Graham was searching for sleep but that night it was eluding him. He’d searched in his bed until all light had faded away, then he’d tried the guest room but there was no sleep there either. He stood in the middle of his living room, under the electric buzz of a chandelier, trying to prove whether he was swaying back and forth or if his mind was playing tricks on him.
He held his hands out in front of him to see if they were shaking. He hadn’t paid much attention to the multiplication of wrinkles across his skin but the loss of simple abilities worried him greatly. As much as he willed his arms to stay still they would not obey.
He mused that maybe sleep could be found in his favourite pass times. He went to his library and browsed the many weathered hardbacks. He drew out five of his favourites and sat on the only chair in the room – a grand old armchair – and began flipping through them. He usually felt re-reading an old book to be like visiting an old friend but as he flicked through the familiar pages no conversations began. Any enjoyment of the pages was disrupted by a nagging feeling that there was something else he was supposed to be doing, another more important page he should have been reading. Eventually he chucked his books aside.
Graham continued wandering the house. He could hear faint tick of a grand clock somewhere in the building. He searched for sleep on the couches in the living room, in the kitchen cupboards, in the last of a bottle of wine. It continued to elude him.
Graham eventually climbed the stairs to his study. He stared at the door for a long time, perhaps swaying slightly. Absently he let himself in. In the smallest room in the house sat a desk with a typewriter atop it. To the left of the typewriter there were piles of blank paper. To the right there was neatly arranged stacks of paper full of text. There was a shelf on the wall with nineteen books on it, each with his name on the spine.
Graham sat down at the desk and looked to the papers on the right. He flicked through a couple drafts of a ghost story he was working on and mused on how to improve it further. He took a piece of blank paper and loaded it into the typewriter. The paper waited patiently to be given meaning.
Graham sighed and looked out of the window. He’d chosen an east facing room for his study so he could watch the sun rise in the morning and then the shadows stretch away from him through the evening. Although the curtains weren’t closed, the window offered no light to him at that hour. From memory he could feel the outline of the space that was inhabited by the sky, the single track road leading to his house and the hill with the lone tree atop it. He stared out the window imagining the darkness being lit up, as he had watched happen times before.
His fingertips settled on the keyboard. The keys rattled slightly as his hands shook atop them. He sighed and typed ‘No matter what I do I can’t rest.’
He roamed round and round the house, listening to the ticking of the clock. He began to talk to himself. He whistled in the hope that sleep would come back to him, like a faithful dog. He mumbled the names of those he used to know. He got no responses.
Graham stood in the living room once again, surrounded by the nice things he had accumulated over the decades. He felt a familiar compulsion to tear the house down. He wanted to flip the chairs over. Throw the lamps across the room. Rip the wall paper up. He imagined a younger version of himself destroying everything he had worked for. He imagined it so many times he began to believe it could have happened. Graham began to sway, then instinctively grabbed the arm of a chair to steady himself. Fear of falling broke him from his daydream. He sat in the chair, listening to the buzz of the light bulbs and the loud ticking of the clock. As he stared out the window his eyes were beginning to have a burning sensation from tiredness but they still would not hold shut. As he sat and pondered and listened, he saw a light moving outside the window. As he watched the light pass his breathing quickened and he could feel his hands shaking again. He got up and looked out the window. He watched light move up the hill and stop at the tree.
Graham, pulling a coat over his pyjamas, stepped into the bitter cold of the early morning air. He stumbled through the darkness up the hill, guided towards the tree by the faint light. It was shining upon the face of a middle aged woman. She was staring at it and tapping at it – the screen of her phone. He stared at her, hands trembling, plagued with indecision. Transfixed, he walked towards her.
He spoke but she did not react to him. She looked both familiar and like someone he used to know, over four decades ago. He walked behind her and looked over her shoulder at her phone. It appeared she was scrolling through news headlines from a past that never happened. A different team winning the super bowl. A war in North America, while there was peace in Israel. He felt compelled to reach out and hug this stranger but a fear held him back. He waved a hand in front of her face to get her attention.
She looked at him then. He stared back.
“You chose,” she said. She then pointed. Graham turned to follow her arm. She was pointing towards the window to the study. When he turned back she was gone.
Graham’s vision grew fuzzy and breathing became difficult. He leant against the tree for balance. His thoughts became scrambled. The concept of time was slipping away from him. He could hear the ticking of the clock again, louder than before.
He stumbled back to the house. Clambering in confusion, he found himself sitting in his study once again. The first etches of colour could now be seen across the sky, the entire night having passed him by.
Graham held his hands out in front of him and watched them shake worse then ever before. He moved his hands to his chest where he was feeling incredible pain. He realised that was what had stolen the sleep; the pain in his chest that he had been ignoring all night.
Graham forced his hands to the keyboard once again. He wanted to write something profound. He needed to. He typed hurriedly as his senses continued to confuse him.
He became aware that the paper was full of text and he was repeatedly writing over the last line. He took the piece of paper out and reached for a fresh sheet. As he stretched, the chair seemed to pull away from underneath him and he fell. He thumped against the desk then landed on the floor, the blank paper falling over him, suffocating him, while his shelf of books and the drafts of stories sat by and watched.
His last piece landed next to him. It was mostly meaningless, a random collection of letters and spaces. Only the top line presented itself coherently. ‘No matter what I do I can’t rest.’
The clock stopped ticking.