On Waking Lately
When I woke, the world woke with me, except we had not been sleeping.
I held a phone in my hands that I didn’t recognise. Mine was smaller, a different model. Sally was eating breakfast. Her hair was a different colour and a different cut. She dropped her spoon. It clattered on the floor.
Outside, a car smashed into a telephone pole.
Our Wakeless Lives
I don’t know how you remember it. The Wake and the Interim.
There was nothing to remember in the Interim, the 507 days that we all lost. Though we didn’t lose them.
The world went on. Regular programming.
Shows streamed, tweets tweeted, work worked, lives lived.
A year and a half of agitation. Dooms to scroll.
While we were away.
The world heated, kept that catastrophic trajectory. Tyrants were voted in. Governments obfuscated. Billionaires made even more money.
This was no break from industry.
This was no break from anything.
Except none of us over 18 was there.
Children remained conscious, so a developmental disaster had been avoided.
None of them noticed their parents were not there. But for parents it was terrifying to wake and find their children older, or to find they had children. Many houses had gone from silence to squall.
Our machines remembered what we could not. Digital footprints, whispers and calumnies. Emails. Texts. Photos. Chats. I could trace the course of that year and a half in considerable detail.
Everything that I had written read like me.
On Interim Day 311, Sally and I got married. We don’t remember the ceremony. The mementos from the honeymoon were unfamiliar, but they had the shape of things that we would have chosen, and we had chosen them.
We had matching tattoos on our wrists of an owl, of course, because we loved owls.
One Wake Later
The Wake brought surprisingly few fatalities.
There were still a lot. Crashes. Cars, mostly, and planes. There were many domestic and workplace accidents. I read somewhere that around 300 window cleaners died. Imagine that, to wake to falling: given over to the killing trajectory of the Earth.
There were other, more personally significant deaths.
My brother died four months into our absence: it does not matter how. I had to tend to that grief.
I read the eulogy I wrote for his wake. He hadn’t wanted a funeral, just the after party. I had got very drunk afterwards.
I wrote another eulogy for the wake we had again. It wasn’t as good.
One Week’s Leave
We took a vacation in the summer, after things had stabilised: they always do. We’re all keel, us humans. Too much keel, sometimes.
Sally wanted to see the beach. I had got a good job.
There were fires across the season, worse than last time, they were always worse than last time, but we picked a window through the smoke and drove down to the coast.
The water was warm, the beach crowded and the sky so sharpish blue it stung your eyes. We didn’t suffer any rain, and we spent most of the time either swimming, drinking or making love. It was our honeymoon, and we were intent on remembering this one.
We could have renewed our vows. But what was the point?
There had been much argument over the legality of that year and a half. Marriages. Contracts. Crimes and their sentencing. But in the end, they had deemed it too complicated to unpick. The events that had occurred legally, personally, secretly, had occurred, whether or not we were conscious.
The law was a memory that didn’t need us.
Often Wisdom’s Lacking
I don’t know what it means.
To not be there.
To be irrelevant in the functioning of me.
Many people couldn’t handle that. I don’t blame them.
I couldn’t stomach the hot takes – it was all the news services published in those months afterwards – and I had no patience for the cold ones: the books that sought to find meaning in it all. Would it happen again?
To me, it made everything precious.
For the first few months.
Then I got on with living. Sally and I tried to hold hands as often as we could and to live in the moment. We tried to make time to talk. We tried to be our best lives.
Often, I slept alone.
I snored, you see.
When I wake, I can’t understand the landscape of my waking. A confusion of changes. The smells in this space, the device around my wrist, which is glowing with a strong blue light. I was obviously about to do something with the wristband. I’m in the middle of the action of reaching towards it, but the end point is a mystery. My fingers are thicker than I remember them.
My tattoo is gone. No, not gone… replaced. An intricate looping pattern, just complicated enough to obscure the owl.
I’m lounging – was lounging, I have stiffened, brought my knees to my chest – on a green couch next to someone I don’t know.
They stare at me.
“Who are you?” we say.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 12, 2022 as "The Wake".
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