She used to tell me she would die if she slept – apnoea. She walked with the bags of her fatigue underneath her sea grey eyes, purple bruises against pale, milk skin. I would find her curled up on armchairs, knees drawn up, eyelids drooping against the world, and I could imagine that itchy dry desperate sleep clawing away at her, begging her to just let go, to surrender. Her limbs held a nervous energy, a certainty, that this was a battle she would win, at any cost. She was a new born colt on high heels, skittering rather than walking, swaying slightly and masking it as intentional. You could hardly tell that her swings from overt to introvert weren’t chemical in nature, that they weren’t caused by anything more than a deep weariness.
I suppose she did sleep, but damned if I ever saw her do it. I wondered what she dreamt about though, and whether her breathing really did hitch and her chest flatten and stay flat, deflated and yearning, empty.
I wonder whether she ever died, just for a second, and what that was like for her. Did she wake, gasping for air, bolt upright like every bad movie nightmare ever? Or did she drift to consciousness, a barely there thing, before shifting and curling in on herself once more, almost entirely unaware that she’d breathed her last and was breathing anew all over again?
How many times had she died?
I wonder how many times you can die before you stop caring. If you die every night, under stars and sky, do you lose count? Is it an acceptance, and did that explain her?
Was her public battle a front? Did she treat death with the same ambivalence she treated life? Did she dress for the occasion, the nicest cream and white lace slip, or did she face it in ratty pyjama bottoms and an oversized t-shirt, stolen from an old lover?
I never asked her, because how can you ask someone – do you like to die? Does it bother you? She would have answered yes. To which question though, I’m not sure. I flip a coin in my head, and sometimes, she cares. Sometimes, she doesn’t.
So, a tired ghost dances in the corner to music only she can hear, the pub television blaring some football game. But drink in hand, sloshing the liquid over garments too good for a place like this, she dances, she rages, and no, she does not sleep.