This short story was originally published by the literary magazine ‘Gold Dust’ in 2007.
‘The Silent Snore’
It started the way it always started: with the twitching.
One moment she was fast asleep, curled comfortably around herself, snuggled and warm, and the next a stab of adrenaline shot through her body, jolting her awake.
Damn it all! Here we go again.
Resignedly she rolled onto her back and peered at the bedside clock. The flecks of luminous paint clinging doggedly to the rusting hands told her it was two-thirty in the morning. She gave a despairing sigh. Two-thirty! Only three hours sleep and if she was any judge, it would be the last she got this night.
She lay staring at the shadowy ceiling where the sickly glow from the street-lamp filtered through the dirty windows and threadbare curtains to pick out flakes of loosening plaster over her head. She knew their patterns well. Even in the gloom she could see the patch that resembled a cat. And over in the corner by the door was the damp stain, spreading its fuzzy arms down the peeling wallpaper like an uprooted tree. They were familiar, these outlines, old friends, for she had stared at them many times before.
The twitching continued, sending irritating and arrhythmic shudders through the bed. Not large ones; just enough to keep her awake. What was he dreaming of this time? She hoped it wouldn’t turn into a nightmare; it wasn’t unheard-of for him to kick her out of bed in the throes of a nightmare and she still had the bruises to prove it. For the thousandth time she considered giving him a dig in the ribs; for the thousandth time she let it drop. It was a total waste of time. For one thing, his ribs hadn’t been seen for years, hidden as they were beneath rolls of blubber, and for another, he was dead to the world.
How did he manage to sleep through the racket he made? Could obesity affect the hearing? A mental image of eardrums clogged with fat swam before her eyes. Hurriedly she banished the picture; things were going to get unpleasant enough as it was, she could do without such graphic images.
As if summoned by her dread, the next phase began. Another violent twitch sent ripples through the lumpy mattress. There was a muttering of sounds, mercifully unintelligible, and a creaking shift of the vast bulk. It was always the same and she didn’t stand a chance. Tears blurred the darkness as she futilely clenched her fists.
There was a brief spell of quiet; there always was. Despite her past experience, despite knowing the score, she couldn’t suppress that flare of hope or silence the treacherous little voice that whispered in her ear:
Perhaps this time it’ll be different - perhaps this time it won’t happen.
But she knew better. She really did know better. And when she heard it, as she knew she would, she cursed herself for the disappointment. It was torture and she was doing it to herself.
At first it was only a tiny snore. Like a bubble popping, or a baby gurgling. Had it stayed like that, she could have coped. A pillow over her head would have solved the problem and she could have gone back to sleep. Only it didn’t stay like that.
Once it had. Once, not so long ago, he had been a silent sleeper, peaceful and still, a joy to lie next to. Warm and comforting; protective. She almost smiled in the darkness, watching her memories. Her eyes began to close; her senses began to drift ...
And the hulking presence beside her vented a tumultuous snore. It came blasting from his juddering lips like whale-breath breaking the surface of the sea. It vibrated against her ears and grated down her nerves. Her skin prickled with shock and she sucked in a breath, wishing with all her heart that something would make it stop. But she knew this was only the beginning; she knew it would never stop.
The bed shook with vibration. She could almost see the rolls of fat shuddering with it, even in the darkness. She stuffed her fingers in her ears, even though she knew it did no good. Another snore ripped the night and she took her hands away. What was the use? She lay flat on her back and stared up at the ceiling, resigned to yet another sleepless night.
Just when had he grown so obese? When had the burgers and pizzas taken him over so completely that he couldn’t live without them? She cursed the day they’d moved into this poky little one-bedroom flat over the shopping parade. Oh, it had seemed so convenient at first. How they’d congratulated themselves on their find! It was hard enough getting on the property ladder in this town, let alone finding a place with so many shops so close by. No matter that it was run-down and damp. They didn’t mind the fact that they couldn’t afford to decorate, couldn’t buy furniture or new curtains. They’d got by on hand-outs and cast-offs from friends.
Back when they’d had friends. Back when they’d still socialised. Back before the take-aways had taken away their lives.
An earthquake shook the bed, thunder assailed her ears. There would be dribble on his chin now, she knew without having to look.
The fast food had taken over his life, really, not hers. She didn’t really care for it, but she hadn’t been given a choice. ‘It’s cheaper,’ he’d said, ‘it means we don’t need a car. Who wants to drive to the supermarket? We have everything we need on our doorstep.’
And they had. The parade had everything. A Chinese. A fish and chip shop. An Indian. A sandwich bar. A pizza delivery shop, and yes, even though it was less than a hundred yards away, he even got them to bring his order up the back stairs. Mind you, he was so fat now that he could hardly get himself back up the stairs on the rare occasions he made the effort to go out.
The huge, wet snores bubbled from his lips. She clenched her teeth. It revolted her, that slobbering sound. She was growing desperate. If only she could get away from it, if only she could sleep! But even if she went into the little sitting-room she’d still be able to hear it. The thin walls of the dingy flat were no barrier to those explosive, rancid breaths.
She turned her head and pinched her nose, cursing the take-aways. It was bad enough during the afternoon and evening, smelling the acrid, spicy aromas that wafted up through the creaking floorboards and wove themselves into the faded curtains, without having them thrust upon her second-hand via the medium of his triple-chinned throat.
He had been her husband for four years. Robert, who had once been, if not slim, then at least sensibly-proportioned. Bob, whose body, addicted as it was to the rubbish churned out by the burgeoning fast-food outlets, had rapidly become bloated with fat. She was so repelled by his size that she had begun thinking of him as ‘Blob’. If she wasn’t very careful she’d let it slip one day, call him that to his face. She dreaded to think what might happen then; he had such meaty fists. She consoled herself with the knowledge that such an unwieldy lump of lard would never be able to move fast enough to catch her.
The bed quivered again beneath her, like an earth-tremor. She closed her eyes, squeezed them shut, but nothing could cap that well of noise. The snore rasped in her ears, vibrated along her eardrums and resonated through her skull. Her own sinuses ached with the force of it; God knows what it did to his. Her heart shrivelled and tears pricked at the backs of her eyes; he was really on form tonight.
She turned over yet again, faced away from the slumbering bulk. Knowing it would do no good, yet desperate for some relief, she tugged on a misshapen pillow and moulded it round her head. Beneath its musty lumps she pushed her fingers into her ears, but still the snores vibrated, transmitted by the uneven slats of the bed.
Outside, a siren suddenly sounded, its two-tone note wailing away down the street. She immediately thought it was an ambulance and the sound caused a tug on her heart. What other poor devil was in trouble tonight? Had there been a fight in town? Had someone been injured, or were they ill through drinking too much? Or was it a traffic accident? She didn’t know, but her heart went out to anyone connected to whoever was in the ambulance. She knew how it felt to lose someone close.
Her eyes closed but the memory refused to fade. The bed shuddered as if in sympathy and the bubbling, rasping snores echoed the horrible choking sounds that had woken her the night before. She’d snapped on the light to see that bloated face blue from lack of oxygen, straining as he gasped to breathe, the pouchy eyes terrified and pleading. The thick-lipped mouth working as he’d tried to force out a cry for help. One pudgy hand clasped to his chest, the other clutching at her arm.
She’d run for the ’phone, wishing they could have afforded a mobile. But they struggled to pay the bill as it was, what with every penny going on pizzas and chips.
The paramedics had been quick and efficient. Massive heart-attack, they said, arteries clogged with fat. Their voices were sympathetic but their eyes told a different story. What can you expect, they implied, carrying that amount of fat around? They’d taken him away, leaving her alone, leaving her cursing him, crying for him, wondering what on earth she was going to do now.
But then the wicked little thought had come.
Well, at least you’ll be able to sleep at night.
Once it had started, she couldn’t shut it off. She should have been thinking of him yet there she was, entertaining that treacherous pleasure, looking forward to her first night of unbroken sleep for years. Oh, and it had been so good! So good to lay her head down, to stretch out unrestrained, to gently go to sleep and wake with the light, refreshed and full of energy! And how wonderful to be able to eat what she wanted for breakfast - cereal and toast, not last night’s warmed-over pizza.
How tearful and guilty she’d felt the next day. But all the time there’d been that sly little thought:
Blissful nights of unbroken sleep!
The bed shuddered again, stronger than before. She turned her face to that shadowy bulk as yet another thunderous snore ripped the air. A cold shock ran through her body as she remembered the ’phone call, at two-thirty in the morning, telling her that he’d died. She froze with horror.
The vast bulk shifted and the silent snore engulfed her. Her mouth stretched wide in a despairing scream; she would never be rid of him now.