Abi Andrews

THE THIN VANEER-

 

I can’t sleep tonight. Not from the wakefulness that keeps me up sometimes here. When I get that I can be content just reading or writing or toying with thoughts, because I know it does not matter too much when I do or do not sleep what with the days being all wrong anyway.

 

This time I can’t sleep from a feeling; that the sky is too big and the space between it and me is heavy like deep water; the deeper down I swim the more pressure there is pushing me down and up at the same time, and the more I think about how far there is between me and the sky the more my head feels the same pressure on it. And the space between me and the road, me and Fairbanks, me and every place underneath a big red arrow if it stretched from here all the way round the world and back again like on some old public service animation where I go black and white and zoom out and out until the cabin is just a spec on a cartoon image of the world and the arrow makes a noise as it elongates like ‘vrrrraaaaawm’ going up in pitch like onomatopoeic tautness.

 

For almost all the times I have slept in my life until now, that is around 7,250 sleeps, I have been comforted by the thought that in the room next to me are my parents sleeping, in the houses next to me are my neighbours sleeping, in the town around us people are sleeping in fact the whole of England is sleeping and the Australians are keeping the world running by doing the day shift. Sleeping with someone does things to your trust. As in by sleeping in close proximity to someone you are making yourself your most vulnerable for them, you are trusting them, and maybe the proximity of trust could extend to all the people asleep in all the houses around you. It is a thing I am very aware of lacking right now.

 

But if I concentrate I can inverse the deep pressure feeling, make it feel safe and still and like the space is filled with Styrofoam. Because sometimes when I lie in the centre of suburbia falling asleep I have other thoughts. That lying down en-masse to sleep makes you gravely vulnerable, a whole flock of sitting ducks, and it is then that I start to think in particular about nuclear dawn.

 

Everyone still and asleep and so much trust being channelled around, seeping out of pores and windows as a gaseous thread and into nostrils and mouths connecting them like string on a tin can phone. And no one is thinking to look at the sky where some object is getting closer and closer silently. And then it happens and at ground zero most people do not even know any better because they are vaporised before the electrical signals even reach their brain to tell them so, but maybe some come to for just an instant of absurdity, to be confronted with a helix of colour and pain while their soul or their energy or whatever it is departs and then that is it, snuffed out, nothing.

 

And if they could use their cognition in an afterlife they would not ever be able to come to terms with it because it is so incomprehensible to be and then to just not be, your whole little world jolted into the macrocosm, that they would have to pick each other up and keep on saying ‘don’t ask why, sometimes things just happen and you don’t ever know why, at least you are acutely dead, not only half dead and half melted like the survivors’. 

 

To feel like I am in a box of Styrofoam here is to feel like safety-in-singularity. It is to not be afraid of all the crazy shit that could affect me for being part of a macrocosmic world that I can’t conceive the complexity of because here I am in a world of my own, all on my own. 

Really suddenly, like the clunk of a clocks first chime, this makes me feel deeply sad. A night bird makes a noise outside and a small rodent probably scurries away from it and a shadow passes the window and the trees are hushing and maybe back home everything has already been blown away. My head throbs and my teeth will not fit together properly. If I try to keep them slightly apart they feel like magnets yearning for each other.

 

Fallout would not reach me all the way out here. Or maybe it would if it really hit the fan but I would not know because I do not really know what cancer looks or feels like to die of. I could just stay out here in my cabin and die of cancer in a couple of decades and be none the wiser, hypothetically. Or I could head back to Frey in Fairbanks and when I get there find out it is all already gone, nothing left of everything I knew but its shadow.

 

I could be the last person on Earth, or I could be the last person in my vicinity with any hope of ever finding the other last people of their vicinities, us all running around frustratingly like little bugs that are lost and you want to yell at them ‘ITS RIGHT THERE’ until you think about it and actually they are worlds away from the place you plucked them out of, from their perspective, which means the same thing anyway when they have no way of knowing any better.

 

And I realise I want to be dead then. If it is all gone I want to be gone with it. I want to throw myself onto the sand like a dolphin embracing death on the beach with its washed up family, by dehydration and the suffocation of its own chest crushing its lungs under the pressure of gravity. I want to be blow up in the big stupid mess that it is. I do not want to be a survivor.

I look at the radio on the desk and it looks manifestly inanimate, sat in a shadow and I know it has a layer of dust on by now. But I could put the batteries in, just radio out the Frey, just to check she is still there. We do not even have to talk. I could just get her over with some ambiguous noises just to hear her say ‘Erin?’, then turn it off and take them out again.

 

It must be around four. There is no way she would answer. Although, she is my best friend so there must be another kind of thread connecting us although we might not be so consciously aware of it. And it is not new-agey if you are thinking analytically Jungian. Jung’s anima was a lady, not because the anima has a vagina but because she is an archetype we all agreed on just by proxy. Guys have an inner anima and girls have an inner animus.

 

Girls are just a little more aware of this secret power because being connected to it is part of being woman. And besides we observe something like it in other animals. A connection to something that is not what you would call direct experience. Like water buffalo in Thailand that looked out to sea half an hour before the 2004 tsunami hit, and just bellowed like mermaids summoning with conch shells, and ran for higher ground, with villagers scrambling after.

 

Some scientists are even saying we could make an early warning system for natural disasters based on this sense, a hotline people can all if their pets freak out. This data gets logged and if enough pets are freaking out in a particular area then the hotline sends out the warning and everyone runs for the hills. And even if it is only because the animals can ‘hear’ seismic activity a literal sense, isn’t it the same thing really? Isn’t telepathy just listening to another plane of ‘sound’?

 

I climb out from inside my sleeping bag. My triply-socked feet pad across the floor boards. I move in a special pattern, only using the boards that are lighter in colour like stepping-stones. I have to work up the significance of this action if this power is going to work.

I fish for the batteries from the bottom of the rucksack. I take them over to the desk still hopscotching. I move the radio into the beam of the dusky light from a slither of the window that is uncovered. When I go to take off the back and insert the batteries one clunks in the rim of the desk, so I clunk two more times just make the symmetry more obvious, and do the other one exactly the same. Then I put the cover back and the radio comes to life. I find our channel. I concentrate really hard.

 

In my head I say her name over and over. I imagine her face and I imagine her where she might be, her present, maybe awake on her back in bed, listening to the rhythm of Stan’s breathing. I press the transmitter then release it. This will send a bleep and then cut right out.

 

I imagine her face twitch. She sits up in bed then looks at Stan to see if she woke him. She rubs her eyes then goes still, straining to hear. I press the transmitter again. Her brow furrows, she definitely heard it this time. She slowly swings her legs out of the bed and slides herself off. She moves towards the door of the room. It is really dark so she goes slowly, feeling with her feet and hands before bringing her body forwards.

 

In the corridor it is lighter from the dusk-light spilling in through the door to the living room. She moves across the gritty carpet barefoot and her feet gather granules like they were made of Blu-Tack. As she gets to the table I press the transmitter one more time just so she is sure.

 

I clench my toes to try to squeeze some of the warm blood into them. I stare at the radio really hard. An animal outside makes a sudden whooping noise and I flinch even though by now I am used to these sounds, they are part of a backdrop when I am lay still at night that is so rich and rhythmic that whoops and yowls are just cadences to one continuous song. 

Nothing. I wait ten seconds then twenty then try the transmitter one more time.

 

I exhale heavily and deflate. Then I take out the batteries push back the radio, return them to the rucksack and crawl back into the cot. The bag is still warm from my body before. I spend a few minutes fidgeting imagining the friction of skin on fabric making heat like lots of little sticks and fires.

 

On the ceiling there is a spider who always has at least three carcases wrapped in mummy bundles on its silvery web. I have noticed that it rotates them, that its oldest kill is always the one it chooses to eat and then it is usually replaced and the next oldest is eaten. I admire the spiders diligent forward planning. The spider is always preparing for the future even though it consistently gets new things to eat. The spider knows that the world can always change in an instant; that the future is not to be counted on. It lives in a very delicate microcosm that can be blown away also, by a gust of wind.

 

 

Abi Andrews is a writer based in South East London. Her writing has been publish in Tender journal, The Telegraph’s travel magazine, and is upcoming in the Dark Mountain journal. She is currently working on a novel.

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