I am asleep and you are not. There I am. Sound asleep, eyes closed in blissful repose seemingly unaffected by what unfolded earlier. My chest rises and falls in a slow rhythm, my breathing relaxed and regular. There may come a time when you want to halt that breathing. You may wish to place one of those full pillows across my peaceful face and press down with all your strength and will. You may wish to press it tight against my mouth and nose, leaning what bodyweight you have in order to prevent my frantic scrabbling hands from ripping away the pillow so I can breathe once again. That desire, although you will not do it, few have the willpower to see it through, may well appear time and time again and sooner than you think. The image of snuffing out such a toxic life through the concerted application of something so innocuous as a pillow. It is unlikely to be the only image which takes up residence in your head. Pictures of slips off cliffs, a hit and run, a toaster in the bath, some obscure and undetectable poison administered in a setting where there would be more suspects that Cluedo. So many murderous scenarios which you may well come to envisage say exactly as you are now. In our bed. In the middle of the night.
I sleep soundly, the sleep of the just and the righteous. The earlier incident has not troubled me. Or is it that I have fallen asleep in the stupor of drink, the alcoholic fumes having coaxed me into a coma? Then again, might it be a reliance on certain prescription drugs that I repeatedly avail myself of which has rendered me dead to the world? It may be any of those things, but whichever it is, I am asleep and you are not. You remain awake because you cannot sleep. You are sat, knees drawn to your chest, eyes fixed on me as your mind whirls. Amongst all the tumbling thoughts, the whirling considerations and the surging memories, one thought above all dominates, repeats and looms large.
Who is he?
What has prompted such earnest consideration? It was an isolated incident. Perhaps a savage rebuke when all seemed peaceful. A pleasant day that suddenly was torn apart by the acidic tongue which sprayed cutting remarks in your direction. You remember how I looked. It did not seem like me. I appeared possessed. Eyes darkened, brow furrowed, mouth twisted and expression set in one of hatred. You had never witnessed that before. In fact, you found the way I looked more frightening than what I said. Where did that come from? You are struggling to remember how the argument began. Something to do with not listening, that was it, but how it escalated. The irritation lasted but a moment before anger, rage and fury erupted and you found yourself shrinking away from this verbal violence. This had never happened before. Everything had been so wonderful. Yes, you had heard a couple of people remark about my temper but in all those blissful months you had never seen it appear once. Even during testing times, I remained calm, serene, almost glacial at times when the pressure mounted. That was part of why you admired me. My ability to keep my head. So what just happened but a few hours earlier? Who was that? It did not seem like me, but it had to have been me, there was nobody else in the room.
Now you sit in the still of the bedroom. The low glow from the lamp to your left shining across my features. There is no anger etched upon my face now. I look just how I always look when I sleep, as if nothing in the world could matter. You have often stayed up and watched over me, happy to stroke my chest or my brow, my occasional murmurs of satisfaction and the slight upturning of my mouth denoting the contentment that I derive from your attentive ministrations. So, I lie there, just as I would any other night. Sleeping. Calm. Tranquil. I am just the same as I always am on every other night when you have watched over me. Yet, still the question comes again. Who was that who appeared earlier?
Following the eruption, I went out and left you. You did not know what to do at first. You felt shell-shocked. Once you had gathered yourself you telephoned your best friend and explained what had happened, providing her with every detail of the wonderful day beforehand and every frame of the storm which blew up in an instant.
“Oh it’s nothing,” she said in her familiar reassuring voice, “couples argue, Pete and me we are always having rows. Let him cool off, he will be fine. Now, tell me about that new book you mentioned the other day, is it any good.”
Your best friend brushed it off. Perhaps she was right. After all, don’t all couples fall out at some time? Of course. Your parents did not do so, not often anyway, so perhaps you have an unrealistic idea of how you should get on together. Despite her reassurances you remained worried and called your sister.
“Blimey, that is a surprise,” she remarked after hearing your recollection, “he is always so lovely, I didn’t think he had it in him. He will be back. They always come back, he is probably feeling a bit of a tit for shouting at you and just needs to go and have a beer or something. Seriously, it is nothing to worry about.”
But worry you did. The succession of calls was made to other friends, your brother and your grandmother. They all rolled out reassurance and posited platitude in order to assuage your concerns.
“Oh don’t be so sensitive, you’ve had your first argument, welcome to the club.”
“I bet he is stressed, probably working too hard, you did say he has been working long hours recently. I bet he comes back with an apology and flowers. Just give him some space for an hour or two.”
“I would go berserk if I had to live with you sis, no, seriously, he is just letting off steam, you two are great together.”
“Oh your granddad had a foul temper but we never went to bed on an argument. That’s how we were married for fifty years. You expect too much; you have to work at a relationship my dear.”
They all thought along similar lines. It is part and parcel of a relationship. It just hurts because it is the first time. You want to hug me and say sorry for worrying so much but you do not want to disturb me. You chastise yourself for thinking too much into it. Of course, you always over-think things and as everybody said I came back. I returned after a couple of hours, smiled and took you in my arms as if nothing had happened. You did not want to talk about the incident. That black mark on an otherwise golden day and therefore you did not. Your relief at my smiling return was so great you did not want to let go of me and we stood hugging for several minutes. The rest of the evening passed with dinner and a film before heading to bed together where I fell asleep in an instant.
I showed no concern at what had gone on. There was no apology but you didn’t mind. You hadn’t any desire to re-visit what had happened, at least you did not want to do so with me, but you have not been able to help doing so for the last two hours as you have sat here in bed, looking at me, wondering and pondering. Those words were so venomous, that expression so hateful, even now the memory makes you feel on edge. Still, everybody you spoke to reassured you and they must be right mustn’t they, if they all thought along similar lines? People who have had longer relationships than you. They clearly know something about it and everybody played it down. It must be you over-reacting to a spat, a frightening one, but perhaps that was all it was. A one-off. An isolated incident. You hope it is because you did not like that person who I turned into, not one bit. You do not want to meet him again. He is not the person you fell in love with. He is not the person you adore and care for. He is not the person you moved in with and want to be with for the rest of your life. You did not recognise him. Whoever he was, he does not belong in your bed.
There I sleep. At ease. Content. Untroubled. You think you know me. You think you know who sleeps in your bed with you.
You have no idea.
That’s how easily it starts and neither you or anybody else knows the truth of who is sleeping in your bed.