So I have this problem the doctors call ‘Night Eating Syndrome’. Every evening, about eight, I start getting the shakes. I might be in the bath, in the pub, at my desk. They start deep in my belly, then shiver all cold throughout my body. Everything goes numb and strange. It makes me want to stand in an empty room and scream, because there’s nothing I can do to make it go away. And in an empty room, without food, maybe my dumb body would be forced to change.
It starts when my flatmates have all gone to bed, probably to watch porn or Match of the Day. I pace my room, counting the clock’s every tick. I’ll sit in bed with my laptop, flicking through distractions. I put on something vapid and stupid, like The Inbetweeners, sometimes even shitey reruns of The Jeremy Kyle Show, downloaded illegally from some American website, where they have subtitles for when the people on it are Scottish or Northerners. I don’t really watch or listen. It’s like my eyes bathe in the screen, sink into a sea of shimmering pixels. I don’t remember anything.
This doesn’t last very long, and soon I’m up again, pacing. I check the morning alarm’s set for seven. I take out my work clothes from the wardrobe, double check they’re all ironed and neatly folded. I take out my Blackberry and scroll through emails, but my replies to clients can wait till morning. I just want to know what they’re saying. I’ll do the same on Twitter, my eyes glazing down the slipping timeline. It’s all shit; all words spewed up by idiots out drinking, ranting about their girlfriends, or lack of. I suppose it’s Valentine’s Day – or at least, the fag end of Valentine’s Day – but it all seems the same.
Then I’ll strip down to my boxers and get back into bed. I’ll lie awake tossing for an hour in the blueish darkness, with the digital clock filling the room with its glow, like bones through an x-ray. Then the shakes are back and I’m up again, at the window now, lighting a cigarette. I blow smoke into the lukewarm night, where the sky’s always the colour of burnt umber, of light pollution. Two cigarettes later and with the nicotine my shakes are in fusion; an emanating, waiting game in my stomach.
I sneak through to the kitchen in my slippers, watching for mice as the bare bulb illuminates the room. I’m at the fridge within seconds, clawing at carbs: yesterday’s leftover pasta, hunks of cheese, donuts. Just a great shuddering loveliness of sugar and fat and salt. I’m barely aware I’m doing it; it’s like an inertia takes hold of me and I’m falling without stopping, and all I can do is eat, eat, eat – there’s no alternative, just this void of hunger, this flame that smoulders and hollows me. I move onto the cupboards, stuffing handfuls of cereal in my mouth: bran flakes, Cheerios, my flatmate’s muesli (he’s a health freak, obviously). Packets of crisps: cheese and onion, ready salted. Crackers with lumps of Nutella, white bread rolled up into a ball that’s soft and dissolves in my throat. I can’t get anything down quick enough, and I’m foraging so fast it feels like vertigo.
I step back to look at the mess. I clear up crumbs, wipe surfaces. The trick is to leave no traces.
But it’s not enough, never enough. The sleep dangles tantalisingly over me; I know that if I get a little more, it will come to me, silky and smooth as a mother’s touch, a loving death. There is only one thing left. I know what I need: chocolate.
There’s a 24 hour store five minutes walk away. It’s three in the morning, and the moonlight pours down all cold and white on the deserted street. I focus on something other than my craving. I think of all the lovers, returning home from nightclubs after candlelit dinners. The thought sickens me. My appetite quickens, lurches. With each step I feel the mass of what I’ve eaten churn in my stomach like acid bubbling among debris. When I get to the shop, tossing five bars of 120g Cadbury’s on the counter, the little old man glares at me with suspicion.
I’m gobbling them even before I get back to the house, tossing away the glossy purple wrappers. The combination of sugar and cocoa and vegetable fat is absolute perfection, a dreamy, delicious relaxant. I close the door quietly behind me and rush to my room; someone’s in the kitchen. As I munch the rest of the chocolate – Caramel, Whole Nut, Turkish Delight, Crunchie Bite – I’m not thinking about tomorrow’s guilt, the brain fog and lethargy that burns worse than any hangover; I’m thinking about that heavenly empire that’s about to enfold me, that ether of absence they call sleep. It’s round about now that the shakes go away, and I’m finally ready to imagine.
by Maria Sledmere
prompts: valentines, chocolate, dreams