If the sleep is heavy, be sure to make the waking just as light.
Be careful with your sleeping Person, as bringing them back inadequately makes you responsible for their disappointment with light, and if the person is your Person, this may just be the end of you. Tickling is perhaps the gentlest form of pain infliction, although some lucky bastards have managed to rise above such attacks with armoured pits and undaunted foot-soles. Night breath is our bodies’ excuse for opening a window to what is still going on, and when you pinch someone’s nose you are testing their drowning skills. If the sleeping is light, make the waking even thinner, so that even their on-guard skin can carry it. Slowly approach theirs from the rail tracks of yours, translating remains of reality and crusts, not fully-present brevities. Pick at the multiple doors and doors and doors your Person closed behind her, before she moved on to other subject areas.
1. If the Person is your sister, try dipping her fingers into the sea.
Marcia and I are squatting behind the glass door which faces the hotel room terrace. She’s just had a huge ice-cream sundae, the biggest you’re allowed with your all-inclusive wristband down at the pool-side bar. Some strawberry sauce has dripped onto her bikini top and I haven’t told her. There are mega sundaes as well, but you have to pay extra for those, and Dad says we have paid enough for this trip already. Mum says health is priceless. ‘That’s bullshit,’ Marcia says now, she means my idea, with the hot and silky vanilla blowing out from her mouth like hot air in the restaurant bathroom. I shuffle away from her just a little. ‘It won’t work,’ she says. That is health, right there: sleeping on the balcony with her glitter-rimmed headphones on, and no sunscreen lotion, just oil. My sister Jenny.
‘How do you know she’s even got a full bladder?’ Marcia says. ‘She might just have been to the loo.’ I tell her it’s a reflex, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve just been. I point towards my sister’s greasy back and arms. There is half a bottle of Vitel toppled over on the tiles next to her, her fingerprints are all over it. Marcia says I smell like brown bananas. ‘Better than vanilla vomit,’ I say. My creamy banana hand has left a cloudy copy of itself on the glass door in front of us. It’s a monkey hand, a child ghost trying to find its way in. I tell Marcia it looks like Kate Winslet’s hand in Titanic , when they’re doing it in the car below deck. Marcia slaps another tanned one on there: the holiday picture, the overseas-film with Jenny sleeping in the background, looking like a girl, and drags it down the glass, moaning and making sex faces. ‘I’m doing it now,’ I say, and pick up the glass of water.
People are always telling Jenny she’s got a dancer’s body. As I crawl out on the balcony, I can see all the dancy things on display, each and one of them is its own movie star, smiling at the crowds even when she’s asleep and has no idea. Mum says she would have just loved it if either of us had wanted to take ballet classes, but it was never Jenny’s thing, and when I said ‘It’s never too late’, Mum patted me on the bum. Jenny has no bum, or as Marcia says, ‘she’s got a rat’s ass’. Marcia likes complicating things. Jenny’s hand is at close range. Mum took up hunting to help her focus after the time off she took for over-exertion. This holiday is to help with that, and they spend it sleeping and checking their e-mails. Marcia coming with us was this thing we had together for months, before it was really decided she could. We called it Easter: ‘we can practise our songs at Easter’. ‘I’ll tell you more about it at Easter.’ Just you wait: Easter. It drove people crazy at school. It would be great. Except Easter in Cyprus is dead, with hollow lambs in the shop windows. Jenny sunbathes, and the more she does, the further I move into the shaded bits of the terrace. What you want is gingerbread, she says, and the pink and the raw is an occasional accident. When I shower the water goes white with sun lotion, but I might just end up saving us both.
Small pebbles, brought over from the beach, stick to my knees and are ingrained into my flesh. I know Marcia’s dying to come out and check for herself, so I won’t be able to tell her afterwards she was just too far away to notice the smell, but that it really did happen. The inside of Jenny’s arm is nothing like gingerbread. Her hand looks already like a dead person’s, and all I have to do is aim and shoot, but above it the skin is more like mine, more soft dough than bronze, and there is a ridiculous scab across it, fresh and fleeting, never even to become a real scar.
If a Person is your sister, keep her wounds away from salt. If she pisses herself, you’ll know it wasn’t just a myth. I turn around to where Marcia is peeking behind the door, stick out my tongue, give her a cross-eyed stare and show my melted ice-cream spit. Stay away.
2. If the Person is yourself, make sure you speak each other’s languages.
There is the hand of a child on the window, so small it could be a toddler, and Little and Naked has no idea how it got there. This is not a home with children, and he made sure to clean the windows a second time after he moved in. The hand is only visible when the sun lifts it from behind. The light suffers the time that Little and Naked has wasted. If the only person you have to wake up is yourself, make sure you use more than one alarm, because if that one fails, you have only your inner scaffolding to keep you from being sacked. He turns on his iPod and dives one hand into the pile of clothes by the left side of the bed, hoping to catch something to go over his head. A pair of pants. It is colder in the room now, and this is a good thing that he has achieved: a smaller bill and a few more pence for indulgences he won’t allow himself, because he needs them for the next one. He could spend his days in this bed, with short and frantic holidays to every coffee shop in town, and there are never enough clothes.
He could fall asleep and wake himself up in all these different tongues: ‘Merde! ’ he shouted at three AM last night. The night before it was: ‘putain! ’ If only it was ‘You are amazing!’ But they are always insulting, these languages from nowhere far away. He wonders what the neighbours are thinking right about now. Once, he did get a gentle tap on the wall behind his bed, the same direction from which the weather forecast comes every other evening, like a salutation. He doesn’t want to be taken for someone who is insulted by that sort of thing, he has never complained. It’s only fair that they respond with the same tolerance to his outbursts of cosmopolitan sleep talk. None of the people Little and Naked has ever woken up next to has witnessed these foreign words. They seem to require solitude, and when he has company, he immediately goes still, silent in an Esperanto breath: understood universally.
There’s a Venezuelan family on the third floor, and he’s pretty sure the guy downstairs is Spanish, so the night he woke up after falling asleep on the couch, screaming: ‘Pero callate pendejo que ni me dejas pensar!’ he took comfort in that, that it might not have been him after all. The walls between our minds are thin. It’s hard to tell what exactly is you, in the borderlands. He gets up and gets ready to sit down and embark on a day’s work. He puts clothes on. Little and Naked does copywriting, in English; above the surface, where things are apparent, the monolingual captures every bit of him and does it well. He is great at finding and arresting small mistakes. First he picks up the phone and calls his friend Heidi: ‘Have you ever heard me sleep talk?’ ‘Sure,’ she says. ‘There was this time at that festival, when you were angry at me for trying to steal your sleeping bag.’ He asks what language that was in. English, of course, says Heidi. He doesn’t tell her he’s moving on to whole phrases now, and that he’s not always his own best translator. If the Person you need to wake up is you, make sure you speak the same languages.
Little and Naked returns to the window, this time with a stout cup of tea. The steam rises, towards a joint venture with the glass, a long-distance relative. That’s it, he thinks. About a month ago, a friend of his sister’s came by to drop off a guitar they no longer wanted, and she had her nine-year-old kid with her. This girl was rather chubby, and maybe a little sad, and he can’t imagine how small her hands were, seeing one of them there on his own window. She kept talking about Easter. That must be it, that must be who made the mark on the glass he cleaned and kept clear. He wipes it off with a pillow, then he finally sits down to head for the well-mapped work time, undisturbed by grease. How do you say pillow in
Spanish? There is a world in here, and surely there must be a sort of power.
3. If the person is your Person, have exclusive permission to a cheek.
Tickling is the friendliest way of causing pain, and certain spots are open twenty-four hours. They attract the drunkards and the early morning, all-through-the-night drivers of trucks bulging with secret cargo. These places smell like sunburn covered in perfume, and sweated down to a well-earned rest. Get close enough and they’ll let you in without the alarm going off. Ask for the password; bring a glass of water. Our neighbour used to wake us up with sex at the craziest hours, so now we keep him up with the nightly weather forecast every now and then. You, especially, are fond of the older female voice which they sometimes use. It makes you believe that whatever is coming tomorrow, of whatever kind, it will be doing its very best. We lie here, preparing for sleep. Breathing is a human form of torrent, only humane in that it doesn’t wage wars. Yet the possibility of being shot, bombed, or just not woken up in time, permeates all aspects of this going-under. Look at you, you are so unaware. Open your warm to the no-war storm, the Person breath.
You are allowed to hold it in and act like a well-behaved biologist, protecting the natural habitat of those tiny hairs, letting local wonders be wonders, but even the intake of breath is a sort of suction. How have I changed you by breathing you in? Drop them in the bath tub. Paint a good word on their forehead. Carry them in your mouth until they sense the turn from dry to tongue, from still to swaying Monday. Like everyone else, we wish our tongues to be precisely recognisable, but obviously with nothing particularly wrong about them. If the person is your Person, wake them up by pushing them into your blood stream, where there is not only live traffic, but the shameful alleys where they may bump into unexpected things: your bad taste in musicals, your addiction to social media, and your close encounters with peanut butter and jam.
Because the offensive is always personal, I call you by your last name for half an hour after I arrive at your place for the night. It could be a ritual. Some would call it OCD, like they were identifying the rosemary in the haggis, but our parents called us ‘hon’ and ‘darling’, so as a counteract we call each other ‘Python’ and ‘Toad’. There is nothing on this half hour road that hasn’t seen me long to get to your house. All the narratives taking place on the lower floors of off-guardedness, doing their thing in the meantime; I don’t have a lift to them. The staircases run through the ear, and we will always be too big to squeeze through.