Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

SUBMIT: May 1 through June 2, 2024 | READING FEE: $15


Lucky, Lucky, Lucky

Nicole Simonsen
| Fiction


The baby was stealing my sleep. “Only three days old, and already a thief,” I said.
“Don’t be silly. This precious angel?” My mother took her from me, making cooing noises into her face.
Joel gripped my elbows. “It’s always rough in the beginning. Remember what the classes said?”  He led me to our bed and urged me into it. “You just have to relax. Sleep will come.”
I closed my eyes. They popped open a second later. “What if there’s a finite amount of sleep in the world, only so much to go around?”
“Shh, shh,” Joel whispered. “Sleep’s not a natural resource. It’s not like oil.” He massaged my shoulders and talked at me until I understood that I was being silly.
“I’ll stay until you fall asleep.” He sat there, the minutes ticking on, his hand on my back growing heavier and hotter. He shifted uncomfortably. Finally, I feigned sleep just so he would leave. Alone, I took a deep breath and tried to relax, to stop thinking, but my mind was a pinball, one thought ricocheting off another. Suddenly, I was afraid of everything: melting glaciers, measles outbreaks, skyrocketing rents. What if E. coli was in our lettuce? Would we ever get out of our apartment and into a real house? What if I was a bad mother? What if we didn’t bond properly? What if one day, in her mid-twenties, she decided to disown me? You hear stories like that, grown children rejecting their parents for no good reason. Zap, zap, zap—each bad thought was a bolt of electricity, making my body crackle and spark.
Worse, blood kept seeping out of me. Lying there, I became convinced I’d stained the mattress. I sat up: sure enough, a red smear on white sheets. I hobbled to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Something passed through me, something essential. I froze. Finally, I stood up and looked into the bowl—a mass the size of a lemon pulsed there at the bottom. It looked like a piece of my heart. Trembling, I called the labor and delivery nurse and she said not to worry—it was only a blood clot. They were totally normal, to be expected, but if I passed one the size of an orange, I should probably come in. When I told her that I’d seen plenty of small oranges and large lemons, she was silent. “Do you get my point?” I asked.
“Dear,” she said, “try to get some sleep. It sounds like you need it.”
I flushed the clot down the toilet and got back into my bloody bed, too tired to bother with the sheets. I should’ve taken a picture of the clot so that no one—not Joel, not my mother—could say I was exaggerating. Now it was too late, and they would never believe me.

The baby! Now, she was a champion sleeper. Already she could sleep for four or five hours at a stretch, but soon I started to worry that she was getting too much sleep, that she’d never wake up, and so I’d nudge her awake, just to check, just to see her eyes flutter open. Everyone told me how lucky I was to have a baby that slept that long. “Yes,” I would say, “I’m so lucky.” Lucky, lucky, lucky, I am so lucky! It became an earworm I couldn’t get rid of.


Nicole Simonsen’s short stories have appeared in Booth, Tin House Online, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. She teaches at a high school in Sacramento, CA.

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