Cortázar for the Sleepless

I hesitate to call this found fiction, since the phrase implies inadvertency on the part of the author. What follows is a fiction that was definitely written by Dr. Ferber on purpose, one that I think succeeds as an analogy for what it’s like for a baby to fall asleep under certain circumstances and wake up under totally different ones—but it also reads to me like the sketch of a story by Cortázar. (I guess I’m thinking in particular of “House Taken Over.”)

First there’s this:

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of waking during the night just enough to notice your pillow missing. Most likely, instead of going straight back to sleep, you wakened a little more, enough to find the pillow on the floor and pull it back into bed before returning to sleep. But if you couldn’t find it right away, you probably wouldn’t be able to ignore it and go back to sleep. Instead, you’d become more fully awake so you could look around for it. If you still couldn’t find it, eventually you might turn on the light, get out of bed, and begin to search the room. […]

Ferber then goes from this realistic scenario into a more improbable, hypothetical one; “Suppose,” he writes, “that you are unable to get the pillow yourself”—and you need someone else to come and help you get it. Then he keeps elaborating on—and darkening—his analogy:

[S]uppose you discover that someone has been sneaking into your room each night and stealing your pillow. Once you know that, you might have trouble falling asleep at bedtime for fear that the pillow will be taken away as soon as you’re asleep. Whenever you catch yourself starting to drop off to sleep, you might wake yourself up again to make sure the pillow is still there.

Now imagine that this person, instead of just taking your pillow, actually moves you from your bed to another room, without waking you. Every night you go to sleep in your bed with everything just as you like it, only to wake after your first sleep cycle on, say, the floor of the living room. Unless you’re an exceptionally tolerant sleeper, you won’t even try to go back to sleep right there; you’ll get up and head back to your bedroom. But now suppose you find your bedroom door locked from the other side. Now there’s nothing you can do but wake someone who can unlock the door for you. Once that’s been done, you can at last get back into bed and get your pillow and blanket arranged properly, thereby reestablishing the conditions that were present at bedtime. Once you calm down, you will fall back asleep—but some ninety minutes later you’ll wake up again, back on the living room floor and again locked out of your bedroom.

If that happens throughout the night every night, you will not be sleeping at all well, and neither will the person who has to keep getting up to unlock your door. Soon you might be resisting sleep in hopes of identifying the person who keeps moving you; in other words, you might have trouble falling asleep even in your own bed because you know that you’ll be moved once you fall asleep. If that happened to you every night, you would not be very happy.

—pp. 65 – 66, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Richard Ferber, M.D.; from chapter 4, “Sleep Associations: A Key Problem.”

Previous Cortázar-related posts: 1) a quote from his story “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris,” about vomiting rabbits; 2) a quote from his story “End of the World of the End,” about the death of the world by book; and 3) a quote from his Paris Review interview, which gives me hope.

I’m pretty sure that I transcribed that last quote six years ago from one of the Art of Fiction anthologies?—but the whole interview, as is wonderfully the case with all the Paris Review interviews, is now available online.