecture.

He found himself missing his cane, as his knees buckled. "I'm sorry!" He leant on a passing student in the circular stairwell of Avery Hall.

"Professor Kaltwasser, are you ok?" The young woman grabbed Phil's arm, but could not keep him standing. They both sat on the steps and a crowd of students formed in the narrow stairwell. "Don't worry, we'll help you downstairs. You should've taken the elevator!"

"No! I'm fine. I don't need the elevator, but thank you. I'll be good now. You can go," he said, trying to stand without help. But the crowd of adoring students rushed to hold him.

"Thank you, but I'm really ok. I'll go downstairs now." Phil meant to step forward, but the sharp pain in his knees made him feel as if someone was twisting a knife. "Ouch!" He fell into the arms of another student. Embarrassed, he let his students guide him downstairs and sit him on the bench by the elevator. Maggie, an elderly librarian, limped to the bench and sat by Phil, her cane between the legs. She rested both hands on the cane and arched her bushy white eyebrows.

"Phil, you don't look so good. What's going on?" Maggie blew a strand of long white hair that laid on her nose. She sneezed and pulled a handkerchief.

"I--I don't know. Nothing, really--"

"Come on, I know you better than this. Here, take my cane. I'll be ok." Maggie handed him her cane and he took it.

"Maybe its a passing headache. Maybe I will go home and borrow your cane. Are you sure you don't need it?" Phil wiped a sweaty brow and sighed.

"You can take it, Phil. I've got another in my office. I'm sure one of the students will be kind enough to bring it to me. I heard you've been around town! Got to watch out for those old bones. Get some rest!" Maggie nudged Phil and he stood, leaning on the cane. The crowd opened silently.

"I think I will," Phil said. He wobbled through the open door and rode the number One Subway Train home, exited at 79th street and Broadway, and once upstairs, he sat puffing on his bed.

The phone rang.

"Hello?" Phil took a deep slow breath.

"Hello sir. May I please speak with Mr. Kaltwasser? This is Citibank,” a stern voice asked.

“This is he.”

“In that case, may I ask what your birth date is?”

“Sure. I was born on December 6th, 1924.” Phil took a difficult breath.

“And the last four digits of your social security, please?”

“6789, if I remember correctly!”

“It is correct Mr. Kaltwasser. This is a courtesy call to let you know we have stopped your automatic payments to a certain Dr. Fudenberg, because you ran past your overdraft protection limit."

"You what?" Phil felt a trickle of sweat run down his neck. He hung up and shuffled through his wallet to find Dr. Fudenberg's business card. He always carried it and he turned the rotary wheel of his antique phone. Two dial tones greeted him, then another, and then another. Phil began sweating profusely.

"You have reached Dr. Fudenberg's office. He will be on vacation until January 2nd. If this is an emergency, please dial 911, otherwise leave a message. Thank you and we wish you Happy Holidays!" Phil dropped the phone and yawned.

A terrible weakness assailed him. He felt more tired than he had ever felt. His thoughts turning blank, he lay on his back in his comfortable plush bed and pulled the covers. Cold fingers of dread began prodding his heart. He looked at the business card and noticed a little arrow pointing to the back. Flipping the card, he read: "Once recurring payments are stopped, there will be a warning email, and then Dr. Fudenberg will stop sleeping for you. When this happens, you will need to sleep all the hours you have not slept. Please be mindful of your finances and budget your time accordingly!"

Phil closed his eyes, his cat curled up by his feet, and he drifted into a blissful sleep from which he never awoke.


THE END


2013 Dimitrije Medenica

Bio: Mr. Medenica is a native of Geneva, Switzerland, and lives in Jersey City with his wife and two daughters.  He is a graduate of Columbia University's School of Architecture, a content developer, and a French translator. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel series (www.thegoodhealer.com).

E-mail: Dimitrije Medenica

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