Sleep is for losers. There is too much life in the night. It is a living, breathing thing with thoughts and dreams of its own. You can taste it on the back of your throat and roll it around like chocolate on your tongue. You sit up in bed. The sheets are tumbled with dreams and the memory of pillows that still bear the imprint of faces not yet forgotten. You place your feet on the concrete. It is chipped and scarred, the remnants of the carpets that were pulled up after the flood that you both drowned in a lifetime ago.
This is not the time for sleep. You would rather listen to the noises the house makes when it thinks no one is around to hear it. All houses talk when they think they are alone. The floorboards creak to each other. The louvres clack. Fans left on in empty rooms sigh and curtains murmur as the breeze tickles them. A television, now turned off, emits a low hum that you have to put your ear closer to the blank screen to hear. You’d do it because that’s what you do when no one is around to see you do weird things like listen to a turned off television on the off chance that it said something to you.
At night houses are full of the traces of our past lives. They murmur their own thoughts too, independent of our left-behind traces. They hold their secrets and they’re not telling.
You listen to the pregnant night. The frogs and the crickets are silent now but the dogs howl and moan and glare at other imaginary dogs that prowl around their territory. If you stand long enough at the window – no don’t pull the curtain, wait – just stand at the window with the lights off, staring really hard at their rangy silhouettes through the closed curtains. Give it a minute. You will see the dogs, one by one look up at the widow. They stare, smelling your lack of sleep, your restlessness, wondering who encroaches on the only time that they are dogs and not pets.
You pad softly down the corridor. No, don’t put your slippers on. Yes, do it in your silk nightdress or in panties and an old lover’s t-shirt. Step out into the night. Feel the grass under your feet. No, the dogs won’t bark. They feel you in the night and know it is your time for walking. The gate creaks. Don’t latch it. Leave the murmuring house behind and walk down the street. Feel the asphalt hard and unforgiving under your toes. Feel that the heat of the day is gone and only the cold is left. Feel the splinters of broken bottles, old cigarette butts and tiny, hard stones. Embrace them. Know that the soles of your feet are made for traveling and rough terrain despite what your brain tells you. The neighbours’ dogs watch you balefully from behind the cages of their yards. They know you, yet are wary of the woman who walks in the night and smells like sleeplessness. You watch them back and your eyes are the same.
Feel the night embrace you, tease you, send an errant breeze to flirt with the hemline of your t-shirt and play with your secret places. Walk. Walk. Know that Night shields her children when they choose to come home to her and no danger can befall you as you walk – in time but not in space. You will ignore the other lonely walker on the far end of the highway for that’s the least you can do for each other.
Sit on the curb. Listen. Smoke. Watch the white whispers curl around your fingers. Feel the acrid taste slip past the back of your throat. Be with yourself. You will not think of him tonight. You will ignore the imaginary smell of his skin on the t-shirt. It’s been washed so many times that the familiar smell is really only in your head anyway. You will not remember that time you fucked in the street, under the stars. You will not remember his hands. You will walk as long as you need to. The splinters that cut your feet remind you that you are still here. You cheated death so many times that you wonder if you can die at all.
Now you feel the dawn coming like a heavy thing. It is still dark but you can sense it pressing in on the back of your eyelids, like only those who do not sleep can feel. You will retrace your steps, pass through and latch the creaking gate. Walk through the dog pack in your yard that sniffs you, tasting the night on your legs like a tangible thing as you walk past. You re-enter the humming house. It lives less now, as the world will wake soon; even houses have their secrets. You will not wash your feet or remove the splinters for these too are gifts. You will not think, only feel. You will not waste that last hour of the fading night. You are now unburdened enough to write.