A.N.: God only knows how noting Joe's sleeping patterns could ever inspire this. I'm afraid to ask, myself.
He was a heavy sleeper.
This could not be argued, and he'd never tried. On those rare but too frequent for his taste nights when Norma lay soft and thin next to him – she'd have to beat him awake, practically, and he'd rouse from sleep with a grunt, bleary eyed, forgetting where he was until his mind restored order.
"You'd sleep through a train, Joe," she'd sigh, toying with the small hairs on his chest and sticking to him like glue.
Yes, she was soft and she was thin, but in all the wrong ways. Like some object worn down by time until it becomes smoother, softer, less glorious than it had been. And her size was from indulgence and mass abstention in a cyclical pattern that made her look haggard unless she was absolutely beaming and foolish. Which Norma Desmond could be, stringing along her toy and pretending to be young and pretending (or deceiving herself) that he was wildly in love with her. In such cases as ran through her mind, she had every reason to be joyous.
Joe was not in love with her. Far from it, Mr. Gillis awoke on those nights to her physical demands for his undivided attention, which was always divided between the loathsome task he performed for subtle pay and God knew what. He thought on script ideas, on her script idea, on his bygone jalopy, on anything but Norma. But it was impossible to escape her when he was locked in a world full of Norma, denied fresh air to breathe. What he breathed instead was her constant perfume, which was also inescapable, as she poured it on her neck and drizzled it into her curly locks of hair. Maybe that all would have been bearable had she not so insistently nuzzled right next to him after they'd finished, whispering words he didn't care to pay attention to and making him gag with that ever present sent of dying roses.
Norma was not dying, physically at least. Who could say what went on in the other parts of her that could be slowly strangled of life, but Joe was avid witness to the fact she was yet unaware that the years had moved on. He remembered strolling poolside in the afternoon sun, imagining he could see beaches she'd promised and never delivered, imagining a lot of things (writers can't help but imagine constantly). But he'd returned to his room for that cigarette case she'd shoved on him and found her, instead, lying in wait upon his bed with next to nothing on.
It was inappropriate, to say the least. Truly, in its own way, rather sad, and not a little disgusting. It revolted him sooner than it aroused him – no, Norma wasn't so bad to look at. It was the whole sick idea, the sick house, the sick personality that had bouts of paraphilia that made Gillis shudder. Norma thought herself a lusty lover, and maybe she was, but not to Joe, not for a second.
But did he give her what she shamelessly was asking for?
Ha. Did he even have a choice?
Oh, walk out, sure, that was easy to say. He'd said it to himself so many times he'd nearly done it. But put one hand on the door and the whole room started spinning – and leaving was a ridiculous idea.
The whole set up had it's own intolerable aspects. Those waxwork card players, the things he imagined they thought in his own paranoia; she'd made him paranoid of everything, of being seen with her, of being caught going out for the most innocent of reasons. But who could blame a bunch of silent film stars for silently wagging tongues? Wasn't it just a bit suggestive? Norma, a woman who was fully fifty, hanging on this twenty-something, broad shouldered near-do-well – who scowled in that fashionable way, who cracked sarcastic comments and chewed on the edge of his cigarette, especially when typing. Who could blame the poor old dear for going after the tall, dark, handsome nobody? It didn't make it less scandalous.
Norma saw no reason for tact, and grew snappish when it was suggested. She liked what she had and enjoyed parading it before the few friends who popped in once in a millennia, before the empty house and the wheezing organ. She'd drag him down the way she hung on him, until he felt sick, until she'd either snap at him or come begging for affections he only pretended to feel.
Yet he treated her with marked gentleness. The poor old dame was made of glass, and even were she a bauble he wasn't too fond of, there was no excuse for bad handling – that would only break her. He tried to act pleased by her rerun movies, he tried to smile at her attempts at keeping him amused or even awake. She, herself, was paranoid he was losing interest in her, and that was only because he'd never had it. Therefore she was desperate, and in that desperate measure she threw out tact and a lot of decency and made to hold him to her.
But he was a sound sleeper, so in those nights when she wasn't sprawled across his body, silently purring, she might be tucked into her own room, or rather pacing through his like a wild cat. She'd beg, she'd cry, she'd plead words of affection out of comatose lips and he remained curled up in those satin pajamas she'd thrown him into, maybe drooling on the down pillow.
After all, though – one did not catch much sleep when up working on nameless screenplays all night. Joe's heavy sleeping increased by tenfold.
But of course that was the one time he wasn't tired! The way the words raced through his mind and to his fingertips, like bygone days when he hadn't cared about the starvation of writers. Back in days when any price was worth paying for his art. What a mocking thing it was now, but working again changed that. Bouncing ideas back and forth like a ping pong ball with Betty, he caught hold of her youthful enthusiasm, excited and itching to go. They turned out pages and pages every night, production like had never been in the cloying, lumping, "Salome."
And if his tugging at the leash was just as much for being around Betty as for working, well…was that really his fault?
He knew he shouldn't do it. Risking everything of everybody's on a wisp of a dream was an idiotic idea, and yet he'd lay awake at night thinking about it – thinking about it when he ought to have been heavily sleeping. Betty was as much a fool as Norma to be duped into Joe Gillis' swagger, his cigarette chewing…his smiles that he never gave Norma and his laugh that sounded more youthful and content with her.
She was nothing like Norma, God, nothing! She didn't bathe in perfume, she didn't bathe in her very self, surrounded and drowning in a room full of pictures of a face that hadn't been owned in years. She was penniless and idealistic and an utter fool and yet…
Oh, the sighs he kept from sighing and the thoughts he kept from speaking, all just barely and all because Norma was batting thick eyelashes at him and pleading to be loved.
Joe couldn't love her. He'd like to think he couldn't love anybody, but boy did Betty make that difficult.
Had Norma known there was a Betty Schaefer, she would have done far worse than try and get Joe's attention again (or really for the first time), worse than flung her naked self on his bed once more.
But she did know. And she caught Joe on the one night he wasn't being a restful, sound, heavy sleeper – with visions of Betty burning in his mind like Greek fire.
How the hell could he love Norma when that same fire flashed behind his eyes when roles were reversed and he caught her?
"….Or maybe it would be a better idea if you came over and saw it for yourself. The address is 10086 Sunset boulevard."
Joe wouldn't be going to sleep for a while. But when he did, it would be the heaviest of all.