Keeping the Shards of Sleep

 

Cricket’s on the TV. It’s on but you’re not watching. You’re lying on the couch in front of the TV, but your back is to the TV and your face is burrowing its way into the back of the sofa. You need a little bit of give in the gloves. The TV says this, and even though you’re not watching you know that the wicket-keeper has dropped a catch. It’s shameful. You think about turning over to see the replay, but don’t have the energy. Keepers shouldn’t drop anything. You start thinking about that and feel nothing but a calm certainty. When you wake up the match is over and there’s some disappointment that you don’t know who won.

 

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You walk the streets. It is late at night. No one is around. Somehow the city doesn’t look the same. For stretches it is Montreal and then Toronto, before you notice a Karachi paan-wallah on a dark corner. You see the embers and smoke. Is he also selling parathas and kababs? How is that… possible. Your heart sinks when you realize what’s going on.

 

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Early morning. You walk out the door and are accosted by the day. You can barely keep your eyes open. You reach in your jacket pocket for sunglasses and are thankful to find them there. You pull them out and attempt to blow the lint off. You put them on and a speck of something gets in your eye. You’ll take it. There is no sun in the sky.

 

Your eyes weighed down by sandbags and your head feels like it’s being torn down from the inside. And you’re going downtown. Lasting the day will be difficult. It will be difficult. But it’s Friday. Friday, Friday, a tuneless, gormless Friday. And then you realize it’s Thursday. These will be two very difficult days.

 

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You walk the streets. It is late at night. The work day much longer than it needed to be. The streets glisten in the distance, but the stretch you walk on is dirty. Nobody reads newspapers anymore, and yet here they are, swirling in the wind or drowned in puddles. Words someone may have spent time fretting over, never read and now trampled under foot. You keep walking and nothing changes. The stores and restaurants are all closed. Some of their lights are on and you feel better. You keep walking. This all reminds you of something, but you’re not sure what. Maybe it was something from a movie. All of a sudden you feel your throat constrict and a weakness in the knees. It passes.

 

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There is a recurring dream I have. I am in my grandmother’s old house. It is dusk and I can hear the crows make their noisy way home, to the trees behind the sprawling house. I am walking though the corridor as it grows dimmer, approaching the spare room where the light is on. The darkness behind me, I am at the threshold of the bright room and I see a woman on a prayer rug, her face still and buried in a book. She raises her head and fixes me in her expressionless eyes. This is not my grandmother. I turn to run but my legs are heavy. I look back and she is coming. Feet off the ground, purpose in her eyes, rushing and upon me.

 

You wake from this gasping for air. It is dark outside. You look at the clock. The time makes no sense to you.

 

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Early morning. On my way to work. People everywhere in the subway station – lemmings, ants, cretins. They are cretins, all.  Are they?  And there in the heaving throng is an old busker in shabby clothes (is that soot on his face?) playing the violin. His case open at his feet, some coins in there, too close together to have been tossed in by briskly walking subway passengers (I suspect everyone and everything). He is playing the theme music from the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show. It takes me by surprise. I stop in my tracks. What an odd thing to play during morning rush hour. I feel a pang of some emotion, but it’s gone before I know what it is. No coins in my pocket, so I reach for my wallet to give him a bill. As I kneel down to carefully place the money in his violin case, I realize that he’s not actually playing the Hulk theme. I remain crouched by his feet, head in hands wondering how I could have possibly thought that an old Eastern European man with a violin would be playing the theme music from a ‘70s TV show at 7:30 in the morning.

 

You are barely in your office, when he shows up at your office door, this man with a pointy beard, carrying a pad of paper. He’s come to complain about one aspect of the widgets.

 

“They’re supposed to be between 1.5 sts and 2.00 sts. We found one on your team that was 1.97 sts and another that was 1.96 sts.” The first sentence as if he is telling me something I don’t know. The second sentence as if I will share his concern.

So?

“It’s a problem. I’m just raising it because your team is coming close to going over the sts count.”

Everything’s been under two point oh. Correct?

“But you’re very close to going over.”

What if a widget was two point zero one sts. Tell me honestly, would that be acceptable?

“2.01? Yes.”

And two point zero five sts?

Hesitation. He can think, this one. Sometimes.

“Look, honestly anything between 1.50 and 2.10 sts would be acceptable.” He says this happily. With a laugh. As if he has won me over. As if we are now friends.

 

I have nothing against pointy beards, though I remember them as the exclusive domain of bad guys on Saturday morning cartoons. Some prejudices run deep, drilled in as they are at a young age, and requiring a degree of soul searching for a true purge – a degree that I’m not capable of right now. Friday nights was the Incredible Hulk and then Saturday mornings there were cartoons.

“Anyway. Just have a word with your team about their sts count and…”

No. I won’t be doing that.

Hesita…

“Ok, well, Yeah, yeah. It’s not a problem. It’s really not a problem. It’s just good to be aware of where you’re uh… of where your team is uh… of how your team is uh..”

“For sure. You’re right. Thanks for coming by.” I say this as nicely as I can. I put effort into a smile. I feel badly about the exchange.

 

This would have been a good time for him to take his leave. But he doesn’t think much, this one.

 

“Hey, I heard you’re going on vacation! Where are you going?”

To bed.

 

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My grandmother was a writer, a playwright in fact. She was popular in her own time and those who knew good writing knew her. She is lost in time now, obscure and largely forgotten except by her most loyal fans. She burned brightly, maybe too brightly for a period of time and then was gone. There are not too many people left to ask about her career and life who could with any certitude say what she felt or what drove her. I have come into a scrapbook of her press clippings. Yellowed and hitherto uncared for, they are now in my custody, safe in a drawer. And the sun never welcome in my home anyway, can forget about it. I am going through the clippings. She points one out. I look up at her and she is smiling, the gentle late-afternoon sun behind her.

 

I open my eyes. One day I will need to bottle and name the moment when tired thoughts morph into a dream. The sleep so fragile it lasts mere seconds before dissolving. When I’m back, I try to pinpoint the linking thought, the bridge between waking and dreaming. The more intently I think, the farther away the answer slips. Yellow and rough. And soon I am gone again.

 

The door. There’s a knock on the door. There’s a knock on the door and I’m up with a fright, hitting my elbow against the wall. A few seconds later my elbow starts to hurt, but my throat is on fire from the moment my eyes open. My heart is beating fast. I’m braced for another sound at the door, but there isn’t one. I relax but gulp down the water that remains in the glass on the side-table. It’s not quite 11 AM. I can go back to sleep and I do. It’s the best sleep I’ve had in weeks.