It is amazing what your mind is capable in times of true desperation. When the last glimmer of hope flickers and extinguishes itself, leaving you mired in the yawning darkness of despondency.
Xim has never felt so alone, he ponders with bleak conviction as he lies in the darkness, high above the twinkling city lights. Far below, beneath the smog, he hears distant shuttles rumble and clank into the Burnley Tunnel. The drone of the city rings in his ears. In the corner of their bedroom, the video standby dot beams brightly in the darkness. Mocking him.
She lies before him, not moving.
It had always been murder at the agency. For 10 years, Xim had endured the duplicity, the lies, the broken promises. In recent months, Xim had become consumed by the gnawing realisation that his life was on the wrong path altogether.
Xim had tried for so long to achieve the goals they set him, without ever having broken through, that he’d lost faith that he could ever make it happen.
Now look what it had come to.
All Xim had ever really wanted was a great idea. A concept that truly resonated with the collective unconscious. But the great idea had never come. You would have thought that by the year 2410, man would had worked out how his own mind comes up with ideas, wouldn’t you? Xim had never imagined that he might die without having made some kind of lasting impression on the world. But at the age of 40 here he was. On the way out.
Xim looked down beside the bed at his artificial limbs, barely visible in the dim light, marvelling at their sleek beauty. With them he could lift loads twice as heavy as his ancestors, resist the extreme temperatures that their birth bodies could no longer withstand. But not come up with a great idea, nor father a child. All Xim and Sal’s plans, their whole lives together, had been premised on the mutual assumption that they would one day have children. It had been heartbreaking when they had first been told. But neither Xim nor Sal were the type to give up when confronted by a challenge.
How could it be so hard to conceive in the 25th century?
The IVF had cost them dearly. Money, time, energy. Even their love for one another seemed to have dried up over half a decade of failed attempts to conceive. Five years in the system had left them empty. Desiccated. Xim had wanted nothing in this life more than to give his wife a child. But it was not to be. It had drained the life out of them both.
Sal whimpers. Another nightmare. Xim curls tighter around her, feeling her little spasms as she dodges spectres and wraiths. He squeezes her hand, kisses the icy nape of her neck and pulls the blanket up underneath her raven locks. Whispers to her, “It’s OK, I’m here”. Kisses her shoulder. Sal settles and murmurs again as she slips back into a deep slumber.
The stress had scored a deep ravine between them. Imbued them with hopelessness and frustration. They had drifted apart. They hadn’t spoken, the way they used to do, for months. They’d lost one another. Sal mumbles something indecipherable and moves her head on the pillow, spreading her hair across the pillow. It falls across Xim’s nose and makes its way into his mouth. Suddenly claustrophobic, Xim rolls away from Sal and eases the sheets open to let the frigid air in. He contemplates the luminous digits beside the bed. Should he pop a pill? He can’t afford to be groggy tomorrow.
Maybe he should just get up, go down to the gym, read. Something. They told him to get out of bed when this happened. Not to fight the thoughts. Dissociate himself from them. Just let them take their form in the darkness and observe them passively. Let them play out in front of you for as long as they take, then let them go. Relax. That way sleep will come. Right. Xim forces his eyes closed again and imagines the darkness drawing him in. He wills his mind towards the abyss, tries to throw it off the precipice into unconsciousness. There are precious few opportunities to go down the rabbit hole and if he misses it, he’s stuck with his incessant thoughts until the next chance emerges.
It’s no good.
Xim sighs in frustration and rams his eyes shut again. Infra red swirls melt and reform under his lids. A hint of fatigue licks at the peripheries of his consciousness. He wonders for the umpteenth time by what divine hand the spotlight of inspiration is shone upon a select few of us. Sal stirs in his arms. At least he has her. He can’t lose her. The familiar, warm tiredness of imminent sleep washes over him. There it is. It’s happening.
“Let me sleep ‘til it’s light”, Xim prays. Into the abyss he descends, his muscles finally relaxing. As he starts to fall asleep, Xim becomes aware of an extraordinary sensation of illumination in the dark. It is like nothing Xim has ever felt before. Indescribable, but exquisite, beautiful. Barely aware of what he is experiencing, Xim tries to maintain the equilibrium of this state in which he has found himself, clutching at the delicate threads of an ethereal impression.
Xim’s chest rises and falls as his breathing slows. His mind feels like it is widening to encompass the overwhelmingly wonderful impressions flooding his mind. In the recesses of his mind grows insistent an urge to wake himself and make a note, try to capture this incredible experience. Is this inspiration? But Xim’s instinct tells him not to stray from the delicate fine line between waking and falling into deep sleep, from which he may remember nothing of this perfect thought. Xim knows innately that he must follow this elusive thread of thought to its exquisite conclusion. He is experiencing the most immaculate of concepts.
In the morning, Sal wakes first and lies there, warm and cosy between the bed sheets. She feels, for the first time in months, a sense of lightness, happiness. Her nose is cold from the frosty air. She wonders whether they really made love during the night. They hadn’t done that – spontaneously, passionately – not for years. “How had it become a task?” Sal wonders as she dabs between her legs. It had been real alright. She slides her toes along Xim’s calves. Like ice, as usual.
As the morning filters through her long lashes and starts to thaw her soporific mind, Sal is gripped by the utterly illogical and inexplicable conviction that she is carrying their child. She traces her fingers across her belly and wonders how it is that she knows this. It makes no sense, but she is certain. Overcome with excitement, she turns to wake Xim, kisses his lips. So cold!
She shakes him, but he doesn’t stir…