Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

  • Hundreds of our old neighbors, friends, coworkers, and teachers are new insomniacs. They file for dream bankruptcy, appeal for Slumber Corps aid, wait to be approved for a sleep donor
  • It is a special kind of homelessness, says our mayor, to be evicted from your dreams
  • Some intern has made curtains for the trailer windows, snaggy lace, which look nothing like curtains, in fact, but vestments tiny and obscene: bridal veils for mice, chinchilla negligees. They flutter in the trailer’s manic air-conditioning. Outside, the moon is a colossus. Its radiance makes every white of human manufacture seem dingy, impure.sleepdonation
  • I hated watching her go speechless under the conglomerate weight of so much unrelenting looking and thinking and listening and feeling, her mind worn thin by the sound of every cough and the plinking moisture of every raindrop, these noises exploding like grenades through her naked awareness—her mind crushed, in the end, by an avalanche of waking moments
  • frightening, exhilarating charge permeates the entire atmosphere of the Sleep Van; an overpowering sense of ambient destiny, fate crushing in on all sides. This accompanied by a nostril-flaring, neck-prickling vertigo. What provokes this disorientation, says Dr. Peebles, is your body’s awareness of its proximity to an enveloping illusion—a dream, not your own, pumping out of a donor’s prone form
  • His handwriting is neat and evenly spaced; the only unusual thing about it is that Donor Y wrote in tiny all-capitals, like a scream shrunken down into a whisper
  • What she could say about the dream melted quickly away, like a visitation from another world entirely
  • Iatrogenic”: a word that sends me to the dictionary. More deadpan comedy: it means our “lifesaving” transfusions have provoked a secondary insomnia. The cure is worse than the disease.
  • Dori’s suffering I describe so freshly that anyone could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s over, forever.
  • There are natural laws that govern the flow of dream and substance from body to body, laws that determine the passage of electricity through tissue, the routes taken by ruby marrow and iodine crystals and colorless vibrations. Laws to order every visible and invisible migration.
  • Jim’s face unpetals, revealing some depth of emotion beneath his initial affectionate dismissal, his Storchy I’m-on-your-side smile. Rage, I think
  • Doesn’t it matter how you ask the question? Or if the tone of your request is closer to a fist than to an open palm? Can the nature of the request corrupt the purity of the gift, the donated sleep
  • Tiny woodsprite eyes litter the darkness, red and green—just the office electronics. No true darkness left in the modern world, some Luddites complain, fingering light pollution as the root of the new insomnia.
  • America’s great talent, I think, is to generate desires that would never have occurred, natively, to a body like mine, and to make those desires so painfully real that money becomes a fiction, an imaginary means to some concrete end
  • Whatever came unravelled last night feels neatly spooled this morning
  • I make this promise at a moment when people are plunging their straws into any available centimeter of shale and water, every crude oil and uranium and mineral well on earth, with an indiscriminate and borderless appetite. Fresh air, the sight of trees—these are birthrights and pleasures that we seem bent on extinguishing. Some animals we’ve turned out to be.
  • We take, at most, six hours from her. We ration our greed.
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