The moon sank its pearly lipped stars into the crust of night, and I couldn’t sleep even when it bled its opal tears on me and I could not sleep to sink my own slipping skin. Eyes bleed to cry a million summery times, and tides wept themselves over my naked Grecian stained bust, white and parched like the aching stars. Stars sleep, so why can’t I when days close their crystal lidded lips. Why can’t I sleep.
I text a friend I secretly love to wake him out of his comet diddled dream. Dreams of cats slinking over railway marshes, thwarted summer eyes, naked women laying on the shores of Mongolian rushland. Wake up. Wake up for God’s sake please.
He doesn’t reply. The night stole him away from me, damn lusty wife of sacred domes, shimmering sacred smiles. Only the night could steal something worth stars to me. I call pappy once again. Answer answer He answers, Pappy I want to kill myself. Don’t say that. I must. No. Don’t ever say that. Why can’t you be here. I am there. I can’t sleep just like you. The sun talking to the poet on Fire Island. You’re keeping me awake and you are keeping yourself awake by worrying too much. You are worrying about this interview too much. When you get back we are going to have a talk about how you manage your stress. Dad. I want to sleep. Don’t cry. Calm down. Calm down. You are going to be fine. You are much more capable than the undergraduate students I teach. You are thinking over this too much. In five years’ time. Will you remember this. No. It matters. I will remember it and how I ruined this opportunity for myself. When I went to Cambridge all I remember is taking the train. Having a nice chat with two interviewers. And going home. I promise that you are overthinking this. They are not going to trick you or purposefully trip you up. They want to the best from you. They want you to do well. Just tell them your story and tell stories to yourself until you sleep. I am and I cannot. I keep thinking of sheep and they turn into interviewers. Look at the stars. There are no stars in my room. I only have the ceiling. Stare at the ceiling and pretend they are stars. I can’t. I am too tired. I wish you were here. I am here. I am staring at the same ceiling, looking at the same stars. The sun is sleeping and the moon is an oyster on the shell of sea ~ I don’t have time for your sentimental poetry. I want to sleep. I need to sleep. You will sleep. You will be fine. You will have a nice chat with two of the greatest experts in their field and you will enjoy it. What if I don’t get in. We can deal with that when the time comes. Just think about your star-browed ceiling. Tell yourself stories. And when the sun wakes you up tomorrow, and you are waiting for the interview, you can tell your story. Vocalise your words and your journey. Your pain and your grief. They are looking for you and they will find you in those forests of words. What story do I tell. Tell them the one of the little girl who travelled seas and mountains of languages before she came to this one. About the young woman who could not get to sleep amongst a thousand fluttering words. The person who is flourishing still and who invented their own language in the gaps between old ones, and who weaved new stories out of old thread. Tell them that story. Tell me a story now pappy. The way you used to. When you were a little girl I used to catch you in your bedroom with a host of cuddly toys around you. You would sit staring at them and order them about like you do to me now. Don’t touch everywhere you used to say. Don’t touch everywhere. And I used to settle you to sleep then as well. I would stroke your hair softly. Watch you close your eyes. Then just as my hand lifted off your head your eyes would dart open again. You’re still keeping me awake even now. And I am still settling you to sleep. I cried. Don’t cry. Shhh. Shhh. Don’t think of the interview. Think of your class mates your friends. Count sheep. Count the stars on your ceiling. Go to sleep. Pappy. Whatever happens you have got this. Don’t worry too much. I am there with you. Patting your head to go to sleep. I am the skeleton of the stars on your ceiling. Don’t go. I must. There’s a sleep starred engine waiting for me. Just settle on your bed and relax. Think of your story and tell it to yourself as you sleep. Pappy. Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you. And remember I am there too watching the same stars on the same ceiling also trying to get to sleep. He put the phone down.
I did not sleep until 4:30 in the morning. By that time, light had become a ghost to me, and images hazily swarmed in my eyes of friends, Marxist critics, the Boy I secretly admired, and my father. The heart coiled its spine close to me palpitating butterfly skin, but I managed to sheath it off, after time. All I remember was the gradual descent into sleep-made dreams and the uprising back to some dew-rimmed form of reality, wearing blurry light for spectacles. And the stars. I remember the stars sewing me to sleep in my cot of chrysalis, and the moon twinkling I do. I do.
I must prepare you for a modern treatment of Dante's Inferno.
So the trip to Cambridge started well - I travelled to London by train after school and met my father for some tea in St Pancras after going for a O'Hara like walk around Covent Garden. My father has always been a supporting figure in my life, and he gave me a test run and we discussed Ulysses. He could tell I was very nervous and he did his best to reassure me. He saw me off at the train to Cambridge and the journey was fine. Then I arrived at the hell hole called Cambridge and everything changed.
I was anticipating an easy journey and some hot food at the end, and I had an excellent book with me - Jules et Jim by Roché. I suggest you read it. But no. I arrived at the station, caught a taxi, and got caught in some traffic on the way to the college, whilst the driver rallied against the likes of cyclists. He wished me well on my interview and dropped me off at Fitzwilliam. It was cold and I was tired and hungry, and fortune's wheel stuck her finger up my arse yet again. The college were not anticipating my arrival, and dinner was over, with no vegan options left. It turned out that my application for Accommodation, despite being sent well in advance, only arrived the morning of my interview for some Godforsaken reason. I was incredibly fortunate in that they had a spare room! I was also much perturbed in finding out that I also had the inconvenience to pay for a meagre meal of fruit salad, crisps and nuts costing £3.55 for which the college will reimburse me hopefully. The porter was very nice, and despite my arriving late being the avant garde deloinnette I am, they gave me a night time tour of the gorgeous college. Even in the dark it was beautiful. They took me to the canteen where disgusting meat sandwiches lined the shelves and I reclined towards the small snacks, even though it was hardly what I wanted. Luckily, I had eaten some avocado toast and had some hot oat milk chocolate beforehand with my father. I called my father in a panic, because I took it as a sign that Cambridge were telling me to go fuck myself, to which he promptly told me off for being silly, asserting that this colossal muck up was testing my capacity. I took it as a sign of testing my inner strength only for the sake of stilling my sanity. But the woes had only just begun. To my horror, the WiFi didn't work and I had to deal with my laptop and the phone for half an hour until it got kickstarted. I then started to relax and eat my meal, doing some last minute revision and watching Bloom kick arse on a 1994 interview on the Western Canon. I looked over my essays and notes one more time, texted my friends, cleaned up then slept.
I went to bed at 10:00. I stayed up until 4:30.
I felt as if I were suspended in a nightmarish void with sleeping as a kind of suicide I could not enact until I had a dream about Marxist critics. I have never been so close to suicide in all my life. Luckily, my dad was suffering the same fare in Canterbury, and I called him twice in the night. I suffered two panic attacks and started crying and he calmed me down, getting me to think of stories instead. I tossed in my shell of a bed, and tried to recreate a suitable position and mindset for sleeping whilst lying enthralled by the fear of the terror interview. I eventually slept, and was once roused up considerably when a bunch of boozies sauntered past my bedroom window, but I was only successful after hours of sleepless ruminating.
I woke at what must have been 6, tried to sleep again and failed when my alarm went off. I got changed quickly and sorted out a pesky stain on my trousers before heading off to the canteen for breakfast, served for free for the interviewees, thank God. I ate a banana and some refreshing fruit salad. I also got a cute little combustible cup of soya hot chocolate. I read some last minute notes for preparation, then realised I had to rush off in order to get the extra time I needed to read, carrying my cup in one hand and my dignity with the other.
Again, fate was laughing with the stars today. I arrived at the auditorium to find that I was the first person there. It was such a shambles that the porter had to be called to open the place. However, the admissions team were lovely and set me down to look at a poem. At first I was shitting myself, but then I managed to get over my inhibitions and produce what I think was a solid critique of the poem, which reworked the traditional sonnet form into a 14 line rhyming mess. More people started arriving and I had the grace not to talk to them. Then my first interview started. I made an initial muck up when, being entirely distracted by the 18th century grandeur of the interview room, I tripped over a little wooden box (God knows why it was put where it was) and fell rather comfortably onto the plush pillows of the sofa, introducing myself mid-fall to the rather surprised-looking academic facing my trundled body. The interviewers were very pleasant. I discussed Gulliver's Travels, magical realism and Murukami, a little bit on the globalisation of literature and they asked me why my knowledge of other languages was helpful. I also had the grace to burp in the middle of it but we went over that hiccup easily. Considering I only had two hours sleep it didn't go as badly as it could have gone.
I returned to the auditorium for my second interview and waited there for half an hour whilst blissfully ignoring everyone else although I did draw a portrait of a wispy red-haired boy, long and thin wearing a vintage autumn shirt, who was being interviewed for history. I wrote a short story to calm my butter fly nerves and then the second interviewer came. Confidentiality prohibits me from relating the topics that we spoke about in much depth. It went well I suppose, but I probably only feel better and ignorant considering how sleep starved I am.
My woes worsened when I left the college and had to walk 45 minutes to the station in the rain. My trousers got soaked and I was feeling mightily pissed off. I rang my father to give him a verbal thrashing, then I carried on my rain laced odyssey. At that point I was so sick of Cambridge and so exhausted that I wanted to go home. Cambridge was obviously giving me the finger, and I can only say that the interviewers did their best to accommodate my needs. I really was anticipating coming home with a horror story!
I arrived at the station finally, and ran for the train to London which took an hour and a half to arrive. I finished my wonderful book, the only Positive experience I had that day, and I arrived in Kings Cross station in good time. Because my trousers were so wet, I had to change into my pyjama trousers, the only other pair I had. Unfortunately, the toilet was out of order and I had to get changed in an empty carriage. I was lucky enough to have gotten away with that! My last little trundle of the day arrived in the form of a rather drunk man who arrived on the station at Ashford. I was too encompassed in reading the news to notice him at first, but he persistently interrupted me with his slurred verbal languor as he sat on the same table as me. May I sit here please Madam? Yes. He dredged himself onto the seat, and I noticed the other passengers looking at this wasted lunatic as if a pile of dog shit burst onto the train and lumped itself on the seat. I gave him a quizzical look, as if the glare from my eyes would magically wipe him out of existence. He ignored me, opening a much-missed bottle of champagne, then staring at me, bleary-eyed. You don’t mind do you? No, not at all. I was so tired that I made such a good liar. He could see the judgment leaking out of my eyes; I was crying with mortification, but those tears are invisible of course. The thing that really did it in for me was when he asked me, drunkenly rolling vowels and slashing consonants in his slit of a mouth, to watch his stuff – a bag containing a muffin, freshly bought from Starbucks, and a opened bottle of champagne to be glugged soon after – whilst he went to the toilet. I said I would and watched him stumble through the arteries of the wary train. I became so frightened that I would have to soon start a conversation with this man who was insistent on interrupting me whilst drunk and slightly loopy that I made a run for it with my bag to the other end of the train. I had the pleasure not to see him again.
I had the joy of spotting my sixth form teachers Mrs Wells and Mr Moffat at the station. They complimented me on my pyjama trousers and the courage I fostered to wear them! I am now walking home, and I aim to knock back a sleeping pill and doze off.
Tanya Brown: "I was born in Beijing and primarily raised in London and Kent. I currently resides in Canterbury. Born to a Mongolian mother and an Israeli-English father, I have grown in the tides of two cultures, and use their bilingual mind to navigate life, art, and, most of all, writing. I study at Simon Langton Grammar school and am currently studying in preparation for university."