I whispered, "I hope I can fall asleep," to my husband, who I envy for his ability to fall asleep anywhere and any time. He said, "You have to count sheep."
"I can't count sheep, I get all bogged down in the details of how I'm supposed to imagine them. Are they real sheep? Are they cartoons? Where do they go after they jump?"
"They're cartoon," he said, still facing away from me in little spoon position, so I could see what his finger drew in the air. "They're on a tiny planet, there are only a few of them, they jump once and then they run around the planet to come back to the top and jump again. You count how many times they jump."
"Hmm..." I said, partially relieved. "Okay. That could work. That's cute."
I was imagining something like this:
Husband adjusted his pillow a little bit, probably expecting this to be the end of the sheep discussion. My gears turned in the dark.
"Wait, though," I said. "How do the sheep breathe? Does the planet have an atmosphere?"
I was hoping he would say no, because I was already starting to wonder if the planet had an atmosphere, if that meant it had clouds, and if it had clouds, how far from the planet's surface would they be?
"No," he said, with a surprising amount of confidence. "They have tanks, like space men."
"Oh yeah! I like that. That's so cute. Okay, good."
The bed fell silent again. I was imagining.
"How many?" he asked.
"How many what? Have jumped?"
He nodded into his pillow.
"I haven't started counting yet because I was trying to figure out the mechanics of their oxygen tanks."
He laughed into his pillow. "They have oxygen tanks, like scuba."
"I was thinking, maybe there's some kind of natural oxygen source at the planet's core, and they could be connected to it by tubes, and it would constantly pump air into their helmets. But the tubes would get tangled unless they were designed in a very specific way." I was imagining something like this:
Unfortunately, I continued. "But that doesn't really make sense. And if they have oxygen tanks, like scuba guys, they would eventually run out. I read an article last week about a guy who survived on the ocean floor for a few days after being in a shipwreck, and they said if he hadn't been rescued when he was, he likely would have died. He was just floating in a room of the ship with a few feet of air, and he was running out of oxygen. So if the sheep don't have a recurring oxygen supply, their tanks will eventually fill up with carbon dioxide and they'll basically poison themselves with their own breath."
"The planet must have an atmosphere then," he said.
"Maybe their little head tanks have plants in them. If there's a certain kind of plant that's really good for producing oxygen, it could live inside their helmets and constantly use the sheep carbon dioxide to live, while the sheep uses the plant oxygen to live. And, since they just run and jump the same way over and over, they don't really need to see out of their helmet. It could be a grass that grows inside of the entire helmet, keeping them alive. Symbiosis. A symbiotic space sheep relationship. Like those Finding Nemo fish and those sea anemone that have stinging nematocysts."
I was remembering in fifth grade, when we studied animal classification and taxonomy in Mrs. McAllister's class. We had a huge test at the end of that chapter where we had to know all the kingdoms and phylums and classes of living things. It was 2003, and "Magic Stick," by Lil' Kim featuring 50 Cent was on the radio all the time. I remembered that sea anemones were in the phylum Cnidaria because I had written a song to the tune of "Magic Stick" as mnemonic device for that test. At the beginning of the song, when 50 Cent sings, "I've got the magic stick, I know if I can hit once, I can hit twice," I would sing, "I got nematocysts...in my cnidaria, isn't that nice?"
He said, "I have decided that the planet has an atmosphere, because you're getting too much into the technology of the tanks."
I thought, "But are there clouds?" in an indignant tone in my mind, but also kept that to myself. I kissed his back and looked at the freckles on it. In the shower last week he asked me if I had given any of them names. I said that one was named Otto and one was named Reginald. I kissed Otto and Reginald.
I lay still for awhile until I felt him start to twitch like he does when he's falling asleep. Then I grabbed my book and my phone and went to the living room. He heard me leaving and said, "Where are you going?" with sleep on his voice. I said I couldn't sleep and was going to eat some cereal. He said, "Good," and moved his body to the center of the mattress.
I sat in the kitchen and read a few pages of the biblical book of Tobit. I ate Reese's Puffs with almond milk. I crawled back into bed.
I had two last thoughts before falling asleep.
The first was, "I should have washed my cereal bowl instead of just leaving it in the sink. Gaillard will wash it before I even get out of bed tomorrow and I'll feel guilty."
The second, which I thought over and over, was a hymn from Tobit.
In the Protestant tradition in which I was raised, Tobit is an apocryphal book, meaning that it was written by an unknown author and doesn't appear in most Protestant bibles.
In Tobit, two people pray for death at the same moment. Tobit asks to die because he's lost his eyesight. Far away, Sarah asks God to kill her because she's married seven men and all have died on their wedding night, killed by a demon named Asmodeus. God hears their prayers and sends the angel Raphael to help them. Under Raphael's instruction, Tobit's son, Tobiah, rubs a fish gallbladder on Tobit's eyes, curing his blindness. Tobiah and Sarah meet, fall in love, and marry. Joyful, Tobiah sings a hymn of praise:
"I now am taking this kinswoman of mine,
not because of lust,
but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
and that we may grow old together."