Awake at the second attempt, no less drowsy than the first time, but the room much brighter for the extra hour that must have elapsed. Earlier, everything remained dressed in the heavy charcoal tones of night. Only a few tall, thin gaps of colour leaked into the room. That breakthrough orange was the hue of lamplight – not sunrise. It barely defined the edge of the chair, nor the near upright of the wardrobe. Now, the chair and all the other elements of the room are going through that gradual transformation of dawn: the chair turning cerise from the dirty purple of an hour or so ago; the warm tones of the wood of the wardrobe seeping through; the white of the chest of drawers becoming less grey. All is less grey. I turn to face Charlotte. The light from the window isn’t yet strong enough to see her as clearly as I do those objects at the end of the room, so I let my eyes perch on her form for a few seconds longer. Our flesh, mine and hers: still grey. Only the barest trace of pink and brown and red showing through and beginning to restore that truth we call the familiar. Her arms obscure her face; a censoring cross of limbs around which I can make out only her chin and forehead. Her head is sunken deep into the pillow. The elbow nearest to me polices and eventually makes me retreat across the surface of my own pillow. I turn towards the door and lift myself from bed in the same movement – finding the first aches of the day, in my shoulder and neck, as I do. I illuminate the phone display and it reads 06.00, which troubles by its very vulgarity: the elements of the day – this light and shade; this flesh; these aches – already chronometrically being rounded down.
I wake up, my eyes finding the form of things and my mind finding the meaning of those forms slowly. I locate the vaguest print of morning across the wall. I follow it back towards the window, across the corner of the mattress and the chest of drawers, to the vertical shaft of white-grey light where the curtains never quite meet. I turn around to look at my wife, still sleeping, almost always still sleeping. I watch her for no more than a few seconds; her back fully exposed, her skin monochrome. Her hair is spread across the pillow and her hands ball together softly underneath her left cheek. Every morning, there’s an echo, however distant and quiet, of that much stronger feeling that I have for her. These echoes are really the manifestation of how we love, in reality – the soft, reflecting repetition of a thing that starts so loudly. I get out of bed, picking up the phone from the cabinet as I do, and look back to Charlotte before leaving the room. Her eyes, her mouth, that pallor to her skin – not yet ready to be woken, to find colour and be brought back to life.
When my eyes open for the first time, it’s to the unrelenting dark of those morning hours which night still has more claim to than day. Charlotte’s there in front of me immediately. She is beautiful. Hand resting gently against her mouth as though painted there. Shoulder and breast lit by the skinny streak of lamplight from the window. I push down the corner of the pillow between us, away from the blurring corners of my view, and fall back to sleep with my gaze resting there on her skin; resting with the light.
It’s only marginally more bright the next time. She has turned around completely. The duvet is hunched tightly around the shoulder nearest to me. Her hair is tucked neatly into that warmth too. She is almost hidden. I turn around and reach for the phone, but the cabinet top is empty. I root around under the pillow and find it in the divide between the two pillows that hold her head and the two that hold mine. I press the button and send a weak torch-beam of light towards the cracked and stubbled surface of the ceiling. 05.34. It’s too early to rise and too late to try once more for sleep. Bessie coughs from her room at the other end of the hallway, which jolts me into a far more sober condition. From downstairs, I can hear the patter of the dog’s paws across the floorboards: acknowledging the creaking springs of the mattress from this room above her. I grab the tumbler of water from the floor, taking care not to chink my wedding band against the side as I do, and drink enough to pull myself decisively from sleep. I pick up the socks, jeans and shirt from where I dropped them several hours ago and walk over to the basket near the window to deposit them there. I find the gap between the curtain and the wall. Outside, everything is bathed in orange. Nothing moves. Nothing is yet awake.
Downstairs, I can hear the dog once more; a repetition of sounds in response to what she can hear from this room, above. Piece by piece, and via the undoing of peace after peace, the day begins to reverberate and unfold.