When Pepi awoke from what she thought was a short nap, she was surprised to see what appeared to be a thick layer of dust on the dark, square wooden coffee table not two feet away from the sofa on which she lay. There was a weak beam of late afternoon sunshine piercing through the living room window, cutting and exposing a stream of infinitesimal dust particles floating, erratically but slowly, as if in a rhythmic randomness, in the open space between the ceiling and the floor.
With her head elevated, resting on an arm of the sofa, Pepi squinted, frowned and rubbed her eyes to shake off the direct sunlight protruding from the window ahead of her. She wondered what was outside, beyond the walls of this room. Eventually, she placed a hand on her forehead to shut out the sunlight and managed a partial view of the top of a tree, its branches bare and striking against the backdrop of a crisp blue winter sky.
Surely, she told herself, she could not have been asleep for more than an hour, let alone long enough for a layer of dust to settle on the table. Besides, there was Ziggy, her dog, lying in his spot on the floor beneath a pot plant, where he had settled as she drifted off on the sofa. Sure enough, if she had been asleep for a long time, Ziggy would have eventually come over to her and licked her face to alert her to let him out.
But where did this layer of dust come from and why was Pepi overcome by queer sensations, in body and mind, that at once were ephemeral and deeply rooted in her core; tiny vibrations that seemed continuous, yet, on closer exploration, were dotted with split-second pauses? Had time stood still while Pepi, who not until recently before this particular nap fell into the habit of taking afternoon naps, dozed off? If time stood still, she thought, however improbable that might be, the dust itself would cease to fall and accumulate.
She rose with a jolt and sat upright on the sofa, her back making contact with its cushioned backrest, and peeled a blanket off her body, rubbing her eyes once more as if to gain clarity. Her sudden movement woke up Ziggy, who at first was disoriented but came to quickly, standing on all fours and stretching out, first his back legs then his front. He approached Pepi slowly, his tail wagging, metronomically. He looked at Pepi, slightly puzzled, as he cocked his head, first to the right for a few seconds, then to the left, as if listening to an intriguing, unfamiliar sound emanating from Pepi only he could hear.
Pepi looked back at him with similar puzzlement. Why, she thought, surprised, this wasn’t Ziggy at all. This was some other dog she had never seen before. As Pepi came to a more wakeful state, she began noticing differences in this room she had woken up in compared to her own, very similar living room. These differences were slight at first but began becoming more apparent to Pepi as she approached greater wakefulness.
Not only had Ziggy been replaced by another dog, the floorboards of this living room seemed darker than those in Pepi’s, the patterns on the large rug in the centre of the room on which the coffee table stood was not the same as hers either. Even the coffee table itself, she thought, seemed squarer and larger than hers. Pepi could now see why she might have mistaken this room for her own. The layout and shapes of the objects in it, even the dog, were generally very similar to hers. But this was not her room; this was not her dog.
As she pondered what could be and her exact whereabouts, grim thoughts began entering her mind. Had she been kidnapped in her sleep? Surely she would have woken up. She was a light sleeper and could easily be woken by even the slightest of sounds – a drip from the bathroom faucet, the ticking of the clock in the kitchen, even the distant sounds of crickets during summer.
Pepi steeled herself to adopt an erect posture on the sofa and plant her feet more firmly into the ground. As she did this, she was, to be sure, uncertain as to where she was. What could she do? She was paralysed by the off-centred familiarity of her surroundings, and this paralysis was simultaneously off-centre itself, allowing sensations but disallowing their meaning. Pepi felt in a dreamlike state, or at the precise moment where deep sleep and slow awakening meet, a foggy presence that was neither permitting of thoughts about the past nor enabling of thoughts or actions in the present or about the future. This stuck-ness, as she thought of it, seemed to her eternal in its promise of transience but unreliable in its rigid adherence to a sense of permanence.
By now she thought herself fully awake, yet she could still not reconcile this wakefulness with her inability to move beyond the erect position she had moved into earlier. Maybe if she began by moving just her fingers, would sensations return to the rest of her body. Very slowly, she moved her thumbs in circular motions, then, as she began feeling the sensations of her thumbs in motion, she began brushing them over her fingertips, slowly, noticing the roughness of the skin on the inside of the hands yet their soft, pad-like texture, the ridges between the insides of her knuckles slightly discoloured as compared with the rest of the skin surrounding them. Her palms, she noticed, were moist and sweaty. This she figured was due to her anxieties around not knowing where she was or even if she was able to move her body.
She stretched her palms out and took a closer look at them then placed them on her knees as she looked curiously at the backs of her hands – the scar just below the left index-finger; the veins popping out from and clearly visible through her pale skin. She gripped her knees firmly, noticing the indents on the outsides of each knee; how she could feel the hard kneecaps protruding, stretching the skin on either side at the centre of each leg. She shifted her awareness to her toes, looking down at them then wriggling them, slowly at first then at a pace that satisfied her curiosity as to whether she was able to move them. She twisted her feet to rest on their outer edges so the soles could touch. At this point, Pepi felt a certain calmness develop inside her, as she was now certain her hands and feet were, in fact, not stuck or by any means paralysed; and as this calmness entered and circulated in her body, she took a deep breath, noticing her chest, then her belly, inflate then deflate as she exhaled.
She closed her eyes for a moment in acknowledgement of this welcome new calmness and continued taking deep breaths until she thought it was time to move her head to the right, where the dog she had first thought was Ziggy, then thought was not, was lying. As she turned her head, slowly, sensing a certain stiffness in the area between her left shoulder blade and just below her left earlobe, she opened her eyes and looked at the dog beside her. It was asleep now, lying on the floor on its left with its legs stretched out, breathing deeply as it snored lightly with each exhale in what seemed to Pepi as absolute calmness.
“Of course,” she thought to herself, “I have weak eyes. I can’t see too well without my spectacles.” She took her hands off her knees and began feeling around the sofa for her eyeglasses. When she couldn’t find them in her immediate vicinity, she stretched her arms further down each side of the sofa, desperately feeling for the thick plastic frames, until, eventually, at the end of the sofa where she placed her feet when she reclined for her nap, she felt the corner of one side of the frame where the arm bends into the body when not in use. She once again felt calmness about her as she reached for the spectacles and gently placed them on to her face, first extending the arms, with their crooked ends, towards the backs of her ears, then gently placing the nose pads below the lenses on to the bridge of her nose.
With the conjuring of light and refraction, her eyesight, as if magically, became sharper and clearer. Pepi could now see things in far greater detail – the coffee table ahead of her, the patterns on the rug below the table, the colours of the shapes that made up those patterns. She turned her head to her right once more, the dog was now curled up with its legs tucked in and its lower jaw resting on the tops of its front paws, still breathing deeply with its ears flat and resting at the top of its head, sleeping and apparently oblivious to what seemed to Pepi as her miraculous, if not magical, awakening – from deep sleep to confusion and foggy wakefulness, to the obfuscated beginnings of her awakening through gradual awareness, then calmness and eventual clarity.
She noticed, with much appreciation, tufts of Ziggy’s long, toffee-coloured beard sticking out from between his front paws, his black, rubber-like nose directed at the ground, meeting gently with the tip of his long black tail, which was curled around the contours of the back of his body; his course and curly black saddle, his soft caramel and white undercoat and the fuzz around his ears and the scruffy tufts of hair around his beady eyes, which often made Pepi exclaim to him jokingly: “How do you see the world from under all that hair?”
archive - issue 20
Monday, 20 March 2017 10:16