‘The Sleep’ by Caitlin Horrocks

The snow came early that first year, and so heavy that when Albert Rasmussen invited the whole town over, we had to park around the corner from his unplowed street.

It starts small: one family in a hard-pressed midwestern town, declaring that there’s nothing to like once Christmas is over, chooses to sleep through the rest of winter. They save money, avoid homework, wake up slim and rested, years of worry smoothed from their faces. “‘I dreamed I was in Eden, but it was mine. My farm. I picked pineapples every day.’ Al Rasmussen had wintered in Eden, we thought. We started to feel a little like suckers.” 

The next year more families join in, then more again, starting earlier, waking later, until almost the whole community is sleeping throughout winter. Racoons move into abandoned buildings, the last hold-out dies alone in her wool coat and orthopedic shoes, TV crews film the wall of uncleared snow that hides the town, older children away at college wonder what to do with a Christmas they haven’t seen for years.

Caitlin Horrocks is a writer I admire hugely – I am always recommending her collection, This Is Not Your City, to anyone who will listen. With characters and detail that easily carry its symbolic freight, ‘The Sleep’ is both a compelling read and a subtle and lovely meditation on what-the-fuck it’s all about. When I reread it last week I was surprised to notice it’s told in the first person plural, and wondered if it had influenced me into that same choice in a recent story. If so, thank you Caitlin. 

First published as an Atlantic Fiction for Kindle download, 2010. Anthologised in Best American Short Stories 2011

Chosen by Jo Lloyd. Jo won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in ZoetropePloughsharesSouthern Review, and the O Henry Prize Stories. She likes winter better than almost anything.