Muffled labourings of my heart

I hardly sleep, these days, these nights. Or, rather, I go to sleep, put under by jorums of drink and fistfuls of jumbo knock-out pills. Then at three or four in the morning my eyelids snap open like faulty window blinds and I find myself in a state of lucid alertness the equal of which I never seem to achieve in daytime. The darkness at that hour is of a special variety too, more than merely the absence of light but a medium to itself, a kind of motionless black glair in which I am held fast, a felled beast prowled about by the jackals of doubt and worry and mortal dread. Above me there is no ceiling, only a yielding, depthless void into which at any moment I might be pitched headlong. I listen to the muffled labourings of my heart and try in vain not to think of death, of failure, of the loss of all that is dear, the world with its things and creatures. The curtained window stands beside the bed like an indistinct dark giant, monitoring me with fixed, maniacal attention. At times the stillness in which I lie comes to seem a paralysis, and I’m compelled to get up and prowl in a state of jittery panic through the empty rooms, upstairs and down, not bothering to switch on the lights. The house around me hums faintly, so that I seem to be inside a large machine, a generator, say, on stand-by, or the engine of a steam train shunted into a siding for the night and still trembling with memories of the day’s fire and speed and noise. I will stop at a landing window and press my forehead to the glass and look out over the sleeping town and think what a Byronic figure I must cut, perched up here, solitary and tragic-seeming, no more to go a-roving. This is the way it is with me, always looking in or looking out, a chilly pane of glass between me and a remote and longed-for world.

John Banville, The Blue Guitar, 2015.

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