He had been troubled by nightmares for years. So much so that he no longer cared that he wasn’t able to sleep for very long. Waking was always a relief to him. There was always, of course, the moment of bewilderment and panic when he first woke. Like a sinking man that has been buoyed on currents and breaks the surface of the water with what may be his final gasp for air.
He didn’t bother to look at the bedside clock – he knew it would be sometime between two and half-past three, it always was.
He lay still, recovering his breathing and concentrating on the sadness that accompanied his relief upon waking. The sadness that came from never remembering his dreams though they disturbed him so, as though he were resigned to the fact that there could never be an explanation.
He listened to the sounds of the house, bricks and mortar as restless as himself; that creaked and groaned and sometimes suspiciously popped. The building seemed to resonate with the stored memories and dreams of all those who had passed through it, including his own, as if these thoughts had leached into the floorboards and roof tiles. He wished that he were able to speak the language of houses and unravel his dreams – conversations that would fill these long, early hours when most people were asleep. He would much rather hear about the sedentary situation of a row of terraces than be one of those who were watching call-ins and reality programming on television – a kind of purgatory for the sleepless.
There would be clubbers gurning with eye-popping insistence, kerb-crawlers cruising along the fringes of parks, 24-hour-drinkers stumbling towards evasive taxis, murderers, muggers and rapists lurking around corners. Pariahs and predators all. He had no wish to encounter to these people. Less human to him than the houses in which they live.
To converse with another insomniac who took to wandering the streets with a determined and single-minded search for elusive sleep could be even worse than the rest. No, he would rather chat with tower blocks than have to endure that.
There was a time when he thought that he would be able to find a cure for the dreams and then sleep through the night. G.P.s and psychiatrists. He did not dispute their findings that he was depressed, nor did he disagree when they decided that he was bipolar. In fact, had they told him that he was an alien being with amnesia he would have accepted it in exchange for a few hours of dreamless sleep. Aropax and Lithium. The first was to keep him from despair and the other was to dampen his excitement.
The doctor, a very stern woman with a severe look in her eyes as though she were daring him to counter her, said, ‘Of course, the treatment is experimental, all of these kinds of treatments are. We simply do not know enough about the functioning of the human brain to be certain that this particular combination of drugs will work…’
They did work… in a way. He managed to get his eight hours of sleep every night and never felt distressed on waking. He became a creature of routines; he took his tablets and made his appointments with the psychiatrist, he went to work and then came home and went to sleep. He woke. He made shopping lists. He tidied his flat and found the places where things belonged and stored them there. He alphabetised his books and CDs, then rearranged them by genre and alphabetised them again. He counted the people he passed on the street: the number of men; the women; the number of women pushing buggies; carrying shopping bags; carrying green shopping bags; the number of men with their hands in their pockets; wearing coats; turning the next corner. He went to the doctor and then to the pharmacy with another prescription. He ate something, watched something on television, took his tablets, went to bed and slept without dreaming.
It was during one of his last sessions with the psychiatrist that he asked to be taken off the medication. He said that he felt empty and that perhaps that space was supposed to be filled with melancholy.
He said that he wanted to dream, despite his troubled sleep. The house sighed as he got up and turned on the light.

© GB 2007

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