I’ve started this any number of times. In my head. On the screen. Nothing feels right, and the weight of the words has been all wrong.
It’s taken me 30 minutes to write this so far.
Politics? War? Coffee?
Politics – Vote out as many Tory councillors as possible. No elections in my part of Norwich, so I feel very much on the periphery today. And ask myself how many of those who vote today will see sense, will realise that the last 12 years of Tory rule have been nothing short of genocide? When people are being starved by their government, being paid less in benefits than they have to spend just to exist. The ghosts of those dead will be haunting the polling booths today.
War – Men, women, children being murdered and murdering. There has never been any justification for war and/or expansionism. The world is destroying itself. Buttons are being pressed in one part of the world that send death to another part of the world. Merciless aggression. When I was being bullied as a child, I often asked myself why violence trumped everything else. It’s still like that. And I can see no end to it. Every time I hear a military engine overhead, I think it could be a missile.
Coffee – One of my best memories, which I may have written about before, is sitting in Avignon railway station in 1986 at about 6:30 one summer morning, the three friends I was travelling round Europe with off exploring somewhere, and me at a small round table with a croissant, a double espresso, and a Gauloise sans filtre. That, for me, was perfection all rolled into one single moment, all those different tastes mixing and mingling in my mouth, and the sun warm on me. And later that day I fell in love with a dark-haired woman in a wheelchair whose laugh had carried across the restaurant to me. I dropped a French poem for her onto her table when we left. Never spoke to her. How many possible junctions in those two moments? We never know.
There will be closures today.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 81
Robert disappears from the top of the stairs, like a ghost seen and unseen, his footsteps growing more distant in his hurry to get away from the undercroft. Aggie bounds after him.
‘You really don’t want to see what’s in that box, do you?’ she says.
‘I don’t even want to imagine what’s in it,’ he says. ‘How do I know there’s not a mechanism that will explode when I open it forcibly? How do I know there’s not some part of Cassie in there, that she’s been caught by whomever Valentine is getting to do his dirty work? How do I even know it’s real? Things just appearing in the haunted grotto under this place? Or that there’s an evil genie in there?’
‘You have to be the one to open it,’ Aggie says. ‘I can feel it.’
‘What if I’m not? What if you’re wrong?’
‘I thought you were a well-adjusted man.’
‘Well-adjusted to my limitations and failures, well-adjusted to always losing the woman I’ve loved forever just when I think she’s finally come home to me.’
‘We don’t belong to anyone,’ Aggie says. You belong to me the mentor whispered in her ear when she came out of the cell, and every day afterwards, for as long as she can remember. Why can’t she remember the last day she saw them. You belong to me and you’ll never be free. There’s a flash behind her eyes, and she sees a new memory. The mentor in a wheelchair, grasping out at Aggie as she backs away to the door, the snow falling again, outside, her outsize boots laced up tight, the weight of the stiletto already a daily habit against her calf, a thick coat around her, its fur-lined hood up over her hair. A gloved hand pointing at what now to her seems like a wreck of a human in that chair, legs, body, arms, and face withered and lined with undefined hatred. I never was yours to start with. Turned and ran, jumped on a snowmobile and never looked back.
‘I promise I’ll open it when we’ve eaten,’ Robert says. ‘I have a safe in the house. I will put it in there.’
They’re in the modern office again now, neon lighting bright. The undercroft now seems nothing more than a dream, already fading into unbelievability except for the box in his hands. The others have caught up with them, concern and bemusement all over their faces.
‘Wait here, the lot of you.’ There’s a sad smile on his face, and the headmasterly tone has returned to his voice. ‘I’ll be right back. I’m hungry.’
They watch him pick his way across the cobbles, round the barrier, down the shallow step into his tiny front garden, if it can even be called a garden. He puts his hand into his pocket, pulls out a key, lets himself into the house, and disappears from sight.
‘Keep the door open,’ Aggie says. ‘I’m going to follow him.’
‘Don’t snoop on him,’ Anna says. ‘I know what you’re like.’
‘I just want him to be safe,’ Aggie says. ‘I’m not going to into the house. Just stand guard. You can cover me from here. I know there’s a gun not far from your hand at any time.’
Anna laughs. ‘Not that it helped me against you.’
‘You never were against me,’ Aggie says. ‘Always with me.’ She bounds noiselessly across to Robert’s house, stands with her back against the wall next to the door.
‘Forgive me.’ His voice from inside, from the room where he played the piano, Aggie thinks. His voice again. ‘I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. I have left undone those things I should have done, done those things I should have left undone. Spare this man who has confessed his sins.’ The clink of a bunch of keys. A sigh. More clinking. The sound of keys being tried in a lock. Another sigh. A click. A gasp. Silence.