Good things do happen.
When I was doing my radio show on Friday, K, one of the other presenters on Radio Stradbroke (and whom I’m listening to as I write), sent me a message (she was able to listen to me for once, as she was isolating with covid and couldn’t go to work) asking me if I had Jamie Webster’s second album (after having asked me to play a song from it). I said no, and thought nothing more of it. Her next message was that she’d ordered me the vinyl copy of it. Needless to say (and you know this of me by now), I welled up at this unexpected kindness. And when I got home yesterday afternoon after a particularly fraught shopping expedition to find some running shoes that were as close as possible to the old ones I’ve reverted to that are years old and tattered and holey and comfortable (so much noise, so many people, so many over-stimulations), there it was. I couldn’t wait to get it out of its cardboard packaging and take a pic of myself with it to send to K. Of course, again being the man I am, I have yet to take the cellophane off and marvel at the white vinyl. I am obviously still 17 in my head, which goes a long way to explaining a lot of things about me.
After the shopping expedition yesterday and unwrapping the vinyl, I was really low, for some reason. Some might quote Newton’s Third Law that “in a closed system, action and reaction are equal opposites,” because it does seem to apply to emotions as well as physicality – more proof, if proof were needed, that Physics is the science of philosophers (maybe that’s why I wanted to study it for my A levels but wasn’t allowed to because my Maths wasn’t good enough, and because the school I was at thought that doing six A levels would be too much for even me). M put up with the depressed me in her usual deeply sympathetic way. And this morning, I came back into the house to find an espresso on the dining table for me. My first coffee since 2008. M and I had talked about coffee with L&L when we saw them last Sunday, and that I miss so much drinking it (some of my happiest memories of L and me are the two of us sitting in an Italian restaurant in Dunstable drinking espresso and port, and smoking a cigar), so they all said maybe try it again (and R said the same to me years ago when we last met in London), because they all suggested it was instant coffee that was causing the bad reactions I had (and too much of it – 10 cups a day of any coffee is not a good thing, is it?). And after that lovely M-made coffee, I had M-made scrambled eggs and toast. And K said on the radio that I was a part of her extended family. The perfect Sunday morning.
Like I said – there are good things in life. And they’re always worth waiting for.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 78
‘Are you alright?’ Anna says, catches Aggie as she stumbles towards the altar.
‘Can’t breathe.’ Aggie holds herself upright with her hands on the bare table. ‘Don’t know why.’ Her hands slip, and she slumps down onto the ground.
Anna crouches down next to her. ‘Try to breathe slowly.’ She looks up at Robert. ‘Water, we need some water.’
‘Yes.’ Robert moves away quickly, silently, back towards the office. A shaft of light cuts into the ancient stillness and the slam of the door reverberates.
‘Help me,’ Aggie says, struggling, her hands scrabbling at her throat. A red mist rises in front of her eyes, black figures dancing in it. She has no fear, just resignation, deep inside her. She has always wondered when the time would come, but had never thought it would be this soon. She closes her eyes, and the mist is still there, the dancing devils. She sees Anna’s fire from that night, always that night. What had she missed? There must be something otherwise her memory wouldn’t keep dragging her back there. Anna dancing around the fire, eyes unhinged and blank, and standing still at the exact moment Aggie took aim, the moment the mentor told her to hold her breath and fire, that split second when the goodness inside the secret place took hold of Aggie, when all her rage dissipated and she knew she couldn’t kill. The last of the oxygen leaves her body, now, and the bullet through Ann’s shoulder explodes in slow motion, a clean shot, a minimal blood spatter, the bullet cauterizing the would as it made it.
‘Here, Aggie, take this.’ Robert’s soft voice right next to her face now. She hadn’t heard him come back, hadn’t heard a slam, hadn’t seen a light. His hands guide the glass to her mouth. ‘You won’t die.’ He puts on of his hands on her chest, just below her throat, mumbles some unintelligible words.
A gentle sip, and another, and the feeling returns to her throat, the constriction eases, oxygen starts flowing again. The mist remains, devils dancing underground. A minimal blood spatter. Anna running as soon as the bullet went through her. Underground. Devils. Aggie splutters, grabs the glass, a big gulp now. Still shivering, but with anger now. They planned it, the whole time. The mentor. A test. They knew I wouldn’t kill. Anna an experiment. That’s why she’s not complete, and she doesn’t even know. The mentor wanted her to get away, to sow uncertainty. To punish by pain and survival. But the devils, the devils. She can’t shake the vision away. ‘The Undercroft,’ she says to Robert. ‘What’s in the Undercroft?’ She pushes herself up off the floor, Anna’s hand guiding her.
‘It’s a museum now,’ Robert says. ‘And there’s the Treasury, and a crypt.’
‘I need to see,’ she says. ‘I have devils dancing in my head, and they’re all underground.’
Robert stops, stands up straight. ‘We … we can’t go down there. Not at night.’ His voice wavers.
Aggie, standing straight again now, shivers reduced to almost nothing. ‘Why?’
Robert fidgets, runs his hands through his hair, intertwines his fingers again. ‘When we were building down there, erm, some strange things happened.’
‘What strange things?’ Aggie says. ‘And please take me there now.’ Her eyes switch to an even more sensitive mode, and her scan of the sides of the nave show her signs towards it. She starts walking before he’s answered. He catches up with her, puts a hand on her arm. Again, she’s surprised she doesn’t just shake him off. ‘Tell me, Robert.’
‘Some said it was the work of the devil himself. Things moved without anyone being down there. The place flooded. Again and again. After remedial works. And things glowed in the dark.’
‘You saw this?’
‘The cameras showed it.’
The others are behind them now. ‘We’ll all go down there together,’ Katharina says. ‘And there must be lights.’
‘That’s the other thing,’ Robert says. ‘All the flooding has stopped, but the cameras still show things being moved about. And the lights don’t work after the day has gone up here.’