She turned on the bedside lamp and wondered why she hadn’t fallen asleep yet. It was past midnight and she’d gone to bed hours ago. She looked around her room and thought about how strange it looked at night and how strange it was that her own personal space could suddenly feel so empty. It was her room, without doubt. But there was something wrong that she couldn’t find the words for, like the walls were calling out to her without speaking. She badly wanted to fill the room up to the ceiling so it wouldn’t seem so hollowed out and sad, but she didn’t have anything to take up the space.
There was a time about a year ago, she remembered, where it was so much easier to fall asleep. But she was restless and irritated and tightly wound – and didn’t want to think about him and how much easier it was back then. She could feel his hands still, stroking her back. She had always seen how careless he was with those hands, but the moment they touched her he was delicate, like the secret of his gentle nature was reserved for her consideration. She thought about him more, how he played with her hair until she fell asleep and how his body pressed against hers when he held her. She didn’t necessarily want to remember the memories as vividly as she did, but the physical sensation of those interactions was imprinted on her mind, and they would return to her as she thought of them. What was it that she had felt with him? At the time she assumed it was a symptom of romantic love, but that’s not what she yearned for right now – what she wanted was something visceral. It was the touch that mattered. A light tickle of the spine, or the skin, or the tiny hairs on top of it.
But she had largely forgotten what touch felt like from someone other than herself. She remembered recently when a friend had placed his hand on her shoulder and it felt like being electrocuted. How every millisecond it occurred shot through her as if it wasn’t just an inconsequential gesture, but something more instead. He could tell as well, she reckoned, because the stench of loneliness clings to the skin like wet clothes. At least it does on her.
She looked around and thought again about how empty her room felt. Knowing inside that thinking served no other purpose than to torment the body.
The bedroom was downstairs and on one side of it was a patio door and windows that connected the room to the garden, so long curtains covered it. She looked to them now. The light from the bedside lamp, though minimal, just about touched them, casting a shadow across the ripples of fabric so they looked like waves. The curtain folds reminded her of the stomach belonging to a woman she slept with months ago, on a rare occasion of being touched by another. The woman came and left, not keen on staying too long in just one place, and she could see her now getting ready to go, bending over to pull her trousers up, the various curves of her body making her look like a marble statue. She missed her, her soft body and the energy she could imbue with every touch of her knowing fingers. She thought about how easy it is to become fond of someone who you know so little about, since the imagination is free to invent something more alluring than reality.
She was consumed by these thoughts and stared up towards the ceiling. To her the ugly pattern looked like miniature stalactites dripping water. She imagined them soaking the walls of her room as the idea ate away at her – the idea that she craved touch and nothing else. But she wanted to sleep. She stretched out her legs and released some of the tension she felt, rubbing her feet together and stretching the arches as much as she could. But it made her think of him again – and her – and everyone – when she had looked down at the bottom of the bed and seen two pairs of feet sticking out from under the covers, not just one. Where were all these people now? When she needed their bodies and they didn’t just need hers? She kept asking herself unanswerable questions in the hopes that it would tire her out, but if anything it just gave her more energy.
She decided to turn away from the lamp, which seemed to grow brighter, and stare instead at the wall until her eyes got sore. Surely that would make her fall asleep, she thought. It seemed at first like this would work, that her mind would clear and she could finally go to sleep. But she was distracted by a noise outside that sounded like her cat meowing. She considered letting it in, but soon turned back to the wall, trying to focus on anything besides touch. She watched it intensely, like she was expecting it to run away from her. But it didn’t. It just stayed there, trapped under those wet stalactites that unrelentingly dripped. She heard the cat again, much louder this time so it couldn’t be ignored, and caved to its demands. She got out of bed and walked towards the curtains, gently placing her fingers towards the opening and letting them part as she went through. At the top of the patio door was a small lock sticking out that she struggled to reach, spending a long time fiddling with it until eventually, relieved, she could open the door. She let her cat come in and finally felt tired. She decided it was wise to go to the toilet before sleeping, and when she got back to her bed and got herself comfortable, she noticed that her room no longer seemed so empty and turned off the bedside lamp.