Bedclothes for Beckett by Marc de Faoite

Occasionally I feel cold enough to wear a t-shirt in bed at night. On rare occasions I might even put the t-shirt on before getting into bed, but this would be unusual. More often than not the desire, need, or want – call it what you may (perhaps ‘urge’ is the word I’m looking for here, perhaps not) – to wear a t-shirt only hits me once I am in bed, though not immediately. Usually, but not always, a certain period of time elapses before I reach that point. I say a certain period of time, but there is nothing certain about it. It seems to me, in this instance at least, that I am using, and perhaps abusing, the word ‘certain’ to define a period of time that is nothing such, substituting it for a period of time that can, or at least might, extend from mere minutes to long hours. This is quite a broad and ill-defined, and dare I say (yes, I dare) uncertain lapse of time for such a precise word to be press-ganged into defining. But be that as it may, in this instance I am using (or abusing) the word ‘certain’ to define (or ill-define) a period of time during which I may (or may not) have lain awake. Or by logical extension to refer to the same, or entirely different length of time during which I might just as easily, or almost just as easily, have been asleep. In this latter case, occasionally, but rarely, the cold is enough to wake me up, while at other times I might not yet have fallen asleep, or may have fallen asleep and awakened and not felt cold, only to feel cold later, when I may, or may not, have fallen asleep again. But most nights I am not troubled by the cold. In fact, I am more likely to be warm and push the sheets away, sometimes, but not always, without even waking up. 

But in the instances where I do feel cold enough to need – or to be more precise want, because need is such a subjective and debatable thing – to put on a t-shirt, I am faced with a very particular set of challenges.

I don’t sleep alone. Whenever I am seized by this t-shirt-donning urge, my wife is asleep in bed beside me. Or she may not be asleep. Either way, I am loath to disturb her. I know if she is asleep by her snores. She often snores, but not always. On the occasions when she isn’t snoring, I am forced to consider that the absence of snoring does not necessarily correlate with her being awake, and that she might just as easily, or almost as easily, be asleep and not snoring. At these times I have no real way of knowing if she is asleep, unless she sighs, or says something, both of which she sometimes does when she is awake, though I have heard her do either and both of these things while still asleep, though on those occasions her words might not make as much sense as when she is awake. Indeed, on those occasions, or even on other occasions, her words might not even be in English, in which case I will sometimes understand, but often not. Not having established a surefire way of knowing for certain if my wife is asleep or awake, beyond the snores that is – short of asking her, and by so doing risking waking her – I err on the side of caution and don’t turn on the bedside light.

I don’t have a wardrobe. Instead, my t-shirts hang on a rail located on the other side of the bedroom, adjacent to my wife’s side of the bed. Things might be simpler if the rail were located on my side of the bed, or if not simpler, at the very least they would be different. But I am subject to the peculiar dictates of the configuration of the bedroom, and what a cruel dictator that configuration can be on occasions such as this, or even on other occasions, of which there are potentially many, perhaps even an infinite variety, or if not infinite, at least a numerous variety, nights being relatively long periods of time during which these ill-defined things (upon whose nature I am unwilling to speculate here) have the opportunity to occur, whether they actually avail themselves of said opportunity or not. Generally, they do not – occur that is, or avail themselves of the opportunity to occur – regardless of the infinite, or numerous, possibilities available to them. Or perhaps they don’t occur because they are asleep, if potential things can be said to sleep, existing in a dormant or latent state, waiting for the correct alignment of circumstances to manifest themselves, which at four in the morning doesn’t seem an entirely unreasonable proposition, the nighttime and its occurrences, including, but not limited to, things that go bump, adhering to a peculiar logic all of their own. 

In any case, the aforementioned configuration of the bedroom dictates that to get a t-shirt I have to follow a certain series or sequence of steps. I sit on the edge of the bed, stand, then walk three sides of a rectangle, reach out in the dark until I feel a t-shirt, grasp it, then make a return journey via the same three sides of the rectangle I have just walked. The rectangle in question is formed by the dimensions of my bed, though for the sake of accuracy I should say our bed, since given its shared occupancy, and indeed ownership, I cannot in fairness lay sole claim to the whole bed as my own. I might, however, be able to argue a case for half the bed, though under what circumstances such argument might be made I am unsure, in which case the overall shape would still be rectangular, and of equal length, albeit of reduced width and total area. Unless the bed were to be divided crossways, as opposed to lengthways, in which case it would still be rectangular but now, albeit of equal width and area, significantly reduced in length. Either of such hypothetical divisions would almost certainly wake my slumbering wife, if indeed they were to be made, say with a saw, or some other instrument capable of effectuating such divisions, if indeed my wife were asleep, which as previously mentioned, might not necessarily be the case, though it very well could be. To make life easier, both for myself and my wife – though if I’m being entirely honest about it, perhaps more for myself – I allow the bed its unscathed structural integrity, its length, and breadth, and surface area unchanged. I walk the three sides of the rectangle in one direction, then back again in the opposite direction along the same trajectory, or a roughly similar trajectory, the occasional misstep not being that unusual in the dark. Not that unusual, but not overly common either. Occasionally, but not often, though not rarely either, these missteps might lead to me stubbing a toe, or plural toes, against the leg of the bed. I find, being spoiled for choice, that any, or several of any, ten toes will do. Occasionally, but not always, in fact quite rarely, the impact of my toe, or toes, as may be the case, against the unyielding wooden leg of the bed may resound enough to awaken my wife, if indeed she is asleep. Though when she is asleep, this having being ascertained by the usual process of elimination previously elucidated upon, sometimes, but not always, she will simply sleep right through it. 

On the occasions when I successfully retrieve my t-shirt without any undue hinderance, and even on the occasions when those hinderances are encountered, I am then faced with the problem of how to put my t-shirt on in the dark. 

I sit on my side of the bed, slip my arms through their respective holes and pop my head through its allotted slot, and all is well, in theory at least. But there are times, when having followed these steps, that I discover that I have put my t-shirt on back-to-front, and the collar, which would normally be at the nape of my neck, now rides uncomfortably up around my throat. In these situations, I then repeat the same movements, or similar movements, in reverse, removing first my head, by drawing the t-shirt upwards, then removing each arm, in no particular order. I say in no particular order, but I cannot be truly certain if this is actually the case. It might be, by dint of being right-handed, that I automatically remove my right arm first – that is remove my right arm from the t-shirt and not from my torso, obviously, such dismemberment being entirely unnecessary and more than likely to awaken my sleeping wife, if indeed she is asleep, and to cause her more than a little inconvenience even if by chance she happened to be awake (though not more than the inconvenience caused to myself). I then turn my t-shirt around, and repeat the process, one arm, another arm, perhaps – but not necessarily – always in the same order, then pop my head out once again through its assigned aperture. Having carried out these steps, occasionally, but not always, I will come to understand that I have put the t-shirt on inside-out, either because it was inside-out to begin with while hanging on the rail, or because I have inadvertently inverted it while putting it on in the dark. For a while my solution was to take off the-t-shirt again then turn it right-side-out, in the hopes that by so doing I wasn’t turning it back to front, in which case I would have to remove and reverse the t-shirt again in the way I have just described. Occasionally, but not often, I awake the following morning – I say morning, though it might be any time of day or night, and I might argue that there are times of day where it might be unlikely that I am asleep and then awake, but experience tells me that though certain times of day or night are more convenient for sleeping or awakening, it would be narrow-minded to absolutely rule out any particular or specific time of day or night – to find that despite all my precautions and manipulations I have slept with the t-shirt on inside-out, that is to say with the seams on the outer surface. 

Through observation of this phenomenon I have discovered that this inadvertent inversion has little or no observable effect on the quality of my sleep, and I have come to the conclusion that if, by some chance my t-shirt is inside out when I first put it on, I can skip the steps involving inverting it and thereby eliminate the chances of my inadvertently reversing my t-shirt so that it ends up back-to-front again. It seems to me that by so doing I save myself some inconvenience, of a quantity I haven’t taken the time to calculate, but which shouldn’t be difficult to calculate, should I feel so inclined, which I don’t, the mathematical inclination not being one I resort to all that frequently. Not to say that I might never do the odd sum in my head, or even an even sum, but I have yet to be seized by a quantitative desire when it comes to the permutations involved in putting on a t-shirt in the dark and achieving that without waking my wife, if indeed she is asleep, and without stubbing a toe, or multiple toes, thereby awakening, or not, my wife, and then putting my t-shirt on correctly, that is to say front-to-front and inside-in. But should I find myself seized with the irrepressible desire to perform such calculations, I feel confident of the possibility of arriving at a definitive number or percentage whereby my rate of success might be measured, or even judged, though I find being judgmental rarely helpful and am generally opposed to it on principle.

But most of the time, though not always, it is too warm at night to need a t-shirt to supplement my bedclothes, and the question, or questions, of waking my wife, or not, if indeed she is asleep, or stubbing my toe, or not, or wearing a t-shirt in the normal way t-shirts are designed to be worn, rarely, but not never, arises. Though recently I have come to the conclusion that out of precaution I might do well to place a folded t-shirt beneath my pillow. Or perhaps on my bedside table.

About the contributor

Born in Dublin, Marc de Faoite lives on an island off the west coast of Malaysia. His short stories, articles, and book reviews have been published both in print and online. Tropical Madness, a collection of his short stories, was longlisted for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize.

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