How Time Works

Here is another numerically ordered piece, originally published in the December edition of the hip, gunslingingly pdf magazine All The Rage.

Before climbing back into bed after going to the toilet in the middle of the night, he would habitually check the time on his phone. In that half-asleep state, he had always assumed that he did this to find out what time it was, but one night he realised that he was doing it to understand how time works.

1. The discovery that the restless insomniac nothingness often lasted for over two hours, or that the feature-length dream in which he had interacted with imaginary hybrids of old friends in the kitchen of the house in which he grew up, had in fact all taken place in the hour since he had last checked the time at 3.58.

2. The frequency with which, when checking the time in the middle of the night, it would be 3.58.

3. The fact that, whenever a dream required him to be in a house, it was always the house in Manchester that he had lived in between the ages of 8 and 18. It was now over 20 years since he’d lived there, and yet his brain, like an overzealous estate agent of the unconscious, had recorded a detailed plan of the layout of the house. Something about those formative years had burnt the particulars into his memory. He reasoned that 8 to 18 is probably the time when we become what we are, that memory knows this, and allocates its resources accordingly.

4. The recognition that these nocturnal time-checks were only idly curious in the darkest small hours. The penumbra, roughly speaking the two hours after going to bed and before it was time to get up, was often occupied by a frustrating series of calculations, as he obsessed over how much sleep he was going to get, the benchmark figure of eight hours taking on an almost mystical significance for him.

5. The resultant frustration at his own counter-productive efforts to get to sleep, and the mental effort required to fret over how little sleep he was going to get, with all the self-destructive pointlessness of the recursive revision timetable.

6. The way in which different times that he set his alarm would take on their own personalities. Anything starting with a number lower than a 7 was clearly brutal, but 7.45 was a friendly time, and 8.05 dishonest. The way in which this reminded him of synaesthesia.

7. How time not only functions differently depending on which part of the night he was experiencing, but also changes with age. As a child on Christmas Eve, when the morning could not come soon enough, the anticipation would keep him awake, elongating the night. Now, as dawn approaches on another grown-up weekday morning, he lies awake, unable to prevent himself from thinking about what the clock would tell him if he looked, but like a man in pain refusing to see a doctor, too scared to check. He would if he could reach out and take the horizon in his arms, and hold it tightly to his chest as it arcs blindly towards the light.