Two blackbirds this morning. First the one which looks vaguely plump and familiar. I started talking to it, and it came closer to me, wiping its beak on the dew-dropped grass. I was about to hold my left arm out and try to get it to sit on the sleeve of my jumper, against my usual instincts of chasing birds away, when the second flew into the garden and started picking at the mounds of hardened mud left by the builders’ excavations. They seemed then to have a brief conversation, ran after each other for a few seconds, nodded at each other and flew off over the fence. And the garden was empty again. And I turned into a cat again, the sun warming my back through my three layers of black, and my shadow walking off without me.
The dreams I had last night were weird, although I can’t remember any of them. I am sure they were all a result of me finishing Stephen King’s Misery, which was an excellent excavation of the writer’s mind, every writers’ mind, and an exposition of writers’ needs to find the golden bullet that makes people turn the pages, not just at the end of chapters, but at the bottom of each page. How do we define great literature anyway? The Immortality Clock was written as a throwaway book, as something which might fit more easily into the genre of writing that uses a profusion of adjectives, and then became an allegory for Brexit, for the insularity and isolation of the UK. I don’t know what the second one in that series is becoming, but it’s necessarily conditioned by covid, what with me having started it during the first lockdown. It’s shouting at me from its folder on this machine (and its corresponding folder in my Cloud backup) to get it finished. The problem is that Aggie’s shouting is just as loud right now. Maybe I won’t do any day job work on Bank Holiday Monday but instead try to get another 10k words done. Famous last words.
The words aren’t exactly flowing out of my fingers this morning. I’m typing even more slowly than I would be was I using an old manual typewriter, whose clang and bells and weight I miss, even though my first typewriter was a slimline portable Olivetti. And at one point in 1989 I had an IBM golfball electric typewriter I wrote by first 100 or so poems for M on. That, too, has gone the way of all mortal things, and disappeared along with the past. But the poems, with the slightly blurred letters, the faint black line under the occasional letter, are still here, behind me, in four of those folders that have plastic wallets in them. It may not have been the best way to store them, because the old IBM ink is sticking to the see-through plastic of the wallets. But I do have the hand-written originals in one of the many journals sitting on the same shelves behind me. Perhaps I should leave instructions for them to go to the British Library when the time comes. Or instructions for them to be burned.
I like the way words breathe and turn in my head.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 77
‘Thank you,’ Aggie says, surprised as she is at Robert’s gesture, surprised as she is that she didn’t shrink away from his touch, that she didn’t laugh in his face for believing in something she thinks, she knows, is impossible, doesn’t exist, and if it does is nothing but the bringer of pain and despair. Her eyes search out the saints on the huge window above her head, and fix on the colours and the vacant spots where translucence intimates perspective and something from nothing. The day she was let out of the cell, the day she had marked off in her mind as the thirty-first since Anna had escaped, the light had scraped at her eyes, the air at her lungs, the mentor at her mind. Sharp words. You’ll never be anything if you don’t do as you’re told. I will turn you off, turn you all off. You will not waste my time again. And Aggie had walked up to her and said I beat you at your game. A hiss had been the answer I let you win, like I let you all win, because I’m kind, because I’m trying to teach you how to hate completely. And I thrive on your hate. It makes me stronger. And that’s what you have to learn, on top of everything else. That hate and anger will let you win against anyone who has a soul.
‘Are you alright, my dear?’ Robert’s voice is a distant chime.
Aggie nods. It’s the first time those memories have stopped her being attentive to the present. ‘Just distracted by all the colours. In a good way.’ The words nearly stick in her throat. She remembers, then, asking herself what it was, this soul the mentor was talking about, and that at that moment, in those first few seconds out of the cell, stinking to high heaven, she started thinking about how she could save what little there was left of her, of the girl she’d been before, how she could save what she was certain was her soul, that tiny nut of warmth and goodness and happiness she could still find in the maze of her skull and veins and rebuilt flesh, that piece of hers she could see as clearly as if it was something solid to the touch. And she took it, there and then, picked it up with her hands in her head and moved it to the special place she built inside herself for it right at that moment. She smiled at the mentor, slightly bowed her head. Your wish is my command, she said, without irony, and turned herself into the most obedient pupil the mentor had ever had. On the outside.
‘Come,’ Robert says, and leads the way off to their right. ‘Let’s find the others, and walk down the nave. It’s as wide as a road, and as busy as one during the day. But now, here, it’s ours, just ours; yours, Marit’s, Katharina’s, Zav’s, Anna’s.’
‘And yours,’ she says.
‘It will always be a part of me,’ he says. ‘Even when I’m gone.’
Aggie remembers his trembling arm, his restless leg, doesn’t ask about them. ‘It’s a soul itself, isn’t it?’
He stops, looks up to the ceiling, then at her, and his eyes are glistening in the half-light. ‘Exactly that, exactly that. How much time we waste looking for things beyond our understanding, unimportant things. Never mind. Life is about mistakes.’
‘You wish you’d married her.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Maybe she wishes the same.’
‘When this is over, we’ll know.’ His voice is suddenly loud, not because he has raised it, but because the nave has opened up above them, even higher than she had expected, twice the height of her cathedral, a cavernous expanse that the columns and the roof supports don’t support because the void of the nave has created its own boundaries beyond which it can soar when it chooses. A seemingly endless space.
The others are standing on the raised dais of the altar, grey specks in the twilight.
Aggie stops. Her eyes are adrift in the mist of this strange light. She starts to shiver.