A dream: a rambling serial killer narrative, complete with hokey clues and red herrings, is interrupted by a TV screen showing a giant tortoise swimming underwater. The tortoise is speared in the back of the neck by a fishing hook. Someone near me mutters the tortoise died. I stumble-run for the exit of wherever I am and collapse outside on some stairs, weeping uncontrollably.
I wake up, hot and sweaty. My mouth is dry from all the snacks I had earlier, the beer. I go upstairs and pour myself a glass of water. Through the kitchen window I think I see someone on the balcony of one of the units opposite my townhouse. Just standing there.
I go back to bed. I can’t sleep. The moon is full and blue. Its light fluoresces through the two big skylights above my bed. I tell myself not to check social media. I do anyway of course. A few more likes on my possibly ill-advised rant from earlier in the night, a few more sad/angry replies. Everybody knows why this has happened. Nobody knows why this has happened.
There’s a drizzle of rain on the corrugated iron roof. Nothing much. A dusting. The weather is weird. It reminds me of how it was three years ago when another country voted in a man who couldn’t possibly win: warm, humid, out of joint. And still, a stillness that churns with movement, pops and flutters; a quickening. The sense of something coming.
I want to sleep. My eyes and brain are full of blue light—my screen, the moon, the one disrupting my natural sleep cycle, the other part of a natural cycle all its own. I google sunrise adelaide. 7:00am. I take out my eye mask, think about putting it on but don’t. There’s nothing more I can do. I count the books on my bedside table: 20, in two even piles. I count how many are about climate change: 4. I should go to sleep.
A friend texts me. It’s 5:20am, 5:50am where she is. The message makes no sense. It’s the way of things now I suppose. Earlier she had been at a party, was maybe still there: I’m literally bawling, she had written to me at 9:11pm, in front of all those people. After that, some MDMA had gone around.
I think about checking social media again, writing something. But I don’t want it to have any more of my grief, or whatever this is. I don’t want reactions. I want to start the night over, see if it had to happen this way or not. That tortoise. This grief. This sleeplessness.
Ben Brooker is an Adelaide-based writer, editor, critic, essayist, bookseller, and playwright. His work has been featured by Overland, Australian Book Review, RealTime, The Lifted Brow, Daily Review, Verity La, Witness, ArtsHub, and others. In 2016-17 Ben was an inaugural Sydney Review of Books Emerging Critics Fellow and in 2018-19 was writer-in-residence at The Mill.