Friday, 12 August 2011

No lighthouse

It's been a long day, a long week, and I'm bone-tired as I get into the car to drive home. A small voice tells me it wasn't the best idea to go out tonight, to drive 60 miles for dinner after 12 hours in the office. But the small voice's invincible sidekick tells me a night out was just what I needed. And it has been lovely; relaxed friendly chat, catching up on news of friends, swapping stories of visiting guests, telling tales of office colleagues.

The road is dark and I'm the only one on it. No street-lights out here in the country, no headlights from passing cars.

I feel the waves of sleepiness rise up, feel the heaviness at the back of my eyes, I try to swallow down the weight and the lethargy. I know how quickly I fall asleep at home, how hard I fight to stay awake in front of the tv and how soon I lose consciousness the minute my head hits the pillow. I know how easily I could drop off now.

Bright cats-eyes dance on the road in front of me, then suddenly I feel them under the tyres and realise I've swerved, I pull back sharply to where I ought to be, to my side of the road. For a moment I'm wide-awake, blinking in panicked shock, but then the sense of slipping comes again.

Twenty miles to go, half an hour to home.

I turn up the radio, blast out the air-conditioning, gulp down great mouthfuls of cold air. I'm not really listening to the radio, the voices merge with the thoughts in my head; the conversations of tonight, the confrontations of the day, all mixed together in no clear stream, with no clear sense. I move my head from side to side, feel the muscles in my shoulders stretching, my spine clicks. I imagine someone pulling a string tied to the top of my head, lifting me up tall and straight.

As I pass a lay-by I think of pulling over, but I'm too stubborn to stop, too scared  to sit at the side of the road by myself, so I drive on. I think of speeding up, perhaps if I get there quicker, I'll beat the almost irresistible weariness.

A huge lorry looms up out of the darkness, seemingly out of nowhere. The row of lights across the top of the cab dazzle me, shining out like stage lights on opening night. I blink awake and shrink back like a hidden creature retreating when a stone is overturned.

When I finally get home, the street is dark, our house is asleep; no lights at the windows, no lamp above the door. I'm strangely angry that there's no brightness to greet me; I want a lighthouse beam to recognise how close to the rocks I've been, to guide me safely the last few yards.

I fumble for the key, feel for the lock and guide it in. I feel clumsy and stupid; I know I'm not angry with the dark house but with myself; I know just how easily I might have been slipping, not into the dark comfort of home, but into another kind of darkness altogether.

20 comments:

Nessa Roo said...

I'm glad you made it through your fog of sleepiness. This sounds like the beginning of a terrific novel. I'd keep reading, if you wrote it.

Nicole said...

That's a drive I've had too many times. Chilling re-telling.

Robbie Grey said...

Something I am all too familiar with. I was once in accident because I fell asleep at the wheel after being up thirty-six hours straight. It gave me nightmares for years and I was terrified to drive.

Shopgirl said...

Wow, scary, vivid and descriptive. The whole thing could also be metaphor for other kind of darkness and how close we come to slip sometimes.

Pat said...

Just don't do it again!
I can talk. Years ago - before motorways- my husband and I and 10 month old baby drove overnight from Epsom to Rossendale. And the last 20 miles we were constantly losing consciousness and slipping over to the other side of the road. No safety belts then - just a guardian angel.

DPR said...

Have been there so many times. Your description gave me exactly the feelings I have experienced. And I would get angry. You know you should stop but you have to go on. Thankfully I no longer drive for a living or have a long drive to work. I fear I would have met the other darkness by now if I did. I never thought you could nod off at the wheel until I did. Be careful out there.

Hillary said...

Scary indeed.

I'm glad you're fine, Sharon

Starlight said...

I don't want to imagine into what kind of darkness you might have slipped.
I loved this piece, is so vivid and descriptive; it felt like I was sitting right next to you.

Mr London Street said...

A frightening read. My favourite part was you imagining yourself being pulled straight by a string tied to the top of your head, a fantastic image.

And I agree with Pat - don't do it again, eh?

The Idiot Gardener said...

I have, at times, reverted to slapping myself in the face. Afterwards it all seems so laughable, but at the time there's nothing worse. I once caught myself in the eye while trying to keep awake, and managed to get double vision. That time I did stop ... after nearly hitting a motorway barrier!

#1Nana said...

"I want a lighthouse beam to recognise how close to the rocks I've been." I love that idea and it rang true with me that there are frequently little incidents in our lives that don't get recognized as the accomplishments that they are. This was a good read!

Baglady said...

I know exactly the feeling you describe - slipping sums it up perfectly. In the early days of my relationship with Mr Manbag I used to drive for an hour back to my bare rented house in Oxfordshire far later at night than my body wanted to. I know that feeling of being utterly awake for a few seconds before Morpheus would wrap his warm arms around me and pull me back under. Terrifying but true.

So glad you made it home OK.

bamaloo said...

"I blink awake and shrink back like a hidden creature retreating when a stone is overturned."

Oh, if only I had a penny for each time I've felt just exactly that way. Great story!

Bth said...

Woah! This is brilliant. You had me on the edge of my seat. The description is just so vivid, and the reader is right there with you. I especially loved the lighthouse imagery connected to coming home. Lovely idea.

Liz said...

Glad you made it home safely.

Sharon Longworth said...

Nessa Roo - thank you. One of these days I'm going to have to decide if I've really got a novel in me...

Nicole - it's scary how many people have had a similar experience. Drive carefully!

Robbie - that's awful. I hope the nightmares are all over now. Are you driving again?

Shopgirl - I'm always flattered that you take the time to think about other meanings in my writing - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Pat - I promise I'll try to keep the long drives for the weekend in future. Either that, or give up work - if only!

Thanks Derek, I'm glad you're not having to do long drives any more.

Hillary - thank you.

MLS - glad you liked the image, maybe I should think of it more often - it would improve my posture no end...

Sharon Longworth said...

IG - yep, slapping myself was definitely an option, and no less than I deserved for being stupid. Glad you pulled over at the right time.

#1Nana - thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Baglady - I'm glad you don't have that long lonely drive any more - must have been a real wrench.

Bamaloo - I'm really pleased it struck a chord with you - thank you for your comment.

Sharon Longworth said...

Bth - too kind by far - thank you.

Liz - me too!thank you :)

Robbie Grey said...

Actually, yes. The accident happened fourteen years ago. When I still lived in cities, I walked and road the bus, but once we got to the mountains, where things are further spaced, I started driving more regularly.