27th March


Awake isn’t good. Awake is almost as terrifying as not being. The world is full of anxieties. Traffic, weather, electricity, gas, food, disease, dogs. People (dealing with them). Work (if he ever has any again). Sex (ditto). Religion (ditto). What hope do you have, really, if you think about it? And that’s the thing: other people can shut off the possibilities. Not him. It drains him. He looks out of the window at the wind whipping the naked trees, the rubbish blowing down the street, and he sees danger everywhere. Being inside, door locked, windows closed, basic food in fridge, is better than being out. Not good, but better.

It’s when he starts to succumb, the weariness narrowing and blurring his vision like a screen closing down, that the real fear kicks in. That other zone looms, where what little control, what vague belief he has in being able to keep stuff at bay, disappears. He can’t go there. Mustn’t. Never lies down on the bed nowadays. Bed is a place of terror, not of safety and comfort. He sits in the armchair, television on – thank God for 24-hour T V – and treads around the edges of sleep. A combination of the T V sounds and his own fear brings him back every time. No wonder he can’t hold down a job. Staying awake is a full-time occupation.

Anything can happen if you go there. You can choke, burn, the building might collapse, war break out, anything, and it’s no good saying the chances of any of this are infinitesimally small. The point is being asleep and not knowing. The point is not waking up again. Ever.

How do people trust sleep? Believe that they’ll come back? Because the odds against doing that shorten every time. One day you won’t. You’ll go into the zone and that will be it. Over. Lost for ever. That’s what sleep is. Permanent loss. You won’t even know you’ve gone. It is too horrible to contemplate.

His head jerks again, returning him to full consciousness. He is utterly exhausted. But he’s back, he’s put a foot in and come back. So long as he can keep doing that he’ll be okay.

Reader: Rowan Smith
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music