I’m now a small white space like a square of light or a blank sheet. On my skin I can feel the weight of the whiteness. It’s cool and smooth and soothing like a balm. I’m waiting in here to be the me that doesn’t know what all the fuss was about. Not the me that is distorted, like I’m seeing myself through double-glazing; me and a shadow me just to one side. The shadow me is always ten years older, uglier, more out of shape. A shadow made of the smoke from a part of me that’s on fire.
I draw my knees up inside the sleeping bag and wedge the torch between them. The light bounces off the lid and onto my head. It warms my bald patch like a wool cap. In the mirror I’m holding, the wall behind me, its surface like packed ice, crisp white and crusty. I press the glass to my chest, not daring to look at myself, not yet; it’s too soon. Instead I stare at the torchlight till my eyes grow heavy. Till I’m not sure if I’m asleep or awake or neither of these. I want to sleep, crave it, but the Seroxat won’t let me. It teases me with the idea of sleep, my lashes batting at it. But the drug pulls it away before I can take hold. Gone, like it was never there, like sleep is a thing that doesn’t exist. I’m afraid I will never sleep again, but then I’m afraid of most things these days. I’m afraid because in my mind everything really does happen. I really have lost my job, my wife really is divorcing me, I really am suffocating to death in here. I live in a world where loss is an inevitability, where inanimate objects move of their own free will. I reach up, fumbling for the gap between the lid and the rim, and the piece of wood holding them apart.
This morning waiting for the train at Hemel station I saw a youth wearing a t-shirt. It said ‘If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space’ and suddenly I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch my breath. I had to come home. That’s why I’m in here, in this place that feels safe. This place that feels like it’s filled with forever. I stretch my legs out and press my feet against the end wall, my elbows against the sides, and infinity, it pushes back. In here, tomorrow feels possible. I feel possible. I rub my eye and feel the suggestion of sleep loosen beneath my finger. A tiny nugget of something prized. Its sand-coloured solidity is reassuring somehow. I reach for the plastic container in my shirt pocket and drop it in with all the others. I have it in mind to make an egg timer with them, which made my wife laugh. It’s been a long time since I heard Laura laugh. She used to laugh all the time before we married, before the children.
I rest my head against the back wall and close my eyes. I’m coming back to myself, I can feel it, smell it – hair: greasy; body: sweating. The sense of being inside myself is returning. If a hair moves on my body I will know it. Yes, I’m remembering how to be me again. Bringing myself back into line.
“Tim? Tim, are you in there?”
Tim. Yes, I’m Tim. That feels like a name that belongs to me. I look at my watch. 9 o’clock. I’ve been in here for twelve hours. Twelve hours made up of endless minutes. I unzip the sleeping bag like I’m removing a layer of myself and manoeuvre onto all fours. My back and shoulders press against the lid. I start to stand up. The lid lifts, ratcheting open like it’s my spine. Eventually I’m upright, bathed in the light from the torch at my feet.
“There you are,” Laura says. Her tired face thinks about smiling. She holds out her hand to me. I swallow, seeing the bitten fingernails, the redness beneath her wedding ring. It’s cold in the garage. Dark but for the torch and the light coming from the back door behind her. The children are standing in the doorway dressed in their pyjamas. Will is sucking his sleeve, half-hiding behind his sister. Amy is clutching her stuffed monkey, one bare foot resting on top of the other.
“Come on, let’s get you inside,” says Laura, taking hold of my arm. Through my shirt and fleece I can feel the detail of her fingerprints on my skin. I smile to myself. Back. Gripping the rim, I clamber out of the old chest freezer and follow my wife into the warmth of the house.
] writes and runs Beat the Dust
, which includes BTD TV, the online Bookshop and coming later this year... drum roll, fanfare, ticker tape parade... BTD Press. Her first collection of poetry, 'baby, i'm ready to go' is due for publication in September 09 by Grievous Jones Press