2021 Pushcart Prize Nominee
The security light is blinking uncontrollably again on the Phoenix pub across the road, it’s 11.34pm, and I can’t sleep.
It’s about this time that flickering images start to dance behind my eyes, so I make a hot cocoa, wrap up in my thin paisley-patterned duvet and imagine sheep in order of their fluffiness-
4. South Wales mountain-large and hardy, with a dense woolly coat that’s mostly used for carpets instead of for 33-year-old women to stick their head in and make the world go away when they’ve spent all day staring blanky at a screen because the world doesn’t like to be ignored
3. Dalesbred- beautifully springy fleece, crossbred because that’s supposed to make breeds stronger but who knows what they lose in the process, because we all lose something in the ways that are supposed to make us stronger, friends, kindness, sleep
2. Ancon- desirable because their short legs mean they can’t escape, which says more about escape than I ever wanted to know, tiny face that looks lost in the middle of an unmeasurable space
1. Valois blacknose- a walking haircut on four legs, even their faces are fluffy and look perpetually surprised as if they woke up one day and looked at their lives and didn’t dare close their eyes again and
I remember you introduced me to this method, and I feel the doubts skittering in and right now that doesn’t help.
The baby in Flat 12 is wailing like an angry peacock, aiii-eee-eee, it’s 12.30pm and I can’t sleep.
It’s about this time that the nausea starts to uncurl inside my throat and I drain the grainy cocoa dregs and count the pets I have owned in order of importance-
4. Juhi Chawla, my pet orchid, a present I bought myself when I turned eighteen, and the first thing I successfully kept alive for longer than two months
3. Madhuri and Sridevi the goldfish, who I loved with all my five-year-old heart for twelve days until I dropped my dahi wada in the tank and they both went gracefully belly up
2. Sachin the hamster that grandfather gave me when I was 9 years old, who lasted six weeks until I accidentally poisoned him with chocolate buttons and when grandfather didn’t wake up five days later I knew it was my fault
1. Dragon the chinchilla, your 6-month anniversary present to me because her black eyes reminded you of mine but she’s still at the vets with possible smoke inhalation and I can’t think about that right now because
this only makes me remember all the other people I’ve lost, and it doesn’t help
The whoosh-whish-whooshing starts in the pipes in the flat above, it’s 1.44am, and I can’t sleep.
It’s about this time that the churning in my ears, hoosh-hoosh-kroosh, starts to make my toes curl, so I make a list of all the books I could read to you in the hospital tomorrow-
4. Girlfriend in a coma by Douglas Coupland, your favourite book at art college but oh why did you want to read about comas and then the world ends, so no
3. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, a book I’ve always loved for its poetry and intensity and Anneka’s loyalty and how you can take something from one culture and reimagine it in another, but oh fire, so no
2. Exit West by Moshin Hamid, love and escape and mysterious doors, and maybe a story about journeying across the world will stir your limbs, so yes
1. The swimming pool season by Rose Tremain, because love can remain and sometime life happens to you when you’re not expecting it, and I feel like I’m underwater all the time now, but
that just makes me remember the battered copy of Noontide Toll you kept under your bed for me to read when I stayed over and it doesn’t help.
The boiler starts clanging like it’s being dragged to hell, ang-anga-anga-ang, it’s 3.23am, and I can’t sleep.
It’s about this time that the weight of the duvet starts to bulldoze into my chest, so I fling it away and lie like a trapdoor spider in the middle of the bed and think about the essential things I’d save from a fire and how that’s changed since 1.23am on Sunday 4th April-
4. My mother’s handwritten recipe for the secret spice blend for egg curry that I’m not allowed to share with my sister Soriaya because of that time she burnt the onions onto the best roti tava
3. the pink beaded shoes I saved up for five months that I wore on our fourth date and made you carry me three flights of stairs into your flat on the Kingswood Estate for the first time
2. The notebook in which I was writing the poem for our one-year anniversary that I kept in the drawer in your flat you gave me for our 9-month anniversary, along with my spare hairbrush, three pairs of silky knickers and some guilty pleasure khadi sakhar
1. The drawing of me you scribbled on the napkin from Joanna’s on our first date but
I didn’t manage to save anything from the fire, not the khadi sakhar, not the notebook, not even you, and it doesn’t help.
It’s 3.54am, the smoke alarm beeps, eep-eep-eep, I know it’s working this time and I sleep and I wish in the morning we both wake up.
Published in Issue 6