How to Die in Your Sleep

by Kim Venkataraman

“Another bite of mashed potato?”

“No, but I’ll have a bit more of the stew.”

“Is it tasty?” I lift the spoon slowly, my hand cupped underneath.

“The beef is tough as a boot but the broth is good.”


I’m lying on the daybed on the porch when she walks in, the baby on her hip.

“Sarah, did you bring in the washing and fold it?”

“Yes…well, most of it.”

Her face is expressionless.

“Fine, I’ll finish,” I sigh and stand. “But I’ve been waiting to go to the beach for an hour, and Jeffrey and the baby always—”

“Sarah,” my mother interrupts, “finish your chores and stop concerning yourself with everyone else. We’ll walk to the beach when we’re ready.”

“Yes, Momma.”

Every morning the sunporch smelled like the ocean, but by the afternoon the hint of fish and mud was gone. As the sun baked the little room, it was replaced by the sweet hay smell of the rug. That’s what I remember.


There’s a quiet tapping on the door, and I look up from my book.

“Has she been sleeping since lunch?” Patty asks.

I follow her gaze to the hospital bed and nod my head. The head of the bed is raised, and although she’s twitched a few times and even moaned softly, she hasn’t opened her eyes. She looks much smaller when she’s asleep.

“Okay. I’m going to find her nurse to see if they’ve decided on her medication for tonight, and I should probably talk with the social worker again.”

I nod as she hurries off and, in the dim light, try to find my place on the page.


“Oh, my God,” she laughs, “what were you thinking?”

I touch my hair. The curls are tighter than I wanted, but the hairdresser said they’d relax. I pull at the back of my hair, then let it go.

Patty looks on silently, tucking a piece of her long, blond hair behind her ear.

Laughing loudly, my mother throws her head back. “Oh, you kill me! It’s like a brown pompom on your head.” Wiping away a tear, she adds, “And whoever told you that orangey lipstick was a good color for you should get their head examined.”

She’s still chuckling when I walk out of the kitchen. That, too, is what I remember.


It’s getting dark outside when Patty returns. Without looking toward the bed, she says, “Jeff said he’d go out to the cottage after work to check out the roof. With the cold weather coming, we might need to get a contractor out there—”

She stops talking when her phone rings. “This is Patricia.” And she walks out of the room.

Glancing at the bed, I realize her eyes are open.

“Want some water?” I pick up the Styrofoam cup.

She shakes her head but continues to look at me intently, as if searching my face to understand something I’ve said.

“Why,” she whispers, her voice raspy, “why can’t I just die?” She stares at the corner of the room. “It’s like I don’t know how.”

Footsteps become louder in the hallway as someone approaches and she closes her eyes.


“How many times have I told you to pick up your shoes?” she screams. “But you’ve got your head in a book again, and I’m tripping over your sneakers!”

I stand and slowly move toward the hallway. “That’s right, you better go to your room before you make me get the hairbrush, and I’ll really make you wish you’d listened.”


“I just got off the phone with Dr. Saunders, and he’s going to get the referral in for PT first thing in the morning,” Patty says brightly, her arms full of papers and the notebook where she is constantly writing everything down. She’d returned to find us both staring at the TV, at a sitcom neither of us was really watching.

“Well—” I start to say.

“PT’s important,” she interrupts, “so as soon as you get your strength up, you can move to the rehab facility!” Patty beams at both of us. “Of course, I should probably check back with Alice Simmons—I think, or maybe it was Stimpson—at the nursing home to talk about bed availability…”

I watch her as she continues to talk and can feel my mother’s eyes on me.

“So,” Patty says, checking her watch.

“Right, why don’t you follow up on…all that,” I tell her.

“Yes,” she exhales deeply, “yeah, I think I should.” Her look is serious and determined, but most of all relieved, as she rushes back out of the room.


While I can’t see her, I know she’s watching us skating on the pond through the kitchen window. Spreading my arms wide, I lift one leg behind me. Ignoring the sweat trickling down my back under my bulky jacket, ignoring the bumps in the ice, I raise my arms higher, and when I reach the far banking, I spin with my arms spread wide. Ice sprays as I stop with a flourish, and as I try to catch my breath, I wonder if she’s seen me. 


“The one thing they don’t do,” her voice startles me out of my daze, “is tell you how to die in your sleep.”

A shaft of light comes from the bathroom, a line that divides the darkened room. I stand and put my hands on the bedrail. She lifts her hand and, after looking at it for a moment, I take it.

She closes her eyes, her fingers still holding tightly to mine. Her skin is soft, her fingers cold against my palm.

Then, softly, she says again, “It’s the one thing they never teach you.”

The door opens and she closes her eyes and puts her hand back down on the blanket.

“Oh, you’re still here!” Patty says as she walks in. “I had to run home for a bit. The room next door is empty, so we can stretch out and rest there if we want.”

I nod.

Patty sighs. “Anything new?”

I don’t answer but when she looks at me, I shake my head.

“You should sleep for a bit.”

I shake my head again.

“Well, I’m going to grab a bite to eat. Want anything?”

“No, I’m good.” I gently take my mother’s hand. “I’ll be right here.”


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing