3 a.m. (Henry Bins 1), p.1
Copyright © 2015 Nick Pirog
Gray Matter teaser
One hour. Sixty minutes. Three thousand six hundred seconds. That’s how long I get each day. How long I’m awake. I won’t bore you with the science of it all; I’d rather get to the story. And what a story it is. And I only have an hour to tell it. But just know that I have seen every doctor and taken every medication in the book and nothing helps. I wake up at 3:00 a.m. each morning and fall asleep an hour later. Then I sleep for twenty-three hours. Then repeat. It isn’t much of a life, but it is the only one I know.
By my age, most people have been awake for over two hundred thousand hours. I’ve been awake for less than fourteen thousand. According to the doctors, there have only been three people in existence to ever have the condition. Condition, that’s what they call it. Not a disease, not an illness, a condition. A young girl in Taiwan has it. And another guy in Iceland. But it’s named after me. I had it first. Henry Bins. That’s what they call it. I’m Henry Bins and I have Henry Bins.
Anyhow, you might be wondering how I can string two sentences together if I’ve been awake fewer hours than a normal three-year-old. Well, what can I say? I’m a prodigy. And maybe because God gave me Henry Bins – I’m Henry Bins and I have Henry Bins – He found it only fair to compensate with a brilliant mind.
It’s now 3:02. I’d better get started.
I open my eyes with a jolt.
It’s April 18th. I know this because yesterday was April 17th. And the big electronic clock on my dresser tells me so. The glowing green embers also tell me it is 3:01 a.m.
One minute gone.
I rip the covers off and jump out of bed. I am fully clothed. I’m wearing gray sweatpants, a maroon hooded sweatshirt, and lime green Asics. Next stop, the kitchen. My laptop is sitting on the kitchen table. I hit the mouse pad and the black screen vanishes, replaced by the frozen picture of a castle. I’ve been watching Game of Thrones in ten-minute intervals. I hit the spacebar and the show resumes. Keeping an eye on the screen, I open the fridge and remove a sandwich—roast beef, heavy on the mustard—and a peanut butter protein shake. Both have been premade by Isabel, a Mexican woman who cooks, cleans, and does countless other things I don’t have time for.
I pick up my cell phone. No calls. Three text messages. All from my father. Two are pictures of his dog. I message him back that he needs to find a woman and sit down to the computer. I devour the sandwich and the smoothie as I open a separate window and log into my E-Trade account. It’s all about multitasking. I can’t help but glance at the clock in the bottom right corner.
Four minutes gone.
I check my stocks, which look good—I’ve made roughly eight thousand in the last twenty-four hours—then make some minor tweaks on the parameters I have in place for buys and sells, then close the window. I log onto OkCupid, a dating site, and go through the various messages. Nothing worthwhile. My screen name, NIGHTOWL3AM only attracts the crazies. As you might think, meeting a woman has proven difficult. For many years I would try twenty-four-hour bookstores, coffee shops, or diners, but after three trips to the emergency room and one woman calling her brother to dispose of my dead body, I gave up.
I close the window and devote three minutes of my undivided attention to Game of Thrones. I love Tyrion.
At 3:10, I hit pause, grab my iPhone and earbuds and sprint out the door.
It’s the beginning of spring and the Alexandria air is cold. I wish I’d worn a beanie, but I don’t dare waste the time going to grab one. The streets are silent. Three in the morning must be the quietest time of the day. Even the nocturnal night people have turned in and the crazy, morning folk are still tucked away. But then again, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I just know the half hour I spend in the world, it might as well be on mute. I run under the streetlights, the closest thing I know to sunlight, and concentrate on every sensation. The burn in my thighs, the cold air as it travels through my nostrils and down into my lungs.
I force myself to stay in the moment. I don’t have time for the past or the future. My life is the present. For many years, I played the what if game. What if I had a normal life? Where would I be? Would I be married? Would I have kids? But then twenty or thirty minutes would be gone. Wasted. Thinking about things that I can’t change. That are unchangeable.
I listen to three songs by The Lumineers, my new favorite band, then five minutes of Feed the Pig, an investment podcast. It is two miles to the Potomac, a highway of water separating Virginia from Maryland, and I spend a perfect minute watching a trawler sucked downstream by the sweeping black current. I used to wonder what it would look like during the light of day, how the water would look under a burning sun and puffy white clouds, but day doesn’t exist in my world. Only night. Only darkness.
As I head back, I see a car turn onto the side street. This is the first car I’ve seen in six days. It is a Ford Focus. A new one. The Ford stock closed at 13.02. Just saying.
I do the four miles in just under twenty-eight minutes and when I reach my condo steps it is 3:38 a.m.
Twenty-two minutes left.
I do push-ups and sit-ups for three minutes.
I take a four minute shower.
When I pull on a clean set of nearly the same outfit and head back to the kitchen, it is 3:48.
I pull a salad from the fridge: greens, carrots, tomatoes, quinoa, and chicken. Healthy stuff. I grab an apple, two chocolate chips cookies, and a big glass of milk. I sit down at the table and click on my Kindle. I’m reading Lone Survivor, about a Navy SEAL who survives a shootout against the Taliban in the Afghanistan mountains. Amazing stuff.
I eat slowly, soak up each word.
I take the last bite of my second chocolate chip cookie at 3:58.
I turn the Kindle off, stand up, and walk toward the bedroom.
I sit down on my bed at 3:59 a.m.
That’s when I hear the woman’s scream.
I stand up and run to the window. Directly across from my condo is a ranch style house with a gate. The Ford Focus I saw earlier is parked on the street directly in front. I have no idea who lives there. I’ve never seen them. That could be said for all my neighbors.
I know I should go back to my bed, that I am going to fall over any moment. But I can’t. I’m glued to the window. I might as well be stuck between the two panes. I tick off seconds.
The gate opens and a man walks briskly through.
As he opens the door to the Ford Focus, he walks directly under the streetlight. As if sensing my gaze, he turns and looks up. We lock eyes.
My last thought as my eyes close and I start falling is the chiseled features and piercing stare of the man.
The President of the United States.