“…You know the sensation, it’s a spark of light; barely perceptible, like a camera flash from behind you: sharp, sudden, no afterglow, just the sensation that for a split-second there has been a crack in the darkness and time has frozen just for you. Nothing more than a nano-second, but you’re aware that something – you can never quite put your finger on what thing – but something is not exactly as you left it. And you find yourself wondering what could have happened? Where you could have been? What you could have done? Still not entirely sure, really not at all certain, that anything has actually happened at all… Well, that’s what happened.
As usual, I took a circuit of the house, checked the doors and windows, peered out into the street, that kind of thing. I don’t need to turn on the lights; the vestigial glow of stand-by lamps is always enough to guide me. My attention was caught by everything and by nothing. The everyday contents of the house introduced itself to me piece-by-piece; imprinted itself onto my memory, slightly adrift of its normal position, but somehow unmoved. My home was speaking to me, article by article, trinket by trinket, memory by memory, telling me “Take a good look around you. Not one thing in here is yours. You own it all, but none of it is yours. You live here, but you don’t inhabit an inch of the fabric. When you go, there’ll be no sign that you ever lived here.”
This revelation, of course, was not instant. There was no thunder flash, no sudden awareness, no insight; my brain just doesn’t work like that. It can just about cope with a slow, oozing seepage of relevant information and that is what it does; it just about copes. Regardless of the pace at which facts are thrown at me, my head allows them to enter only at its own pace: when it has had enough, it shuts down. Anything mid-process is disregarded until it wakes me up in the middle of the night, with the kind of nagging urgency that is associated only with the need for food, sex or urination.
I remembered a story I had read once, one of those comic-book things I think, about a man for whom time stood still whilst the world carried on, unaffected, around him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually remember what had happened, why it had happened or how it had ended. I was fairly certain that there was some sort of moral attached to it, but I had no idea what that might be. I couldn’t focus. My brain had decided to do the shutting-down thing. It was telling me, in no uncertain terms, ‘Ok, I’ll hold everything together here, just long enough for you to get back to bed. But don’t take long mind or you’ll wake up with a very sore neck again, pins and needles in your legs, the pattern of the cat-flap embossed upon your forehead…’
Keeping a person awake for long enough to get to their bed is, you would think, a relatively mundane task for a brain. Linking forward motion to ocular input should be a piece of cake to the average lump of grey matter. Thirty billion neurons working as a team should surely be able to get a person to the bedroom without skinning the full length of their shin on a doorframe that hasn’t moved from the day that the house was built. The knowledge that your own brain hates you, is willing to do you harm, does not sit easily in the darkness hours. It can lead to worry. It can lead to neurosis. It can lead to just one small glass of whisky to help you sleep – if only any number of certain death traps did not lie between the fragile flesh and bone and the water of life. I took my shattered limb back to my bachelor bed.
I had moved from the marital bed and into the single bed in the spare bedroom as soon as it became clear to me that my wife was never coming home. I found it easier to sleep without space. There is something cocoon-like about a single bed. The early morning spaces that I stare into are not infinite in this tiny room. The walls and ceilings are always visible; even with my eyes closed I can see them. When I move, I can feel them. They are solid and dependable the walls of my little womb. Even when I dream, they do not move. They hold my little world and cradle it securely within its box-room universe.
The final stretch of my journey to sleep was illuminated by the mega-watt output of my bedside alarm, which was set, as always, ten minutes fast. The alarm itself set ten minutes early to allow for one cycle under the snooze button and a further ten minutes early just in case something went wrong with the snooze button and it decided to let me nap on for a full eighteen minutes. It was pointing as always towards the wall so that I couldn’t see the flashing green figures that illuminated its front, which meant that it was useless for time-keeping purposes, but absolutely ideal for strobe lighting the whole room metronomically from midnight to mid-day. I climbed between the sheets and looked over to the corner of the room with the small pile of books and cd’s which, outside of my clothes, and despite the three years that had elapsed since my wife’s departure, were the only things that were truly mine. They pulsed with the light, seeming to move forward and backwards like flotsam on the ebb and flow of radiance – looming out at me before scuttling back into the shadows like a… like a… well, like a really sinister pile of books and CD’s… I made a mental note to move them in the morning. I filed the mental note in the special compartment of my brain, along with all the other mental notes that were never acted upon; the reminders to cut my toe nails, trim my nasal hairs and pay the milkman. I wondered for a moment why I had not removed any of the things that I so despised: the furniture that I loathed; the pictures that made me cringe; the wallpaper that made my head spin. Was I hoping she would return? I don’t think so. The sexual pleasure that I had got from burning all of her underwear in the bath was far greater than any I remember whilst she was there.
Laziness, that was the truth. Inertia. The inability to do anything that required an actual decision outside of whether to microwave my curry from the tin or from the freezer; whether to drink my beer at the pub or in front of the TV; whether I could stretch another day out of these socks. I was surrounded by all these things I loathed simply because moving them would require me to take positive action of some kind – and the only thing I was positive about was that I was still not up to that.
I closed my eyes, decided what I wanted to dream about – a trick I perfected as a child – and allowed my body to become heavy, to sink into the mattress as my mind drifted away into… into… Why do my legs always do that? What makes them twitch like that? Another night and yet again the trick I learned as an adult – lying awake, counting the ripples in the artex ceiling and worrying about my aching, twitching legs…”