It feels like I’m running late this morning. But I’m not. I was at my desk at 06:50 putting together more documents and uploading them for the annual audit in my day job. And I’ve had my coffee and breakfast (seedless blackberry preserve on bread baked my M). I’ve done my stretches. I made a note the other day that said “The question always is dare I be happy?” That’s the thing. Sometimes daring to be happy takes a lot more courage than being unhappy. Daring to be happy often feels like tempting fate, that to be happy risks being doubly unhappy when something troublesome arises. Like the twinge in my back ten minutes ago – was it the memory of pain or a warning that my “happiness” means I’m pushing things too hard? Does being happy invite feeling unhappy? Does enjoying my re-found pleasure in coffee mean there will be some backlash again. Always Newton’s Third Law of the emotions. This is inevitably overthinking.
I think of commitments I have. There are too many. Being a hermit has so many advantages, although social contact is something I sometimes crave. But on my terms. I had a panic attack of sorts in the local supermarket yesterday, sparked, I think, my two particularly annoying young girls and their annoying ineffectual father. All that noise for nothing. Grumpy old man territory. Misanthropic thoughts. I like to retire into closed rooms and regenerate, and play word puzzles, and turn my thoughts inside out and upside down and round and round until I have them in the shape I want them to be. I like to browse in shops without people pushing past me, without the disturbance of petulancies and boasts.
Except of course my thoughts rarely end up being the shape I want them to be. Except of course life is rarely quiet. Except of course nothing is really ever the way I really want it to be. That’s partly my fault because I want everything to be perfect all the time. But there is another fault. The fault line that runs through all of existence. I’ve not talked about Bregman for an age, but the paradox, even in his hopeful book is this – why do we allow despots and tyrants, psychopaths and sociopaths to become our leaders? And why don’t we do anything about it? The state of the UK (and the world) is such that in any healthy society, we would all be on the streets protesting, that civil unrest, non-violent civil unrest, would be prevalent. Where is it? And it’s not just us writers and creatives who are sitting in our garrets typing words and painting pictures and writing poems and scripts rather than being on the streets. Where is everyone? The left tears itself apart, the extreme left becomes as right-wing as the extreme right. I tried to explain to my grown-up children that the best path to suppression by governments is for those governments to starve the populace of food and money, and thereby diminish any will or energy to protest. And that’s what’s happening.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 80
‘Nothing’s impossible,’ Aggie says.
‘Her being here when she’s not actually here, that’s impossible,’ Robert says, holds his hands out for the box.
Aggie hands it to him gently. ‘There’s no key,’ she says.
‘I thought you said you had ways of getting into places you weren’t meant to be in,’ he says.
‘All that lock picking I saw you do,’ Zav says.
Aggie shakes her head. ‘I can’t do it. It feels wrong.’
‘When have you ever stopped from doing something that’s wrong?’ Anna says, a big smile across her face.
‘When I’ve thought it was right to be wrong, when there were rules or commands that told me something other than what I thought should be done.’ In her mind, Aggie sees the scar on Anna’s shoulder, that ugly rune on the immaculate skin, remembers how Anna’s skin had healed so quickly earlier when she’d burrowed under her friend’s skin to find that dead device she thought had been steering her. ‘That’s why you’re still alive.’
Anna’s smile vanishes. Her memory is intact, too. ‘Then what do you suggest we do with the damn thing?’ she says, surly.
‘Maybe I should take it home and put it in a safe place while we have dinner,’ Robert says.
The others stare at him.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘But we all have to eat, don’t we?’
‘What happened to your sense of urgency?’ Marit says.
‘I never had one. That’s the problem,’ Robert says. ‘My life was always one of finding the easiest way between the tramlines not outside them. Never anything extraordinary. Much too dangerous.’
‘I’m not sure you’re being entirely h9onest with yourself,’ Marit says. ‘Loving my mother was never the safest option.’
‘Oh, but it was,’ Robert says. ‘Because if I’d tried to resist that urge to love her it would have killed me.’
‘And as it is you’ve spent half your life without her.’ Marit steps up to him, and hugs him.
Robert pulls out of the hug. ‘Because that’s the way it was meant to be.’
‘A composer and a fatalist,’ Zav says. ‘Imagine that.’
Robert doesn’t even try to get angry. ‘That’s the man I am. All soaring beauty in my craft, all modesty and disbelief and fear in my real life. That’s creatives for you.’ He turns and walk towards the entrance. ‘Come on. I’ve had enough of this place. Again. There’s something not right about it.’
‘What actually moved down here, that the cameras showed?’ Aggie says.
‘Huge concrete blocks. For the new foundations. To keep the water at bay,’ Robert says. ‘Things no human could have moved. And a long way. So the water came in anyway. In the end, we had to walk 24/7 to get everything in place, fix it down, so that we didn’t have to start from scratch every time.’ He hasn’t stopped walking, hasn’t even blown out the candles.
‘And since?’ Aggie follows him, won’t let him get away.
‘The candle sticks, sometimes. And the faces of the boiling saints, in that carving.’ He points briefly, without conviction, at the wall of writhing souls surrounded by hectoring demons. ‘They change, they come alive, they scream inaudible screams.’
‘Have you kept any of these recordings?’ Katharina says, always the silent one, always the last to say something, like she’s turning everything over in her mind, and will only speak if she has something to say that she thinks is useful.
‘We keep them all,’ Robert says. ‘In the forlorn hope that these things will stop, in the forlorn hope that we can somehow find out what causes them.’
‘Have you tried an exorcism?’ Zav says.
‘Asks the man who doesn’t believe in the supernatural,’ Anna says.
‘Just being devil’s advocate,’ Zav says.
‘A poor choice of words again, my boy,’ Robert says. ‘We need someone who advocates against the devil not for him.’ He hurries up the stairs. ‘And we did try an exorcism, yes.’ He turns at the top of the stairs, faces those following him. ‘And it didn’t work.’