9th November

The Great Unknown

You used to wake in the middle of the night, standing in the middle of darkness. You were six, or eight, or ten. The last time you remember it happening you were thirteen. Where had you wandered before you woke? Your feet were cold. The darkness was of one thickness, impenetrable. You did not know which way you were facing. This is the meaning of the word ‘disorientation’. You shuffled round on your cold feet, waiting for your eyes to adjust, for the slightest clue as to where you were. Nothing and nobody came to your rescue.

At thirteen, once you realised you were awake, the fear went away. You knew this had happened before, that you would get back to your bed. But as to whether it was a few feet away, or in the same room – whether you were even in a room – you could not tell.

The light did come back, enough to make the darkness only gloomy. Shapes took shape. Other breathers breathed. You reached out, connected with the corner of some piece of furniture, a wall, a doorframe. You began to move, from one vague indication to another. You still weren’t sure which direction you were going in, except that it was forward. You had to keep going forward.

Years later, you wrote in one of your books, ‘he had to believe that if he kept going forward he would eventually get to a place he recognised’. It was about somebody else in a different time and place but it was also about you, and this. This deep childhood experience. The sense of being utterly alone.

You know that a time will come again when you stand on your cold feet in total darkness. Only this time you won’t be thirteen. It will be like the first time it happened, yet you won’t remember the first time. There will be no bed waiting for you, no other breathers behind the curtain of the dark. You will shuffle round, waiting for your eyes to adjust, and they will not.

Eventually you will have to move, to go forward. You will recognise nothing. There will be nothing to recognise except your fear.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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