The Cure for Sleep: Desire
Season 1, 008: the kinds we suffer in secret, finding no outlet for it in our waking lives.
“In beautiful prose, Tanya Shadrick writes her own fairy tale of becoming. She is fearless in her depiction of female desire – I think many women will find themselves in these pages.”
Katherine May, author of Wintering
This month’s advance extract from The Cure For Sleep is about desire: the kind we suffer in secret, finding no outlet for it in our waking lives. It speaks of a time when I’d begun writing a mile in public beside the outdoor pool in my small town: a strange self-made way of expanding my life that brought much joy - while also unleashing less comfortable emotions.
After reading, do share a short true tale of your own - no more than 300 words – on this theme in the comments section. What have you yearned - passionately - to do or pursue? What held you back? How did you decide to act on it? Or did you somehow reconcile yourself to letting it go?
Read the Season One stories contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape | time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth
OFF THE PILL and with my wedding ring thrown away in temper, I sat sleepless in the attic. New and unhappy night-time routine since midsummer when I felt the season begin sliding towards the pool’s September closing day.
Nye and the children were in separate rooms on the floors below, but I was still crowded, caged. Like a vixen in heat, I wanted to be outside the house, skirting fields and fences, laying scent trails, lying in wait. Not sitting spinster-neat on a single bed, hemmed in by the books of bolder women: Anaïs Nin noting in her diary that all days should be so good – the sperm of seven men by bedtime; Frida Kahlo lying laughing on the grass with a female lover; Lee Miller posing naked for the camera of Man Ray, equals in bed and art; Georgia O’Keeffe likewise with Stieglitz; Simone de Beauvoir delighting in a first orgasm at almost forty, just as she’d been resigning herself to losing youth and beauty.
‘It’s like a veil has been lifted.’ What an earnest friend had said to me at the end of our twenties, she having stopped her contraception in the months before marriage. ‘I am smelling men, everywhere. Seeing them. Their shape, how they move. Wanting their weight.’ Sex had been in the head till now, she suspected; driven by a wish to be admired, coupled up. How appalling, we agreed, if the very thing we’d taken to prevent pregnancy since our teens had, all along, been a kind of chemical veil. Taming and containing us like the hood on a hawk or cloth laid over a birdcage. Putting to sleep our wilder desires. God. How awful. But we turned away from where it might have led us, such knowledge, and continued going from shop to costly shop looking at finishing touches for her fast-approaching ceremony and reception.
Now, arriving at a creative life in my mid-forties, I was newly off the pill for the same reason I knelt each day to confront yard after yard of blank paper: to see what I was made of. I wanted to learn my monthly ebb and flow and use it to propel my writing in those last years before the menopause and the unchosen changes it would make to the body I’d been born to.
So I could rise fast each morning for my work at the pool, I’d also stopped the sleeping tablets I’d been taking since the emergency and its damage, and this only added to the raw nature of my wakefulness. A flood of strong hormones. Nerve pain. New estrangement from Nye. All these made for uneasy nights at home, but I accepted them as the price of my enlivened days.
When I did reach dream, I was often now a woman turned beast. Brought to all fours by an unseen force, and with my tendons straining at their new shape, I suffered being sewn into a wolfskin and driven from town. Running then, for hours, leagues; chased, escaping; low to the ground and tasting the air. Making a repeating pattern in the soil of three paws and a single handprint: the one that writes, which I found between my legs on waking.
It was to do with sex in its unmannered, amoral form, the sort that makes for the gap in the fence, forgetting the fold – what a feminist writer from an earlier era called the zipless fuck: the fantasy of having it anywhere, often, with anyone, at no cost to family or social standing (although there is always a cost if one loves and belongs).
But it was also about power. Range and expansion of territory. Energy. Appetite. Ambition.
And this made me monstrous, of course. That I was a woman not simply glad of a few school-day and weekend hours in which to write politely, but one who wanted more time, more time, more.
At the pool the next day, I shivered in the sun, while the hand that supported my chin felt naked. Its ring finger a mollusc, unshelled; white and damp and shrunken in the place where the band had always been.