Bloom, fade, fall . . . bloom again.
Two weeks. A total of 18 hours’ sleep, plus a few more of that hazy, ethereal semi-sleep with fluorescent lights in it. White noise. A crumb in an empty stomach.
But it’s gone now. I can feel it. My body will soon be my own again. My thoughts my own again. The schlepping of my body and brain through the gauntlet of hours upon hours upon hours of Awake is almost over.
It’s easing. The electric has been cut and the cables are sleeping.
If I can just get through teaching these next few lessons I’ll be safe; a sweet island of weekend lies ahead of me, and after that will come weeks, maybe, before I have to worry again.
I’ve done my time, now comes the hiatus. Just sit down. The lesson’s over soon and the kids are fine. They’re doing their thing and don’t need you.
What did he say? Never mind.
Shit, I feel dizzy. Shit.
Are you passing out?
Shit shit shit.
It’s fine, only a few minutes to go, but maybe better get out of here just in case. If you just make it out of the classroom into the hallway, you can lie down and the kids won’t see a thing.
Don’t let them see. Yeah, that’s right, close the door behind you. Easy now – no need to hit your head on the floor. That’s better, just lay out flat, it’ll be over soon.
What are they saying? Just be quiet, and everything’ll be fine.
Is that the principal?
What? An ambulance?
Na, I’m fine. Just let me lay here a while, I’ll be fine, fine, fine. I’m not shaking, what do you mean?
I just need to…
…my shutters are down and I’ve been listening to ‘Blue on Green’ on repeat for weeks. My doorbell’s rung but the guy they’re looking for isn’t here. He just isn’t. Haven’t seen him in ages. Garden leave. Exile. Excommunication.
Dead, in a way. That’s what this is, isn’t it?
A series of small deaths.
Like the gardenias, only with a life-cycle not following any schedule; haywired by a rogue cerebral succubus at the controls.
Bloom, fade, fall - just like the gardenias.
The guy they’re looking for exhausted himself with all that holding his breath, all that treading water, all that blooming. He felt it coming but couldn’t get away from it. Getting away from it’s like trying to smell your own nose. There’s no door here, you see. It is an oubliette. No doors, no windows, no light.
But also no confusion. Certainty reigns. A one-party system. Despotic. Absolute.
Its correspondents know no subtlety or nuance, and present their audience only the pristine, incontrovertible facts, the clarity of futility, crystallized, all the limbs of potential and divergent promise whittled down to a stolid trunk of bald truth.
It isn’t what people think. Not some plunge from humanness to lowliness. Quite the opposite. This is humanness, the pith and bone of it. Down here I meet me, unadulaterated. Unsweetened. Undeodorised, and saccharine- and additive-free.
Here, I’m stuck fast in the elemental sediment of reality, far below the sparkling, smoke-screen cloud stirred to the surface by the needy and ambitious me. The me who, in his callow optimism, still cossets Hope, Faith and Aspiration; the harlequin chandelier of stars above his crib.
Yes, that’s how it seems. Though I may later deny it and chide myself for my credence, just for now, right now, there’s no denying it.
Later, yes, come back later. He’ll be here soon. The gardenias, you see, when they fade they aren’t dying; just preparing themselves for renewal. It’s unending.
Bloom. Fade. Fall.
Come back later.
I’ve woken to what appears to be a brand spanking new, eighth day of the week. I’ve seen this day before, yes, but each time it’s like a sky with a new set of stars in it, obliterating the memory of all those previous.
And what stars! Before I know it, I’ve done everything I’d planned to for the day.
In what remains, I could do anything. Anything!
Outside, nobody else seems to know what’s going on, what gorgeousness is at play all around them. How people can go around being so casual, so immune to awe and wonder, is incomprehensible to me.
By now, I’ve learned not to try telling them. Earth is a kaleidoscope, rushing at me with every colour and quaintness imaginable. Everything is a giant caper of newly-minted marvels, its contents rollicking in ecstasy through every sensory pore and ingress.
It’s all very, very exciting.
A warning flag’s waving somewhere in the rear mirror of my mind’s eye, exhorting stitches in time, "been here before"s and such like, but already its counsel dims in the distance.
Sleep? Na. Later…
Pills? Na! Not now. Definitely not now.
This is my recompense, damages for injuries sustained; the non-deductible counterweight to the net and sundry cost of living. I run marathons for the reward of a thimbleful of water at their end.
Pitiful, maybe. Sad, of course. But what else to do?
The day stretches into two, then a week, then a month. Without let-up, the reverie remains. Maybe this time it’ll stay, I think.
Maybe the whole set-up has been reversed, relativity renounced. Maybe the payback - all that exhaustion, the picking up of scattered pieces and re-tying of countless loose ends - just won’t come.
How good it would be, surviving - flourishing! - on four hours of sleep per night, doing anything and everything I’d ever wanted, scooping every last drop from the cup, only to find it filled anew by morning with fuel for further raptures and frenzies without end.
Yes, maybe it just won’t come!
The dialogue is constant. Wordless. A refrain, chorus and verse of sweet nothings. It is glorious, yes, but simultaneously both too much and not enough.
Communication itself implies partition. Mover and moved. Toucher and touched.
Between subject and object there lies a meadow, a breeding ground of things wilted before they’re fully risen. A no-man’s land of ephemera, lightnesses unbound by engagement - that great, sad, beautiful agony from which all busyness tries to spare us; that pearl of humanness that awaits in the lees of days, in quietude, in lovers’ eyes and the marginalia of earth-spun narratives.
It is agony, yes. Agony and beauty combined. The intensity of it overwhelms me. The vastness overwhelms me. The beauty overwhelms me.
And still I grasp, through skin and skull, to hold and be held, to be more than this this this this this.
Other people don’t talk about this, but I’m sure they feel it. They must feel it. It’s why they make the noise.
When the noise is gone, it’s here; unmistakable, patent. This. A nostalgia for the moment I’m living, while I’m still living it, before it has even passed. The agony and the beauty, coalesced until composite, distilled, raw, and real beyond reduction.
Though bled in Its pursuit, to live without It is unthinkable.
In health, and blessed with all the vaunted symptoms of sanity, the separation is unfelt - a blessing, perhaps - but its memory is ever-present, cause and curator of the greater despair of dullness and dim disquiet.
In illness, across the divide of earthly diversions, float glimpses of something unmistakably sacred, vital, immune to time and form, and this, maybe - maybe this is enough.
And so it seems that to live at all is to be an open wound.
Closed and cured, the agony is gone, but so too the beauty, so too the living, so too the humanness.
How, then, to reconcile the call to betterment with betterment’s inexorable loss? The hunger for suffering’s end with the suffering part of the very blessing of being? The ache of private yearnings with the failings of personal fortitude?
A neon light beckons from the town below. Voices rise through the valleys of rooftops, between which slide summons to something only known in memory.
Forgetting myself, I am drawn by some dormant instinct down from the hill and into their midst. I am soon in the city streets, joining the quiet procession of dinner-time passers-by, clocked-off workers hurrying home on the sigh of a day’s end.
My feet take me into the town centre.
I pass couples arm in arm, dog-walkers, coffee-shop windows framing polite bourgeois Scenes of Earth.
I belonged here once, before ‘It All’. My visits now are like to a childhood home - the family inside no longer my own, despite my expectation, and each memory a petite madeleine coated in salt, barbed with the bitterness of that cardinal, constitutive injustice around which life has revolved.
Standing in front of those windows, I am reminded of why I had gone to the hill. Not for solitude so much as forgetfulness.
Down here I am both haunter and haunted, interloper and exile. With heavy heart, I retrace my steps, counting the changes wrought, the Thens and Nows. The longing. The non-negotiable acceptance of unbidden experience. The forsaken simplicity. The otherness.
And the window. Always the window…