I’m ready for it. The routines are complete – doors locked, blinds down. Make-up off, teeth attended to. Mount the stairs, then put a glass of water within reach. Here comes the night.
Read for a bit, turn off the lamp, then sleep for a while – but lightly and not for long. The late coffee and extra glass of wine weren’t wise, but I blame the bed. It has its back to the wall, which is good, but it also faces a many-mirrored wardrobe, which is bad Feng Shui. The bed won’t fit anywhere else but the ancient art of placement is quite plain: the souls that leave the body during sleep shrink from shiny surfaces and recoil from their reflections in the glass… I know how they feel.
The last sleeping pill was swallowed years ago. No natural remedies – valerian drops, pillow mists, camomile tea – have ever worked. No city dweller in their right mind has ever counted sheep.
At least it’s quiet. The house is in a no-through road, so no cars pass in the night. Next door, on the other side of the wall, the children will be sleeping by now. No one will complain about my talking or snoring in my sleep, like the last man did. He would never reveal the secrets I let slip and I would never tell him about the cure at a clinic, where a laser zapped the bad vibrations in my throat.
Toss and turn. Add and subtract a pillow. Take a sip of water, then turn again – to my companion of the night – the radio – and tune into the World Service.
Japan’s birth-rate is plummeting, the sex industry booming. There are squirrels with leprosy in Scotland and another president’s on trial for corruption in South America…
The meaning of ‘going to bed ‘ has changed and grown old along with me, but deep sleep has always been a summons: to separate from the here and now and return to a world other than this. Some place of innocence, like before we were born. Where we can lose a little identity – and rest.
I won’t get there tonight…..not while there’s piracy on the high seas again and paganism’s on the rise in Scandinavia and colour is being stripped from the great coral reef, visible from space…
A tale of torture in a prison makes me turn the sound down, but I can’t switch off just yet, because the stories have a special power that music does not: to silence the shapes of parent, partner, friend or child that will sometimes stand in the dark room or crowd around the bed and murmur to me of irredeemable mistakes made in the past –
The hours grow short, then long. Go to the bathroom. Back in bed, shut the Service down. They won’t come now, the ghosts of guilt and regret. So, deep under a duvet in the Midlands, just lie there and listen to the tick of a clock.
This won’t be a nuit blanche, with no sleep at all, because soon I’ll drift off into a darkness deep enough to dream in, but not the deepest – off, off and away – until I wash up on an empty beach on a familiar stretch of coast. I hear voices, but there’s no one there.
Lyme Regis to Land’s End, including the Isles of Scilly…
The Shipping Forecast. It’s got a life of its own, this radio. Louder than usual, it’s lying on its side, as if in the recovery position, the aerial neatly tucked in. Only 5.30. Too early for the News or to notice that one of the mirrored doors is smudged and slightly open, but not for Farming Today. All about developments in the storage of cattle slurry.
Doze off again….till wide awake in the full light of day and it’s time to get up and go down the stairs. Unrefreshed, but very well- informed.