Mark rolled over and took a bleary eyed look at his alarm clock. It digits glowed a menacing red. In the darkness of his room his eyes took a few seconds to adjust. He swore under his breath as he realised the time and rolled around to get a more comfortable position in the bed.
“Go back to sleep, Mark”, murmured his wife Sarah, “You’ve been tossing all night”.
“I can’t sleep” grumbled Mark as he tossed around again and kicked the sheets off his feet.
The fan was on but was putting in a poor show of cooling the room. Despite its best efforts it only managed to shift the humid air around the room. In exchange for not cooling the room the fan made a regular, gentle knocking noise. It was the kind of knocking that at first is easy to ignore but as the long night dragged on it grew and grew to the point of madness.
Mark lay awake listening. Soon he became aware of a cricket chirping in the distance. He rolled to the edge of the bed and tortured himself as the digital clock counted time. Each minute that ticked by was one less he could depend on for rest. Before long Mark was drowning in his thoughts, most of which centered on why he wasn’t asleep yet.
“If I go to sleep now, I should still be ok in the morning. I’ve got 4 hours 59 minutes before the alarm.” Mark thought as he willed himself to sleep.
“Just relax; it’ll be easier if you just relax. RELAX. Why can’t you relax, are you a defective human?! Seriously, sleeping isn’t hard man; you’ve been doing it every day for your whole life! Go to sleep.” Mark relaxed, finally and let out a deep sigh.
“Good, this is what you need. You need to stop thinking about thinking. Mark, you’re thinking again, don’t you know it will stop you from getting a decent sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow don’t forget to make sure you get ready for work first thing. You can’t be late. Shit! Why are you thinking about this when you should be sleeping? This won’t help you at all; you should just try to relax…” And around, and around his thoughts went.
He eventually swam his way clear of his thoughts and with a clear head he was ready to relax. CHIRP! Chirrup Chirp CHIRP! He again became aware of the chirping cricket and soon added the sound of the ceiling fan whirring and occasionally making that infernal knocking noise. Mark opened his eyes again, only 30 minutes had passed and he was sure he could remember being awake the whole time. Mark could feel the growing weariness in his muscles; his body had become tired from the adrenaline and anxiety. He made his way steadily towards emotional and physical exhaustion. Mark spent the next 4 and a half hours cycling between periods of quiet, to drowning in a torrent of thoughts and all points in between.
Mark practically fell out of bed at 1 minute to 7. Turned off his alarm and shuffled to the bathroom, the pins and needles in his feet were unstoppable. What greeted him in the mirror could hardly be described as human. It resembled someone Mark knew but he couldn’t be sure. Mark went through the motions of getting dressed for work but couldn’t remember why. He’d been unemployed for four months. In the shower Mark allowed the nearly scalding hot water to flow over his dog tired body. The exhaustion started the melt away from his weary muscles and they finally started to relax. The steam rose and soon the room was filled with thick wafts of water vapour.
“Mark! Are you ready to go?” A disembodied but strangely familiar voice called through the mist and barely cut through the thunder of the shower.
Mark came back to reality and a ball of anxiety formed in his gut and wound like a snake into his chest. Like a python suffocating its prey, the anxiety looped coil after coil around his heart and started to squeeze. The squeezing came in pulses, relaxing slightly then tightening just a bit more. The pressure finally exploded into a wave of realisation - Mark was late.
“I have a job interview this morning!” Mark exclaimed to no one in particular. The adrenaline kicked in as Mark finally woke up. He was scheduled for a job interview. It was his first one since getting laid off. This was important. The realisation and rush of adrenaline animated Mark in a comical way. He started doing three things at once. He was out of the shower in a flash, sat on the toilet, toothbrush in one hand brushing his teeth and a soaped shaving brush in the other. His movements were coordinated at first but soon he began brushing the same spot on his face like it was a tooth and at the same time moving the toothbrush like it was for shaving foam. He almost forgot why he was on the toilet and nearly needed a second shower.
Frantically he tried to get everything done to get ready. He moved his stuff from one place to the next without doing anything with it. He hung up his towel three times and put his clean clothes in laundry twice. Mark was desperately unaware of the inefficiencies of his actions. He was going to go as fast as he could, even if it took him longer to do it. On his third try he finally got out of the bathroom and was properly dressed. He saw Sarah with a panicked expression on her face and a short white stick in her hand.
“I’m late!” He frantically yelled at her.
“So am I” She responded quietly, belying her real emotion.
Mark was dressed in full business attire sitting at the breakfast table. He paused for a moment to check off his mental checklist.
“Right, so I’ve got my tie, my brief case, my jacket. Have I got my wallet? Yes, in my pocket, what about my keys? Yep here in my hand. Ok, shoes? yup. Socks. Check. Undies. Um… yep. What will I eat? Probably get drive though on the way there. Fine. How much time have we got left? 30 minutes. Ok, so if I leave in the next five minutes, I won’t be late… but Sarah is late. But Sarah never goes anywhere first thing in the morning on a Monday. Weird.”
Mark looked up, his checklist all but complete. “Sarah, what are you late for?”
A tear rolled down her cheek and she said “Honey, we’re pregnant”. Mark hit the floor with a thud.
The doctors said they weren’t sure if it was the pressure of the morning, the lack of sleep and subsequent anxiety or the bitter sweet announcement of a baby on the way with no fixed income or a combination of all of them. But it all became too much for Mark as he lay unconscious on the floor.
Sarah phoned the company he was being interviewed by and they rescheduled to the next day. They told her that none of the other candidates had showed up that day. If Mark interviewed well he would probably get the job. Mark slept, blissfully unaware of all that the activity that was going on around him. As far as he was concerned his day was going just fine.