Cormac’s eyes are half-open, fixed on the thin wedge of light under the bedroom door. Has he been awake long? He’s not sure if he’s awake now. What time is it? His face is attached to the pillow by a patch of his own drool. He separates face and pillow as he reaches out for his phone in the dark, finding it on his bedside locker. Pressing the home button, he squints as the phone illuminates to show 02:17. Cormac buries his face in the pillow. He groans, in part for being suddenly wide awake at this hour but also because he has planted his face directly back into the drool patch. He raises his head, turns the pillow over and lies down on his back instead.
As he stares at the ceiling, Cormac rues the snooze he had on the flight home. His sleep cycle is all over the place at the best of times but crossing time zones hardly helps.
“Time zones are a head-wreck,” Cormac grumbles to himself.
On the day he left, his 10-hour flight departed in the afternoon and arrived at his destination in the morning of the same day. That made no sense to Cormac. Worse still, his return flight was an hour shorter but somehow brought him home one whole day later. No, Cormac doesn’t understand how time zones work, but he does want a good night’s sleep. The house is silent. His parents are asleep. His visiting sister and her two little kids are all asleep. Even the dog must be sleeping out in the shed, so why can’t Cormac? He tried, he really tried, to follow the advice of those friends and family who are seasoned travellers compared with him. Each person advised Cormac to power through, to avoid sleeping until his standard bedtime in that time-zone. He managed that when he made it to his destination. However, on the return flight…
“Stupid, fecking nap!” he grumbles.
His body clock is wrecked. Cormac can’t focus his mind on sleeping when his body thinks it should be awake somewhere else. Well, that and he needs to use the toilet. Accepting that he’s not getting back to sleep any time soon, Cormac slides out from under the covers and puts on his tracksuit bottoms. He checks his phone again – 02:43 – and pops it into his pocket. He tip-toes to the bedroom door, the main light of the bathroom providing the light that guides him. Cormac is grateful to find his way to the toilet without plodding about on the landing, searching for a light switch, or causing any disturbance to the two small children sleeping in the next room.
“Less noise if I don’t flush, either,” Cormac reasons to himself.
When he finishes, Cormac places the lid down gently and washes his hands. He steps out on to the landing and notices a light in the hallway downstairs. It’s coming from the kitchen. Cormac hasn’t heard anyone else up in the house.
“Some eejit left the light on…” he supposes.
Cormac navigates his way downstairs with as little creaking as possible. He eases the kitchen door open and peeks inside. His sister Sinead is sitting in the armchair by the range, dressed in pyjamas and a nightgown, reading a magazine. She tilts her head and raises her eyebrows in surprise on seeing Cormac at the door.
“Oh…” she says, “I expected Mam or Dad.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Cormac shrugs.
He pours a glass of water at the counter and sits at the kitchen table.
“What has you up at this hour?” he asks.
Sinead closes the magazine.
“Ah, Aine is still teething – she woke up crying…” Sinead replies, with an exhausted sigh. “I managed to get her back down to sleep, only I can’t sleep myself now…”
Sinead switches the magazine in her hands with the baby monitor by her side, raising it for Cormac to see it as the genuine answer to his question.
“Did that not set Oisin off as well?” Cormac inquires.
“Not at all,” Sinead scoffs, “that lad would sleep through an explosion… Anyway… what’re you doing up?”
“Got bored staring at the ceiling,” Cormac says wryly.
“Oh, really?” Sinead asks as she stifles a yawn.
“Bloody jet lag is all it is,” Cormac continues, “it’s the worst, I’m shattered – “
Did he… did he just… say that? If he could suck the words back in somehow, Cormac would. But he can’t.
of two infants…
Cormac raises his eyes from the floor and meets Sinead’s glare. A shiver runs down his spine. Sinead has a look on her face that Cormac can only describe as manic despair mixed with homicidal frustration. Her eyebrows are arched, her mouth has dropped open and her eyes look as though they would be wide open were it not for the heaviness of Sinead’s eyelids.
“Are you for real?” Sinead starts, her voice a low whisper out of consideration for those sleeping, but with a distinct rasp in it, “You don’t even know – you’ve been on a fecking holiday – you’ve some bloody cheek – out seeing the world, enjoying yourself – I’ve no sympathy for you – away for a wet week and a little jet lag has you ruined? – you wouldn’t stand a chance as a parent – I’ve two small kids, you don’t hear me complaining – I don’t get to be tired – I haven’t slept through a whole night for two years – all you were doing was fecking sunning yourself – think you’re suffering just because you can’t sleep? – guess what, that’s just being an adult – you’ve an awful fecking lot to learn – wait until you’ve kids of your own – see how you’ll do then – forget about jet-lag – try having kids depending on you – try having, fecksake, fecking baby lag, is what it is – don’t even talk – don’t even TALK to me – about feeling tired – you don’t know the first thing about tired…”
Sinead takes a few deep breaths as she looks off into the opposite corner. Cormac stares at the floor. After a few minutes of silence, Sinead puts her face in her hands and sighs, gently rolling her fingertips on her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she says wearily, “it’s not fair to snap at you like that. It’s just late and I’m cranky…”
“No, no, no,” Cormac mumbles, “I should’ve considered – I just – sorry, I’m sorry…”
Neither person makes another sound. More time passes, only broken by some light static on the baby monitor, nothing else. Eventually, Cormac takes his phone from his pocket to have something to do other than sit there quietly. The screen shows 03:31 and he has no new notifications. Out of curiosity, he checks the world clock app to see the time for where his body still thinks it is. He looks through other locations, too, until he remembers that there are bottles of beer in the fridge and he has that thought; the one about other time zones where it would be socially acceptable to start drinking right now. Cormac briefly looks up from his phone to see Sinead has re-fixed her stare on the opposite corner. He looks back at the world clock on his phone and something in his mind clicks. Two unconnected strands come together. He gets it. It makes sense. He understands time zones better than he ever did before.
“What I wouldn’t give,” Cormac thinks to himself, “to be in a different place and time right now…”