Monday, October 24, 2005
To sleep, perchance to dream
The first time he tries to sleep a little longer, the dreams return. Like shadows gathered around a dying bonfire, drawing closer as the flame dies.
In the forests of his sleep, the nightmares hunt in packs.
He senses them waiting for him, their shapes flickering at the very edges of his vision, their thin, darting bodies the colour of woodsmoke. They are in no hurry, they know they have him now, they know he cannot last out the night.
He makes no effort to tell one from the other. His recognition of them is general and absolute, the apprehension of an ancient evil, come menacingly back to life. They are all there, he knows. Missed appointments, trials failed or lost, botched surgeries and other crimes that involve his bleeding body, the death of loved ones, precipices, monsters, rejection - every form of humiliation or anguish known to his soul.
He is not afraid of them. What he feels is a great weariness, the terrible tiredness of a man faced with Fate. He makes a half-hearted attempt to stay awake. He knows it is useless, though. As the fire dies inside him, the circle of light that he calls himself shuts like an eye. They are closer now, more immediate. Slowly their faces resolve themselves from the mist. A man is sitting at a piano, in the pouring rain, the ruins of a house all around him. He is playing a tune that he, the dreamer, recognises but cannot name. Then the man is himself and the piano has disappeared and he is in a classroom trying to explain the terms of trade between the US and England in the Second World War - but the examiners will not listen to him, they want an itemised list of everything that was exported before they will discuss his theory. He is trying to reason with them when a young girl stands up at the back and he realises that she has no hands and the blood is pouring from the stumps where her hands used to be and the floor he is walking on is sticky with it and he lifts one foot to keep his shoes from getting dirty and the other foot plunges through the floor which was not a floor at all but an abyss all along and he is falling, falling...
When he wakes his throat aches and his lips feel puffy. He gropes for the alarm clock, brings it up to his face. Five am. He climbs out of bed, stumbles his way blindly to the bathroom. His instinct draws him to the mirror the way a thirsty deer is drawn to water. Blinking in the sudden light of the bathroom he stares at the stranger whose face appears in the glass. Yes, the eyes are bloodshot, the lines of the face haggard. He dare not go back to sleep now. As he prepares to shave, the razor trembles in his hand, as though with some obscure longing. He feels unprepared for the sharp edges of the world.
This only happens when he tries to sleep for a long time, though. That is why he only sleeps five hours a day - that way when he finally goes to bed he is too exhausted to sleep anything but dreamlessly. In the borderlands of tiredness his sleep is a blank, a dark tunnel he emerges on the other side of, reclaiming his consciousness as though it were daylight. He pretends it's because he's busy, because he has things to do, because he doesn't need the eight hours. But the truth is that complete physical collapse is the only way he can keep the dreams at bay.
I must not sleep so much, he tells himself again, putting the finishing touches to his shave with quivering hands. I must go to bed late and wake up early. With that thought still in his mind, he heads for the coffee machine. It is going to be a long day.