On most mornings, waking is a gradual process. A slow trickling into consciousness as I am poured back into my body. A slow breath, a shift of the head, a stretch of the legs as my body releases me from the sweet paralysis it has held me under. I don't normally realise I am awake until it's too late, although for many minutes, I will hover on the threshold between dreaming and waking, dipping in and out as though testing the water. It's a halfway house, that place. Neither one thing nor the other. Suspended between two realities. For a blissful few moments, I can believe I am anywhere and everywhere. Any time and no time. That the hands on the clock have frozen, a firm frigidity in direct contrast to the mellow meltedness I feel. I could be made out of honey.
I am an accomplished sleeper yet it still amazes me how smooth my jagged edges become after a restful slumber. My bedding will cocoon around me as though we are made of the same stuff, a shared skin. It doesn't seem to matter how fitful I may have been before sleep, how restless, how uncomfortable, I always wake up moulded into the cotton sheets, rebuilt, or perhaps reburied, overnight. It's a particular relaxation which I have never been able to recreate elsewhere, heavy yet weightless, still yet floating away, aware but not quite awake yet.
Sometimes he is awake before me, and I come to leisurely, his eyes bowing me into wakefulness. It's a peculiar sensation, being watched as you wake up, almost as though you are being willed into existence. Each blink draws you more firmly, more solidly. His blue eyes are broad brushstrokes that paint my image as I lie there. He could paint me however he wants. The infinitesimal dots of a Seurat, the shouting angles of a Picasso, the expressive colourful sighs of the Pre-Raphaelites. Maybe, if the mood should strike him, he might pen me like a shunga, all limbs and silent moans pulsing in exaggerated explicitness. There are times when our arousals are plain to see, stern and strong, gravitating towards each other as though magnetised. On occasion we have the time to attend to them and our bodies slide together with delicious friction, made more poignant, more maddening, more excruciatingly sweet by the wispy echoes of the stupor from which we have just been roused. Slow sex in the morning – it's another kind of sleep isn't it? The search for le petit mort, the little death, a temporary oblivion. The only difference being that the oblivion you find in sleep is pillowy and soft, round and dark and still. Whereas our choked, erratic congress is glistening and urgent. A rapturous scintillating frenzy of motion. Where we gasp out our endings as ecstatic waves send us off for one more heavy breathless rest.
As I say, on most mornings, we glide together gently into the day. But not this morning. This morning I am ejected, birthed rapidly from sleep as though from the womb. And with just as much wailing, or so it feels. The way through which I made my exit clangs shut behind me – no chance of enjoying a drowsy, undulating doze then. Daylight peals through my eyelids like an unruly bugle, bellowing me awake.
Can't the busy old fool just leave us alone? No-one, no two people need this amount of sunlight. Particularly not at this time of the morning, and especially not when we have a fabled day off together. This impromptu reveille is unnecessary and unwelcome. God, how can there be so much brightness in one little room? Spare some of your rays for the people who could use them – don't waste them all on us. Some people do need to get up. Go and bother them instead.
We really need to get new curtains.
I sigh. A morning sigh, that starts deep in my core and rises through my body to the topmost part of my head, expelling all night-time essences. It doesn't help. I could just close my eyes and bury my face in my pillow. My own private eclipse. But then I'd have to stop looking at him, and he is beautiful bathed in sunlight, still sleeping, the sheets gathered around his waist, his bare chest a focal point for every light particle. He gleams and glisters as though lit from within.
It's not often that I get to watch him sleep – he normally stays up long past the time that I go to bed, and wakes earlier, the weight of Whitechapel bearing him down. He is a tall man, but so often he is bent at the shoulders, slumped in tiredness or mental defeat. I know he lives every failure, wears them around his neck like an albatross. He said to me once, "I feel as though all of our cases are draped over me constantly, like some oppressive scarf." It's only in the peace of sleep that these rags can be lifted from him and hung out in the sun to char away into extinction. Leaving him, finally, extended to his full height. My own small primal stretch and unfolding cannot compete, nor would I wish it to.
It's a horrendous cliché, but he looks like some Greek god, an Adonis. Of course, he'd laugh if he heard me say that. And turn bright red. Before decrying my lack of imagination in creating a comparison. He would doubtless prefer to be likened to something more abstract, less human. He would probably choose to be likened to nothing at all, of course. He doesn't believe that he is anything special, to look at or otherwise – he doesn't see what I see. He only sees his failings, the victims he failed to save, the criminals he failed to catch alive.
If I were to make another comparison, perhaps he would accept that he is like the spices of India, the sands of Egypt, or the winds of Australia. Like them, he is burnished gold and burning heat. If he is an artist, painting me when I wake, then I am a cartographer. I map the topography of his skin, the crest of his hips, the gentle hillocks of his arse. His torso is a river, rolling down to the valley of his groin. I could fill an atlas with the curl of his fingers, the stretch of his legs. If this pedantic wretched sunshine insists on blazing down upon us, then perhaps I can use it to my advantage – to chart the round earth's progress across this room upon the body of my love. The sun is only a star after all.
Yes, that's it. That sun that shines so eagerly into our room may have traversed the whole globe (poetically that is, I do know that the earth goes around the sun, much as I am forever fated to spin in his orbit) and visited all countries and nations, heads of state in their grand buildings and ordinary people in their streets and countryside. But nothing that it passes can be as wonderful as the man who lies here in bed with me. Maybe, even now, its beams touch his cheek and their tendrils wonder how it is that all the treasures of the world are met here in microcosm.
He stirs, a sleep-soaked smile fording his face as he opens his eyes.
"Mmmorning mmmerson," he mumbles. A roll into my side inclines us together. I shrug down into his chest, breathing in his scent. His skin has an evergreen fragrance]that sings of morning, of hope, of constancy. Of unbroken promises.
I wrap myself around him, holding him so close I almost filter through inside his skin, as though we are one flesh. It doesn't matter where on the map I am - he is my everywhere. All nations, all states. Who needs the elixir of dreams, of drowsy sleep travelling when this bed can take me wherever I wish to go? Who needs the world when it is all contained here within the contours of his body, contracted within this room? Curtained in light, I could believe that nothing exists beyond these walls. We are two spotlit players in the centre of a darkened stage. Illumined by a tired sun who can no longer see any point in shining elsewhere, since the whole world is captured here with us.
Perhaps I have taken this metaphor a bit far now. I have a habit of doing that, of fixating to the point of ruin. Turning generous sun-yellow love into something darker, transmuting it to a sickly jealous green. I did that once before and my possessiveness nearly destroyed the both of us. All of us. But if our entwined bodies are not the globe in miniature (though God knows Joe is my world), then perhaps Whitechapel is? It must be, for all the wickedness that seems to breed here. The sun shines more brightly now because the night is all the deeper, and monsters lurk in its shadows. They say the devil walks in Whitechapel, but every shade must have its brighter counterpart, every demon its angel. Joseph Chandler - he shares his initials with the son of God, after all. That must surely be a good omen.
Keep shining then, and enlighten this place. Every street, every pavement, every building, every room, the hills of every rumple in every bedsheet, enflame them all. I shall not be jealous – this bedroom may be our personal sphere, but I shall fling open the curtains and expand its horizons. In a little while. We rise together, first.