GT has given me his memory of the Avignon episode, so the reconstruction now runs something like this: I started writing the poem after seeing her, got three verses done, and then stumbled over the gender of “glass” (“verre” in French), and asked him what it was (his French then was already better than mine, probably because his father was my French teacher), and she overheard us, and told us it was “le verre.” I probably got very embarrassed and thanked her, finished poem and meal, and then gave her the poem. GT says he, GA, and MW just let me get on with it. I have a vague memory of them getting out of the restaurant as quickly as possible while I followed my plan. What exactly happened is beyond my recollection, but at least my fear that it might have been a #MeToo moment has been assuaged. And now let’s leave that where it sits – another junction where different choices would have created different things, and where that particular choice created new possibilities, and I came into this life that’s perfect in its own way, too.
I woke up this morning with Glamboy’s Regular Sin in my head. Go search for it on whatever streaming platform you use. It’s a great song. And while you’re doing that, search for NiallTheUrchin’s Bleak Street, and The Invisible Kind by The Choco-La’s (their apostrophe, I hasten to add). My top three songs of the year so far.
The new varifocals are taking some getting used to. My eyes are doing their usual flibbertigibbety thing they do when I get new specs, searching for new focal length, roaming around the whole lens until they find the right spot. It can take well over a week for this to settle down, and it’s a bit disconcerting, and hard work on the eye muscles and my brain.
Back stretches done. Coffee taken. I used a bigger cup this morning, and put water through the same pod twice instead of just the once. It still tasted nice, but it didn’t have that feeling of velvety luxury to it that the tiny espresso cup and single portion of water has. Not an unsuccessful experiment, but one which diminishes what I want – and I don’t want to go down the path of having a double espresso using two pods, not yet. Funny how this week back on coffee after 14 years without has made these daily notes so focused on coffee and memory. Perhaps not so surprising.
The sun is out. The door to the study is wide open so it doesn’t get too hot in here. I started tidying a little in here yesterday and changed the fuse on the drill so it works again now. Menial banalities. That’s real life.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 84
‘Here. Come have a look.’ Robert stays where he is, the paper still over the flame, gentle circular motions.
Aggie moves towards him, stands next to him, his aftershave enveloping her. She understands again why Cassandra would have loved him. There’s a sense of serenity about him, despite his sadness, despite his fear, despite his illness. She looks at the paper. ‘It’s her handwriting,’ she says.
‘Yes.’ He sighs. ‘Read it to me. It needs a female voice.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’m a composer. I know when a female voice is needed. Now hurry. My fingers are getting too hot, and I don’t want it to fade.’
Aggie voice wavers, and she doesn’t know why. She squints. ‘Valentine is following me. He knows my intent. Do not try to save me. I don’t need saving. Smoke and mirrors. Tell Marit to stay in York. Aggie needs to go back to Norwich and dig deeper. Robert, I will see you again. When this is done.’ Aggie steps away. ‘That’s it.’
Robert holds the paper into the flame now, and it catches brightly, an orange light with a blue core. He drops it into the metal bin by his feet. ‘No instructions for me.’
‘I think she needs you to stay here.’ Aggie briefly touches his back, and even that touch feels his trembling, and reveals his muscles under the jacket.
‘That’s all I ever do, stay where I’m told. It’s very enervating. I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told. Unless it’s an order. Perhaps that’s where I’ve always gone wrong.’
‘I wouldn’t know,’ she says.
‘All you ever did was disobey orders.’ Anna’s voice behind them. ‘We were worried.’
Aggie turns round, the sudden urge to anger gone before it even reaches her throat. ‘So was I.’
‘You managed to open it then,’ Anna says.
‘Not that it got us much further,’ Robert says. ‘No closer to her. No closer to understanding how she arranged that whole charade in the Minster.’
‘It doesn’t matter how she did it,’ Anna says. ‘She did it. That’s all that matters.’
‘Taking advantage of my fears.’ Robert is really shaking now.
Anna walks to him, does what Aggie could never do, takes him into her diminutive hug. ‘It’s fine,’ she says, strokes his back. ‘She will survive.’
‘You women are all the same,’ he says, looks over Anna’s shoulder at Aggie and winks. He starts humming is hymn. ‘We men aren’t as weak as we seem.’ He pats Anna’s shoulder, releases himself from her grip, stands up straight again. The smell of burning paper is rich and fills the room. ‘Let’s leave the acid of this,’ he says. ‘Let’s go eat. Where are the others?’
‘Still waiting in the office,’ Anna says.
‘Good, good,’ he says. ‘We’ll go through the Minster then. It’s the quickest way.’ He marches out of the room, out of the house, slams the door behind them, locks it, drops his keys into the pocket, waves across the lane to the others, bounds across to them. ‘Sorry to keep you waiting,’ he says. ‘I gave into temptation after all, and opened the box.’
‘And?’ Katharina says.
‘Nothing of huge import,’ he says. ‘Just Cassie playing a trick on me so I don’t forget her.’
‘Not the work of the Devil, then,’ Zav says, his arms crossed.
‘Evidently not, dear boy,’ Robert says. ‘Let’s go.’ He pushes them all back into the office, locks the door, hurries them through into the quire, down into the nave. ‘The candles,’ he says, slaps his forehead.
‘I blew them out,’ Katharine says. ‘You were in such a hurry.’
‘What a kind woman you are,’ Robert says. ‘I see where Cassie gets it from now.’ He lays a gentle hand on her arm. ‘Thank you.’
Katharina smiles at him. ‘You’re very welcome. Ghosts don’t frighten me.’
‘Perhaps I have too many ghosts,’ he says.