My boyfriend and I fought all the time because he wouldn’t touch me while he slept. He slept with his head under the sheets, all swaddled so he could barely breathe.
I told this to a friend of mine and she said, “Yeah, that’s a problem.”
“It’s a huge a problem. He smacks my hand away if I even try to sneak a finger under his sheet. He’s crazy.”
“He’s definitely crazy. Men are crazy when it comes to intimacy. They just don’t understand it.”
“I mean, he won’t even let me graze against him. He gets this one sheet wrapped around himself. Super tight. So tight he gets everything all sweaty.”
“Who would sleep like that? Why would he do that?”
“I asked him once and he told me why.”
It was because, he told me, once when he was young, he and his little sister found a dead python in the Everglades. They crouched in front of its slightly open mouth and took a good look inside.
“Should I crawl into it?” my boyfriend said.
“For sure! Crawl inside.”
Joe lay on his stomach and inched along on his elbows, through the mouth and into the snake. It was a tight squeeze at first, but the python’s sides were stretchy. And it smelled nice inside, once he got far enough in, like apricots and vanilla.
“Are you okay in there?” his sister asked, but her voice, which was usually a bit shrill and always irritating, sounded faint and almost pleasant through the walls of the snake — like the sound waves refracted as they passed through the thick python skin and bent into something more musical and pleasing.
“Sure I am. It’s just a bit dark. Go get me a light.”
So she did, and when she came back, she shoved a flashlight down through the mouth. He wedged the light into the flesh of the snake, like a hanging lantern, and he looked around at the soft pink walls and at a few bones from leftover animals that the python hadn’t fully digested. It was quiet in there, cozy, peaceful, so he settled himself into a comfortable position, using the python’s heart as a pillow, and he took a book from his pocket and started to read.
“Hey, when are you coming out?” his little sister called.
“In a minute, just a minute.”
But he stayed inside for hours because it was so quiet and he wanted to finish his book, which he hadn’t been able to do at home because everyone was always bothering him to do chores and to look after his little sister.
A breeze picked up and passed into the snake through the open mouth. It chilled Joe’s feet. So he called out to his sister, “Sew up the mouth.”
“It’s drafty in here. Sew the mouth shut.”
“But will you be able to breathe?”
“Sure. Just leave a small hole.”
So she ran back to the house and got a fat needle and thread and sewed the snake closed and he felt the breeze stop. He felt warm and alone, unlike at home, where the windows never shut properly and the rooms had to be shared.
“When are you coming out?” his sister called again. “Mom says it’s dinner time.”
“I want to eat in here. Tell her I’m going to eat in here.”
“’Kay. I’ll go tell her.”
A little later he heard footsteps coming his way and a new voice say, “Are you okay in there, Joseph?” It sounded sort of like his mother’s voice, but hers was usually flat and always sad, and inside the snake the voice sounded light and springy, like a happy song.
“Sure, I’m all right,” he said.
“How long are you going to stay in there?”
“Just another few minutes.”
“Okay, then. But you need to wash the floors tonight.”
She sent his dinner, lasagna in a Tupperware container, down through the hole in the sewed-up mouth of the snake. But after he’d finished eating, he was sleepy and weighed down by pasta, so he decided to spend the night right where he was. When he told his sister, she said, “’Kay. I’ll pitch a tent out here and keep an eye on things.”
He turned off the flashlight and felt the walls of the snake cushioning him on all sides. He fell asleep with the soft vanilla-apricot scent wafting around. He had dreams about being a python, slithering through jungles and marshes, and in his dreams, every animal he passed was afraid of him, so every animal he passed left him alone and he could move wherever he wanted to move and rest whenever he liked.
In the morning, he heard his mother calling again, “When are you coming out, Joseph?”
“But the floor still needs washing. And your father needs help painting the house.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
The next day, though, he still didn’t want to come out. His mother woke him once more, but this time his father was with her, and his father said, “Joseph. Out of the snake. Right now.” And his father’s voice, which was usually harsh and always frightening, suddenly seemed round and comical.
“In just a minute,” he answered.
When his parents returned the day after that, they brought the neighbours to see what was going on. One after the other they crowded around the snake and all of them called to him to try to coax him out. It sounded like the whole neighbourhood had come – there were so many voices, too many different voices, and they were all colliding with each other in ways he didn’t like. Soon it became unpleasantly noisy, even inside of the snake, so he said, “All right, all right, I’m coming out,” and he crawled out of the python’s mouth, breaking through the stitches.
But after that, he swaddled himself in his sheets every night and tried to pretend he was still inside the snake, where, for a while at least, no one had really bothered him and things had seemed more pleasant.
“But that’s crazy,” said my friend when I finished telling her the story of Joe and the python. “That can’t be true.”
“I know. But I’ve asked his sister and she says, yes, yes, it’s true.”
“But it can’t be true.”
“But why else would he swaddle himself like he does?”
“Maybe it’s a sex thing.”
“Then why not include me?”
“Maybe it’s a weird religious thing.”
“No, he’s not religious. He says he just likes to remember the python when he sleeps.”
“He probably just made up that crazy story because he’s afraid of real intimacy. That’s the sort of thing men do. They’re crazy.”
“Yeah. Definitely. So what I’ve started doing, though, sometimes before bed, is I get a good anesthetic and put a few drops of it near the top of the sheet, just a little of it, enough to keep him asleep longer and deeper after he inhales it.”
“Sure, just a few drops.”
“Right. And I mix it with some vanilla drops to mask the smell, so he never even knows. And then when he’s asleep — I mean really asleep and won’t wake up — I pull down the sheets and lie on top of him and I pick up his arms and put them around me.”
“Of course you do. A girl should be cuddled.”
“I know. It’s true. And I’ve tried to understand him. I mean, I can understand wanting to be surrounded and absorbed by something else, like he says he was with that snake. I get that. Because I feel that with him. Like sometimes, say, when we’re fucking, I mash my face against his chest, as hard as I can, and I almost can’t stand that I can’t get any closer to him than that. And I even think about cutting a little slit down his sternum and pushing my way into his chest, like right inside of it.”
“He’s got a big chest. I could probably fit into it, if I curled myself tight.”
“Yeah, Joe’s chest is huge.”
“And I’m pretty small.”
“Yeah, you’re petite.”
“So I imagine crawling in and hanging out in the rib cage. Because I sort of just want to live inside of him for a bit. I love him so much that I want to burrow into him, you know?”
“Sure. You’re romantic.”
“Yeah. I could prop my magazines up against the bones on one side. Maybe I could paint my toenails in there and rest them on one of his ribs to dry. I paint my toes purple sometimes — he likes that.”
“Men love painted toenails.”
“I know. Maybe I should paint them again. Because we’ve been fighting all the time. This sleep thing has become a real problem. And I can’t keep knocking him out to get him to touch me. That anesthetic is pricey.”
“Yeah, that shit’s expensive.”
“You know, it’s gotten so bad that I almost hate going to bed now. I see him all swaddled in his sheet and I want to hit him in the head with a mallet. One of those big metal mallets that would crack all the bones in his face with one blow. Then maybe I could make a necklace out of his bone fragments or something. So he’d always be touching me.”
My friend looked at me sadly and sympathetically, the way good friends do when they understand your problems but don’t know how to fix them. She shook her head and said, “Yeah, the idea of intimacy must be getting to him. Because sleeping swaddled like that is crazy. Joe’s crazy.”
“I know, right? I don’t understand how a person can be that crazy. But he is. He’s just nuts.”