I lift the duvet and sink my aching limbs into clean, crisp white sheets. Around me, everything is quiet. Not the kind of quiet that you get in our house, which is laden with the knowledge that within two hours it will definitely be shattered by baffling, implacable screams of red-faced outrage. This is real quiet. It’s-going-to-stay-quiet quiet.
Aaaaaaah. I close my eyes and think about floating naked in a tropical whirlpool, clutching some kind of delicious cocktail. Am I in heaven? No. I’m at my friend Hannah’s house. But it might as well be heaven. Everything in Hannah’s house is clean. Everything is white. Everything is in the right place. Most importantly, I don’t have to deal with any of it. It is not my responsibility.
I am here on Doctor Ibrahim’s orders, because if I don’t get some sleep soon I will pose a serious danger to myself and others. She has instructed me to leave the baby with Curly, while I go and spend the night elsewhere. Hannah, one of my dearest oldest friends, not only offered her spare room but also threw in a Chinese takeaway for dinner. She is by nature a person who restores order to a disordered world.
It is the measure of how desperate Curly is for me to be sane again that he has happily agreed to this arrangement. In fact, he packed my bag for me and practically booted me out of the house. “Why don’t you stay for two nights, hon?” The way things have been going recently, he would probably be pretty chuffed if I never came back.
I open one eye. On the floor by my bed are a white, fluffy pair of slippers. They are not mine. They are Hannah’s “guest slippers”. I’d never heard of “guest slippers” before, but I love them so much it brings a tear to my eye. I don’t even want to wear them. Just knowing they are there, that someone has gone out of their way to bring about my happiness and comfort, makes me feel as warm and fluffy as they are.
Why don’t I have guest slippers? We aren’t exactly overwhelmed with guests in the slightly-too-small-flat, which is just as well because the only place for them to sleep would be on the floor underneath the dining table, surrounded by Lego. But the question is more profound than that. Hannah and I grew up together. We have similar backgrounds. We even have similar jobs. How have we turned out so differently in this, it suddenly seems to me, quite fundamental respect? Is it just happenstance? Or is there a part of me, deep down inside, that doesn’t actually want guest slippers? While half of my psyche longs for calm, adult respectability, is there another devilish part of that delights in uncertainty and chaos?
I feel tantalisingly close to some kind of epiphany, but before it arrives a huge, white wave of sleep sweeps over me. I dive gratefully into its very heart, and let it bear me away to a distant, longed-for shore.