It’s late at night on the hottest week of the year and the air is made of meat. I am lying in the dark thinking about the Olympians’ cardboard beds. A runner posted pictures of the beds – long boxes, creatively stacked – before they were installed at Tokyo Olympic Village, explaining they’d been designed to withstand the weight of a single person in order to avoid intimacy between those competing. Another athlete called them “anti-sex beds”. If I were an Olympian, which I’m currently not, I would take this as a challenge.
Wouldn’t there be some glory in travelling to Tokyo after all this, these years of dampened fright, and losing immediately? And then, enjoying the best holiday of your life, eating all the food you’d denied yourself over months of training, exploring a new country, and finding new and yogic ways to sleep with the fittest people in the world on beds that collapse when wet? Yes.
I turn and turn again. Would I sleep better on a cardboard bed than on this king-sized fire-pit, all cool patches of pillow long warmed, the only breeze coming from the cat leaping through the window and disturbing the curtains? Across the other side of the city, nightclubs are opening for the first time. I count their thrills as if sheep.
The pleasure of getting ready in your new going-out top, a squirt of vanilla leg oil, the first step down into the dark well of a place built for dancing and flirting, where a thousand spilt pints have melted so the floor is volcanic. The music is so loud it’s no longer music but instead a sort of weather or flu, something that crawls inside you through a crack in your attention and reverberates from the inside out. Standing in heels for the first time in two years, that exquisite ache, turning slowly to agony, every bad memory, every throw-away insult now living in the ball of your foot, throbbing to the beat. Toilets. You have missed this, this club within a club, the soft centre where vanity, excretion and lust meet to wash their hands. The smell of a bubblegum vape. Will they be anxious, these nightclubbers, moving up to a stranger, “SORRY SAY AGAIN?”, in that midnight feeling of being drawn deeper into a crowd? Will they remember how to order a drink? Will their joy be large enough that all qualms about rising infection rates will be hushed, for a while?
I rip back the curtain, ready to shout or run, and am met by the sight of an elderly milkman, trundling by on his float
Summer nights here in the suburbs are silent, but for boys drunk with the power of their own key to the family Ford, and foxes who screech at cats, and a person smoking loudly on the phone to someone in Turkey. My boyfriend and I, though, despite living out here for some years, are still somehow atuned to the clatter of the city, and both sit up with a start when we hear glass and commotion at 5am. I rip back the curtain, ready to shout or run, and am met by the sight of an elderly milkman, trundling by on his float.
What else to count, to bring on sleep? I land on blessings. This is the point in the night when I start to wonder about the soreness in my throat, or whether the baby is breathing oddly. Sicknesses are spreading across England as restrictions are lifted; more than 154 outbreaks of norovirus have been reported in the past five weeks – usually there are no more than 50. A few days after my friend got pinged by her daughter’s school and told she must self-isolate (along with a million other children in England), their family started vomiting, one by one. It went on for almost a week, stuck inside, in the heat. As the baby started to get better, my friend got sick. As she got better, her daughter got sick, and so on, a terrible domino fall, and the sun shining meanly through the window. I sip my water.
There is five minutes at the start of summer when the temperature is perfect. When the sky is blue and ice-cream is a possibility, but before the heat climbs to this dense and woollen height. Before bin day announces itself with the low hum of fermented nappies, the roiling stench of old mince and dead flowers, the pavements an obstacle course of weeping wheelie-bins, wobbling slightly by noon. Five minutes, when the nights are fine – an open window means a lightweight duvet does not suffocate, instead offers a gentle caress, a little warmth before dawn. When it is possible to simply sleep, rather than teleport sweatily into the news and other people’s lives. Five minutes of the correct good weather, before this bloated heat comes with its endless nights.
August has barely begun, but I have had enough. All I ask for is perfection, and eight hours sleep, and absolutely no dreams at all.