Back to Issue Sixteen.

sleeping beauty



Nancy and Zed are not making out. Nancy and Zed are just sleeping, in a bed that happens to be not much bigger than a single bed, because you can’t fit double beds in caravans, and because it’s late-early-whatever, and Zed’s not quite ready to go back to his own. The thought of leaving now, and walking across the early morning dew, the silvery first light, is unfathomable. He knows it: the moment he steps outside, all the good chats they’ve been having, all the finishing of each other’s sentences and spark plug moments, will dissolve. There’s a thing about this early low sun: it can burn through the loopy night delirium in less than ten minutes. So he’s heard. That’s why Scandinavians are such a sensible people, why they’re good at carpentry but not quantum physics, why they’ll never design a piece of furniture with floofy bits. That’s what he told Nancy, anyway, and that’s when she laughed her big hammer laugh, right into the late-early-whatever morning, and all the crows took off out of the trees.

“Sleeping”—that’s not quite right either. Nancy might be, it’s hard to tell, she’s not moving, and don’t people who are actually asleep move a little more than this? Unless, of course, she’s dead, and then he’s going to be in trouble, then everyone’s going to want to know what he was doing spooning (not quite spooning) a dead girl. A dead Nancy. Everyone already thinks he’s moribund enough, this is going to do nothing for his reputation. Moribund? Morbid. Whatever, it’s all Latin, probably the same prefix, he’s been thinking about etymology recently, they both have, one-upping each other with the best facts, the best random connections, like:

Monster and demonstrate: totally the same “mons”.


Helicopter and pterydactal, you know that “pter” means “spiral wings”? Or “whirly finger” or “terrifying sky thing” or something, anyway

But anyway, “sleeping”: the term is not precise. That’s what they’ve been trying to get to—precision in their arguments—or what he has anyway. Nancy’ll listen to him defining and redefining terms for twenty minutes, nodding, assenting, doodling in her sketchpad, and then turn around and yank the entire argument out from underneath him like a magician with tablecloth and a well-aimed, yeah-but-I-guess-the-whole-premise-is-kinda-fucked-cos…

She’s smart. And that’s why she’s probably sleeping now, getting some rest before tomorrow, whereas he is lying here, awake, thinking about etymology, and terminology, and her butt.

It’s hard not to think about, though. I mean, it’s right there, millimetres in front of him, and if she happened to just take an extra deep breath (she is breathing, he’s pretty sure of that now), then maybe it would fill her lungs, fill her stomach, arch her back, and then they’d be touching. She’s be nestling (that’s the word, the term he’s looking for) her butt against his crotch.

See also: nuzzling.

Or: spooning

But she isn’t. Despite the fact it’s right there, it’s still not touching, and it’s not fair really, because she’s the one in the position of plausible deniability. She could wriggle back that half inch, or millimetre, or whatever it is, and then this thing would be happening. Wheels in motion. Because, she’s asleep, right? She doesn’t have eyes on the back of her head. No one’s could suspect that she knew that he was right behind her, if she just chose to shuffle that little bit backwards. Which, this proximity, he can’t help—the wall is right behind him! He’s pressed against it! So, he makes a silent promise: Push yourself against me, Nancy, just this once, and I won’t laugh. I won’t move away.

Whereas he is, undeniably, staring at the back of her head (actually, looking just with the right eye, the eye next to the pillow, because that is the eye that feels most disguised, most hidden, were someone to walk in). And he’s not sure he can pull off plausible deniability when it comes to wriggling his hips forward and pushing his cock against her ass.

It’s funny, because now that he thinks about it, it seems like this is totally a thing: unconscious retreating, shuffling backwards without thinking, it all makes sense, but can you pursue or attack unconsciously? Is there something about forward motion that is, fundamentally, intentional? And do crabs have one direction which is more forward-y, one which is more backward-y, and which crab should be the first to start spooning?

It’s complicated, but this isn’t, so he can’t help but think: Nancy, you’re not being fair.


Unless, of course, she doesn’t want to. It’s also a possibility that she’s just asleep, that she’s just nice, that they are just the friends they keep telling everyone—patiently, repeatedly—that they are. I mean, that’s the thing: they are good friends, she’s his best friend, nobody understands him like Nancy, and he wouldn’t want to jeopardise that, for, well, anything, and it’s just that her butt is right there.

And he was the one who asked if he could stay, so it is definitely her turn, her move, the ball firmly in her court.

But if he moved his arm, just a fraction, maybe if he just slipped his arm out under the cloak of a yawn, maybe then it could fall back down against her thigh? And that’s just a yawn, no one’s going to judge a yawn. Yawns are totally fair game.

Though if he starts the yawn, he’s going to have to follow through. Otherwise he’s going to lift his arm up and then get it stuck somewhere in the air just above her thigh, and he’ll have to lie awake the rest of the night, just hovering, until he works out how to yawn his arm back into himself.

And if she noticed that, that would be way worse. Because then it’s not even just cracking onto Nancy, which, he reckons, he could just about excuse at this time in the morning. But the hover-arm is a massive fuck-off sign with neon tubing that says THIS DECISION IS IMPORTANT TO ME, which can only really mean one thing, and that’s I LIKE YOU, which is way more embarrassing, way less salvageable, than “hey, my cock likes your ass”.

Of course, this is a stupid thought to think, and Zed can’t believe he is letting himself think it, because the moment it crosses his mind—his cock, Nancy’s ass, liking—the image is already there, fully formed, just behind his eyeballs, like a demon that has been waiting to be summoned for decades, and he has stupidly stumbled upon the hex. And once it is summoned, it is there, behind his eyes, and it is mingling with the smell of her—which he has doing a pretty good job of ignoring up until now, but it is definitely there, thick and heavy like rotting fruit—and his cock, which has been doing a better job than him up until now at pretending to be asleep, is now, definitely, not.

Zed is lying in Nancy’s bed with a hard-on.

And he can feel the light in the room starting to get a little brighter—like maybe time is just speeding up a bit to mock him? Like God is twisting the old crank a bit faster, chortling away, ready to see what happens when day spills across the room and Nancy wakes up. Just to see what Zed will do with his hands and his hard on and the day.

So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t shuffle back. Maybe she can just stay in that nice land of sleep, and he can fall asleep too, and they will both sleep next to each other, sleeping, unconscious, unaware, content, in that nice other place. Asleep.

It feels like a sack of hot cement between his thighs. He can’t believe she’s sleeping through this—it feels fucking radioactive. Although maybe it’s not just his cock. Maybe it’s her ass too. Maybe it’s some kind of thermonuclear reaction between them. Perhaps they could threaten to destabilise a small country’s dictatorship solely with the power of this, the thing that is happening, between his cock and her ass.

Would it be wrong to not do something about this? Like, he’s not sure this energy that’s happening between him and Nancy is entirely normal. Like, it’s nothing he’s ever felt before. Maybe this is bigger than they are—it could be some sort of crime against humanity, or progress, or science, to ignore it. It could be backwards.

Backwards. Backwards. Move backwards, Nancy. What if he never falls asleep again? What if it’s just this moment, forever, holding his breath, holding in his hard-on, holding out. Like the Greek dude, Tantalus, doomed for eternity, the water retreating when he ducked down to drink, the fruit branches waving away when he craned his neck.

What if Nancy’s magical butt is that fruit?

Except it’s not, is it? She hasn’t been doing the slightest bit of retreating. He could have shuffled forward a million times in the time it has taken to have these thoughts—the time before the hard-on, which has changed every-fucking-thing—and they would have been lying together, sleeping together, entwined.

She’s definitely asleep now. She’s making those little snuffling sounds in the back of her throat that she swears she doesn’t make but that are so damn cute.


In fact, she’s probably been sleeping all along. He’s never met anyone who can sleep like Nancy—leaning against the pole in the aisle of the bus; in the middle of a party, suddenly slipping beneath the table for a power nap, curled up like a kitten at everyone’s feet; five minutes into the movie she’s needed to see for, like, ever; in this bed, here, now.

Okay. He’s going to do this. He’s going to fall asleep with her, because now that she is actually, definitely, sleeping, there is no way to touch her ass that wouldn’t be just a little bit crude. He lets his breathing fall in with hers, to the soft inhale and exhale, and he starts to feel the meditative effect, and finally, he starts to relax and—

“Snargghhh!” Her body tenses, and she pushes herself up on the base of her palm and half twists around. “What? What is it?”

Zed presses his face into the pillow and smiles. Then, leaning over to her ear, cradling one hand in front of his crotch, softly, “You were snoring. And then you snorted. And then you woke yourself up.”

“I was not.”

“Ah, but you kind of were.”

“Uh, no. I’ve been awake. You were the one making noises.”

She can do this too. She can go from dead sleep to an argument before she’s even wiped the crusts from her eyes.

“Okay, Nancy. Sure. It was me.”

And she chooses not to take the bait, chooses to win the argument: “So quit it.”

“Mmph.” A non-committal noise. One that could go either way, if required.

“We’ve got things to do tomorrow,” she says, and then she lies back on her side, wriggling her ass into the crook of his body, and she takes his left hand and pulls it over herself, and cradles it in both of hers, like a security blanket, right next to her hot little mouth.



Jane Flett is a philosopher, cellist, and seamstress of most fetching stories. Her poetry features in Salt’s Best British Poetry 2012 and is available as a chapbook, Quick, to the Hothouse, from dancing girl press. Her fiction has been commissioned for BBC Radio, performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and published in PANKWord Riot and wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions. She is one half of the riot grrl band Razor Cunts, and she lives in Berlin. Visit her online at

< Previous (Anna Rowser)

Next (Barrett Warner) >