by Michelle Cheever

I can’t sleep without you here. I’ve never told you that.

So when the ceiling started slipping down the walls and you couldn’t stand being in the house, especially at night, neither of us was happy.

At first the slightly lower ceiling wasn’t so bad—we just felt taller. A few inches later you became restless, speeding through the halls, playing the television too loud or sitting on the dryer during spin cycle instead of in your favorite chair.

Please, sweetheart, come to bed. It’s late, I’d say as you paced so fast that your socks made electric sparks on the carpet.

I’m just going for a quick walk around the block. This house is driving me crazy, you’d say. So I’d wait by the window, looking for you in the moonlight. As soon as I saw you coming up the street, I’d crawl into bed and pretend to be asleep until you wrapped your arms around me beneath the blankets.

One day I noticed the house was slightly darker. The ceiling had sunk down to cover the top half of the window. I told you and we looked at it together.

Well, fuck! What are we going to do? you asked. I said I didn’t know. There was no one we could call to raise the ceilings, and who knows how much that would cost, even if there was a specialist. I told you we would have to live with slightly less light and just see what happens.

Actually, I was okay with the ceiling falling a bit. The house was a little warmer and cozier. I learned how to knit and made us matching sweaters. I cut bruises from apples and made pies. I snuggled myself into a ball on the couch and felt wonderfully tiny. Maybe you knew that I once wanted to be small enough to fit inside your pocket, next to your keys and your worn-out sticks of gum. But it didn’t matter. The ceiling was falling and that made you angry.

Soon I’ll have to stoop down just to walk around! you shouted.

Darling, calm down and curl into a ball with me. It’s delightful!

But you refused and decided to go for yet another walk. You tried to open the door but couldn’t. It smacked right into the ceiling. I’ve never seen you so angry. It took days to clean up all the things you threw around, and by that time we were both stooping down to avoid hitting our heads.

You said you couldn’t live like this anymore and got your red toolbox from under the bed.

Please be rational! I said. Don’t ruin this for me! I’m happy here. I’m happy like this.

Of course you didn’t listen. You punched a hole through the living room ceiling with a hammer. Then another, then another. Plaster fluttered down into your hair and matted your eyelashes, turning them white. With each blow of your hammer our house filled with awful noises. You cracked away the sheet rock like it was a rotten tooth and tore at the metal pipes until they burst and streamed out dirty water.

I watched the hole grow in the ceiling, cried and pulled at your hands but you pushed me away. It was late so I tried to sleep but couldn’t, either because of the hammer pounding or because you weren’t there.

The next morning when I went into the living room you were just finishing up. You had gone through the roof, gnarled shingles were everywhere, along with plaster and piping, and I could see a circle of blue sky.

Ready to go? you asked. I looked up and shook my head.

Are you kidding me? Let’s go. I shook my head again and began to cry. The sky looked big enough to swallow me. You have to leave here! If you don’t the ceiling will crush you.

But I wouldn’t move. I couldn’t. So you climbed out of the hole and away from where we lived. You left me sleepless, with a hole in my living room, my ceiling sinking down, and me pulling myself along the floor, a nightcrawler.


Michelle Cheever once won Seventeen Magazine’s Fiction Contest, just like Lorrie Moore! Except, Cheever got second place, and Moore won first. The year the contests occurred were different as well.
%d bloggers like this: