David F. Ross

Stories by David F. Ross

A Short Story About Jet Lag

Wide awake.

Wide awake in unfamiliar – but all too familiar – circumstances. Wide awake when you know you shouldn’t be; when every other person in a thousand-mile radius is asleep; readying themselves for the next cycle of work, or of play, or of whatever they will do that reminds them that they are alive. Or at least that’s what my confused brain is telling me.

The unbearable solitude of 3am. Looking forlornly out of yet another anonymous hotel window. A now regular stop on the umpteenth circumnavigation of the all too firm mattress. It’s the same view as it was an hour ago, as it will be an hour from now. Blinking lights hint at life but there is none. Not yet anyway. Because every fucker in the world is asleep. Except me. Or so it seems.

I know every square inch of this room like I constructed it myself. And I only checked in twelve hours ago. Its maintenance-free parquet floor. Its lowest-common-denominator beige walls. Prints that are blood relatives of the ones in every other economically advantageous hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Business isn’t quite as good as it used to be. Smoke detector. Sprinkler head. Seimens dials. Acknowledgments that this is a consistent set-up. An old model silver Toshiba box balancing unconvincingly on a Corian worktop in the corner. Local channels in a language I don’t understand. My reflection in its slightly curved screen when the bedside lamp goes on again. Shades of veneers imitating real wood in finishes that don’t quite match. Someone else’s concept of traveller comfort. Edited to a soundtrack of prefabricated frugality.

Two white china cups. Both deployed into early service. A tiny kettle. It has worked hard; I’ll give it that. Empty sachets of convenience tea or powdered coffee. Nothing in the fridge. Nothing to do. Back to the window. Pleading in vain for the sun to begin to rise. Just to make the loneliness go away. Back to the unrelenting berth. Lights out. Again.

Pains, both there and not there emerge. Some remnants from the sixteen hours it took to get here. Reminders that I’m too old to be doing this. That work-related travelling is a young man’s conceit. Gentle, but jagged jabs in the blackness which begin to score points for the illogical part of the brain. The part that subtly suggests I might never see my family again then leaves that thought to corrode. That points out how remote they are from me despite the world getting smaller. It skilfully plants seeds which instantly grow out of control like mutating Leylandi. The further away I am, the more disconnected from their daily routines it feels. Different issues. Different time zones. Half a world away. Out of sight etc. The more reasonable part that allows me to function normally isn’t fighting back. It seems to be the only part of me that is dormant. It is content to let irrationality dominate for the next few hours.

Lights on. Again. Hated the darkness when I was a child and now here I am, back there once more. Yet another walk to a small, cracked basin in an adjoining space in this air-conditioned prison cell. A route that is becoming a circadian rhythm all its own. Sharp, piercing light of a different kind. Shooting out from a horizontal tube above a small mirror. Reminding me that I’m but my father’s son. The same terrain of contoured lines at the eyes. The same greying temples. The same elastic, leathery skin on our faces. The same paunched relaxed muscle at which – every few months – I stare and resolve to remove. But I won’t. It’s a downward slide and I can’t turn the clock back. Can’t recover that feeling from when I looked a lot less like him. From the times when I felt I was made of different DNA. From when I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. From when I was going to be so incomparable to him. Desperate to sleep and – at least for now – relegate regret to the sub-conscious.

The floor is solid but not because its easier to maintain; but because people like me would wear tracks in a carpet. Outside, it’s getting darker. A fog is draping itself over the canyons of the city. The tops of the buildings are now invisible. But their inhabitants will soon witness the sun rise before me. And I’m jealous of them for that. Time, in this time zone moves painfully slowly. At least during the seemingly endless hours of the first night.

Tomorrow might be a bit easier. But only a bit.

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