Juila Armfield’s The Great Awake, from issue 23 of The White Review is a story of misplaced desires, and an incredible personification of sleep. Sleep begin appearing to people, strange quiet wraiths, little ghosts that spend their time in your presence, but don’t necessarily interrupt. A hovering concept that now fills a space as a body. The Sleeps are tall, pale, and when they arrive their host no longer sleeps themselves.
In the city, which is where sleeps mostly seem to be appearing, Sleeps eventually become normalised. Those with Sleeps, who are no longer sleep themselves become lazy. They can always do it later, they think, always having time later now that their day is no longer opened by a period of unconsciousness.
Not everyone get a sleep at the same time however. There’s the obvious envy of those who now no longer sleep, a return to normal, but this envy goes both ways — those do sleep feel like they are missing something, that they are somehow not keeping up with this step change of how people’s live are arranged.
The story is told through small moments, longing looks and changes of behaviour — the denial of those who do sleep that they are indeed tired, before their inevitable dropping off.
It’s partly about the the horror of those efficiency fantasies we all have “if only I had a few more hours in the day” — the very real trade offs that would exist, and the way it would inhabit your life. It’s a kind of haunting, a ghost story, where being free of sleep meant that you had a stranger in your house and having a deep sense of difference from some other people because the experience is personal. A little like when we miss sleep in our normal lives, the pain is very much one that can’t be communicated, the frustration that comes with it is one that isn’t easily explained because the sense of failure is so basic. Ultimately the story is empathetic, wanting to show kindness to those who want sleep and those without it.
This week’s song is the KEXP performance from Caspian.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, a newsletter about poetry, literature and writing by Christopher John Eggett. I drove a long way this evening to arrive in Dorset to see a friend, which can be very distracting, and this would be the main reason you did not receive this newsletter on a Friday. I am sorry for the hours of delay ❤. If you are not here, I miss you. If you are, I can bloody hear you snoring.