In this short story, Peter Neville shows that true love is not made up of big sweeping declarations, but of small gestures and little sacrifices. Those are the ones that mean something.
Most nights I like to sleep with the curtains open.
My girlfriend doesn’t really get it. She says that it makes the room cold. I’m happy for her to take a little more of the blanket. Still, sometimes I awake to find that the curtains have been drawn tightly, squeezing out the last drops of external light from the room.
She thinks I’m being crazy or weird. Maybe I am, but I love the idea of sleeping under the stars. I know we live in the middle of a sprawling, neon metropolis, and that the stars have long since been snuffed out. Yet, it’s the idea I like more than anything else. Dreaming drenched in starlight – whatever little has managed to stream through the smog and light pollution – produces vivid adventures. And best of all, with the curtains open, the natural sunlight can wake me gently instead of the drilling decibels of an alarm clock.
My girlfriend is more of a traditionalist. She will never leave anything plugged in during the night, will always triple check that she’s locked the front door, and needs three pillows to drift off into a dreamless slumber. I am more of a radical. I charge my phone whilst sleeping so its ready in the morning, I assume the front door is closed but don’t worry because I have nothing worth stealing, and can easily sleep on the floor if needed.
I guess that’s why I am an artist. I float along through life like a cherry blossom on the wind, occasionally beautiful but normally being walked all over. My freedom to express myself is payment enough, and although I have a part-time job, it doesn’t distract me from my true calling.
My girlfriend works in a stuffy office where everyone speaks with poison tongues. They vie with each other over promotions, and throw each other under the bus without a second thought. It stresses her out, but I can’t imagine her anywhere else. She has the personality for an office, and the motivation to potentially make it to regional manager someday in the distant future. I will never have that certainty in my life.
And so, she needs her routine to keep herself sane just like I need my freedom. We are truly opposites, but we love each other dearly. My life is so much better for having her in it, and even though we bicker and squawk, she completes me.
As she falls asleep tonight, exhausted from planning her presentation for tomorrow, I make sure she’s comfortable. I ensure she has a little more of our winter duvet, and an extra pillow. Her body is tense, so I rub her hair gently to help her relax, using my fingers as an alternative to a comb, weaving through strands careful not to tangle them.
Within minutes, her breathing deepens and slows, and there is the hint of a snore coming on. Using my phone’s light to illuminate my notebook, I write a good luck message for her to read in the morning. Then, with a gentle kiss on her forehead as I turn, I make myself comfortable beside her. My eyes start to close, eyelids drooping quickly, when I decide I need to get up for one last task before sleep.
I rise slowly from the bed, groaning like an old man, and plod my way over to the window. Outside it is quiet and empty, and a fox skulks across a car-less street. In the distance is the faint cry of an ambulance but it is almost unnoticeable. I look upwards towards the spot usually reserved for the stars, and take a deep, contented breath.
“I love you, dear. Good night,” I whisper across the room.
And then, half-smiling I close the curtains and return to the warm bed.