Yesterday was an odd day. I felt totally lethargic for most of it, even wrote a poem about how the greyness seemed to be sucking the life out of me. I duly posted on twitter about the apathy and was told off (nicely) about it, and to enjoy life, by Yaroslava, a woman I follow who lives in Ukraine and tweets about her #warcoffee, and everything she’s doing to help those in Ukraine who are in even more dire straits than her (you can follow her on twitter on @strategywoman). As she said to me, life is a wonderful thing indeed. Perhaps it’s time for a Yaroslava in Aggie. And if not now, there will be before it ends.
When I did finally get my head together, I wrote over 1k new words of The Mortality Code, as well as ironing out the issue with the missing character I mentioned a few weeks ago. That was progress. It’s now over 76k words, the average length for one of my novels, actually, and I’m not sure I’m even three quarters of the way through – the characters keep doing things that push the ending further and further away. I said to M yesterday again how difficult it is for me to keep the narratives of two novels in my head at once. I think I’m managing to keep the voices apart, though, which is a relief. The proof of the pudding will be in the reading. I need to finish them first.
Marina Florance, one of my favourite people and singers, did a 1-hour concert as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival last night, so I walked the 3 miles down there. I’ve performed with her before, but have never had the chance to just watch her. She was truly fabulous, and when she opened her set with a song I had written the lyrics for (Every Woman on spotify – other streaming services are available), I must admit I welled up a little. It’s one thing to listen to a recorded version of your words, but to watch them being performed live takes the emotion to another level. Marina also sang another song we’d written together (along with the great tunemeister Derek Osei-Owusu, better known as Del or Platinum Mind), Rainbows. And, in total truth, those were eclipsed by all the other songs she sang in a 1-hour set that seemed to last only 30 minutes. Hopefully, BBC Introducing In Norfolk will play out the whole set in full at some point soon. It was great to see Marina and her husband G again (October 2021 was the last time, when we’d started talking about Rainbows), and the icing on the cake were the mike and small drum machine Marina gifted me as she no longer needs them. I will find time to start recording more spoken word material, honestly. The glorious M then picked me up from Norwich railway station because she didn’t want me to walk home in the dark.
One last word on the uplifting day yesterday ended up being. I had taken a packet of straight cigs with me and was smoking one at the station whilst waiting for M to pick me up. A youth who looked just over 20 (if that) came up to me and asked me if they could “borrow” a cigarette. ‘Have one, you mean,’ I said. I got two out of my pack and handed them over their nail-varnished fingers saying ‘It’s bad for you, you know, smoking.’ At which they smiled, said thanks and walked off. And whilst I was turning away smiling to myself, I heard their voice ‘I have a hell of a lot of respect for you.’ I turned back and asked why, and they said they’d been trying for an age to get someone to give them a cigarette and everyone they’d asked had told them to get lost. I almost cried (again) out of despair at such unkindness to a young person not in the best of places, and at the unprompted kindness that young person showed me. And that’s not banal at all.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 92
Aggie lands softly under one of the trees. Two more bounds and she’s one tree away from the one she’s been watching. Her breathing has slowed to almost nothing, and her eyes have never left the branches moving in that unnatural way. She doesn’t make the sound of an owl, because she’s hoping to get to her quarry before Anna does, before the red mist descends over Anna’s mind, and she massacres whoever or whatever it is who’s up there. Aggie extends herself, grows taller, rises up into the canopy of the tree in the darkness, the cool hushed gloom of a deserted York, her eyes adjusting rapidly to the ever-changing light, her silence a cover for her hunter’s instinct. A sudden movement to her left, just as she’s about to reach out for the boot she sees just above her, her arms stretching for it already. A hum through the air, a flying whirling dervish, a smear of blurred motion, a tiny projectile screaming through the air, through the leaves, through the branches, a muffled cry, a ripping, the tearing of bodies down through the growth, falling past her, a thud, a clatter. She drops down to the ground, lands next to a tangle of two human shapes, entwined in a surprising struggle, reaches out to grab the one of them that’s not Anna, halts her instinct.
‘I’m not going to kill him,’ Anna says, not even out of breath, bouncing up onto her feet, her right hand clamped around the throat of the masked shooter as she lifts him up, eyes closed, body slumped in unconsciousness, no blood anywhere to be seen.
‘You might have killed both of you, falling all that way,’ Aggie hisses.
‘Calculated risk,’ Anna says. ‘The tree broke the fall. And he broke mine.’
‘You didn’t signal.’
‘Neither did you. Funny that, eh?’ Anna grins at her, wrinkles her smooth brow. ‘I wonder why.’
‘You were quicker than I thought you’d be.’
‘Why go back down to ground level when you’re already up near the stars?’ Anna says. ‘Much quicker just to fly.’
‘So it seems,’ Aggie says, trying to hide her grudging admiration.
‘He is still breathing, honest,’ Anna says. ‘I kept my promise.’
‘Then let’s get him over there.’ Aggie picks up the slim rifle that clattered into the pavement, looks around. ‘Thank God it’s so deserted.’
‘That’s the provinces for you,’ Anna says, winks. ‘Part of the calculated risk.’
‘Sure.’ Aggie grabs the motionless shape by the scruff of the neck. ‘I’ll take him.’
Anna releases her grip. ‘Be my guest.’
They cross the road, push their way into the restaurant.
‘All clear,’ Anna shouts. ‘Time for an interrogation.’
Aggie shakes her head. ‘Discrete as always,’ she says.
Anna laughs out loud, that silver tinkle of mad happiness again. ‘No point being quiet now.’
Aggie throws the stranger onto a bench against inside wall, rifles through his clothes before he wakes, removes anything and everything she can find, rips off his mask to reveal a skeletal face. ‘Don’t they feed you people?’ She slaps the face, flat-handed, back and forth a few times.
The eyes open, the mouth. ‘How?’ And then there’s a rupture somewhere inside, and blood explodes from his eyes, from his mouth, from his ears, and his body collapses in on itself.