A perfect drying day. It’s warm in the sun, with a slight breeze. But it’s cold here in the study, and part of me (all of me) doesn’t really want to stand in here and write while it’s so beautiful outside.
Yesterday late afternoon, I went to meet M outside her office in Norwich. There was a guy there playing classical guitar to no-one in particular (and there was precious little footfall because it was a Bank Holiday), so I just stood in the un, took some pictures of an old deconsecrated church that’s now an antiques centre, and stretched my back in the sun. I’d walked down into town wearing just a shirt and two jumpers, the sleeves rolled up so my arms might get some colour and fresh air, and got quite hot anyway. I felt like a nervous kid before a first date, waiting for M to come out of work, and when she came out with one of her colleagues only walked across to her very slowly. Funny what love does even when it’s been there for over 30 years.
We met up with F and J, our pregnant (very pregnant) friends from Belgium (well, F is pregnant, and J is the father-to-be). We’ve not seen them as a couple of three or four years. It was just so nice to sit in a pub courtyard drinking lemonade and catching up, and then to share a Greek meal talking more, with M and F talking about motherhood and giving birth (with M’s partial training as a doula as well as being a mother of four being a bit of an eye-opener for all of us). I just added horror stories of retained placentas and tales of being thrown out of the birthing room when O was born. Just for perspective. And to highlight yet again how useless men are, and how helpless we feel when those we love are giving birth and there’s actually absolutely nothing we can do to practically help. When they dropped us off at our house (which was immensely kind of them as my three layers by then were proving to be yet another example of my impracticality and I was cold), I reminded F (after M had said how much she actually enjoyed giving birth) of something my previous 5E practitioner had said – that giving birth is essentially a very sensual experience and that women should be given time and space to enjoy it as such.
Talking of my impracticality (and I have now switched desks and am sitting down in the cold office), M is outside digging over the garden. Once again, I feel useless, and like I should be out there being similarly industrious and productive rather than being in here throwing around useless words and wondering about life and recollecting memories that might otherwise be lost. I am two weeks behind putting up the Radio Stradbroke podcasts as well, and there’s another whole raft of similarly real things I should be catching up on. Life, as the children say, is relentless. And today I feel relentlessed. I know that’s another word of my invention, but I crave calm. I have to remind myself my body is recovering from yet another injury, although that just sounds like an excuse. I feel a fraud. In all things.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 63
No-one says anything more. The sky lifts. A sheet of light off to the left now the car is heading north. All thoughts secret, kept inside. Devoid of meaning because of their silence, their hidden nature.
Another hour. Another hour after that. The landscape spreads. Car lights come on. The afternoon nears its send. Nothing but breath and movement and travel. A direction without direction. There is nothing and everything ahead and behind and around. Life stretched.
Aggie longs for sleep, but it remains an impossibility. Her impossibility. Her eyes are restless, off to the sides, into the mirror to see Marit’s unmoving eyes, to see what’s behind them, to watch for unbidden and hidden dangers. Sometimes she imagines all of this is just in her mind, that she is actually asleep, that what she’s experiencing right now is nothing more than a dream, a simulation, an unreality, that she’ll open her real eyes and still be on that field in the snow, or in the bed in one of those wood-panelled rooms, her life already saved, but with no hint of the cruelty she remembers right now, in this particular reality she’s having to live, or in the perfect life before that blood-spattered night. But no matter how hard she tries to get those other eyes to open, they don’t, and she has to accept that this is it; this is her real life, and she’s serving a purpose she doesn’t under stand the meaning of, she doesn’t know the meaning of. There has to be a reason.
‘I need a break,’ Marit says. ‘It’s another hour at least to York.’
‘Do what you need to do,’ Aggie says. ‘You’re doing all the hard work.’
Marit laughs. ‘It’s not exactly hard work, is it. Chauffeuring a bunch of unknown reprobates to see a bloke I’ve only met once, for a reason I don’t know. For all I know he could be another madman, and we’ve all been misled again.’
‘He isn’t,’ Katharina says. ‘And we’ve not been.’
Marit laughs. ‘We’ll see.’ She slows the car down, pulls off the now dual carriageway, into an anonymous service station, follows the prescribed lane for cars, finds a space as close to the one-storey building she can find. ‘Let’s hide in open view again,’ she says.
‘Stay in the car,’ Katharina says to their three passengers in the back seat. ‘I’ll go get some sandwiches and some more coffee.’
Zav opens his mouth.
‘Cash only,’ Katharina says. ‘That’s all grannies carry with them anyway.’ She smiles, and gets out of the car, slams its door closed.
‘I need a walk,’ Marit says.
‘Go on then,’ Zav says. He tries to stretch. ‘Actually, I’ll come with you.’
‘Is that wise?’ Anna says.
‘Who cares?’ Zav says, jumps out of the door. ‘We won’t be long.’
‘I bet you won’t,’ Anna says under her breath.
‘He’s the one in love with you,’ Aggie says, as she watches Marit and Zav wander across to the forlorn patch of grass between the service station and the pale brick hotel next to it. They keep a studied distance from each other.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Anna says.
‘It’s obvious to everyone except the two of you.’
‘There’s nothing we can do about it anyway. I was supposed to kill him and I haven’t, and I’m bound to have to pay the price for that.’
That weight in her pocket again. Aggie’s hand hesitates, and then reaches for it. ‘This is the reason your clothes were so wet,’ she says to Anna, holds her flat hand out to her, the tiny device in her palm.
‘I made you go to sleep, and then pulled it out of your belly by the side of the road.’
Anna takes the small box. ‘What is it?’ She looks at Aggie. ‘And how did you do that?’ She swallows. ‘And how am I still alive?’
‘The hows are unimportant. It’s some sort of control device. But it wasn’t working. I don’t think it’s been working for ages.’
‘How can you tell?’
Aggie shakes her head like she’s trying to rid herself of a fly in her hair. ‘I’ve seen others like that before, but I can’t remember where or when.’
‘Are you saying the mentor put this inside me?’
‘I think so.’
‘But why’s it not working anymore?’
‘Perhaps they’re dead. Perhaps they turned it off.’ Aggie shrugs. ‘I need to get into a proper workshop with some tools to look at it properly.’
‘Why did you think to look?’
‘I wanted to be sure you weren’t being tracked without knowing about it.’
‘You didn’t trust me,’ Anna says. ‘That’s what. You disgust me.’ She gets out of the car without another word, and runs across to Zav and Marit.