I overslept this morning. I blame midnight adrenalin. We went to bed at quarter to midnight. I was about 10 seconds rom falling asleep (I know these things) when there was a clatter outside our room and M jumped out of bed and ran to the top of the stairs. A had tripped down the last step before the ground floor, but no damage done. I started, as you would, with those fatherly instincts of letting your wife do everything as far as children are concerned, exchanged a few mumbled words about glass not being broken with M, and turned over again. Except I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I did what I always do – waited for sleep, tried to find my safe place. Nothing. My body was shaking with midnight adrenalin. So I got up again, A and M asleep by now (how do they do that?), crept downstairs, poured myself another small glass of wine, got a packet of savoury snacks, and carried on reading Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan (which is a classic so far) until 1:15 this morning. This time I did find my safe place and its white fence. Sleep. And when my alarm went off at 7 I really couldn’t be bothered to get up, so turned it off and fell asleep again. M has all this week off, and she got up earlier than me. I tumbled out of bed at about 8, my nose hurting. To have a great big spot fermenting on your nose when you’re in your sixties is annoying. Ah, the romance of a writer’s life.
It’s raining now. An irritation. I don’t care that we need it. I need sun and light and warmth. At least I have one of them.
Yesterday was remarkably productive. While M mist coated the new room, I wrote a day job briefing paper, mowed the lawn, moved a load of rubbish into the bin, wrote my blog, went for a long and sweaty walk in my shorts to avoid the emotional trauma of listening to the football on the radio, felt the dagger of disappointment in my heart that Liverpool didn’t win the Premier League, wrote the letters I wanted to write (which I must remember to post today), cried with A about the end of a season in which she has found friendship and a great team of colleagues (and bar customers) at Norwich City, likened it to the start of High School Musical 3 (seriously, and if you’ve never watched the first 10 or 20 minutes of it, and love sport, and have been in a team, go watch it, and if you don’t cry you’ve never been in a real team), and sighed at eternal endings. At least we have hope of new beginnings every time something ends. Even life.
Perhaps that’s why I feel out of sorts this morning. Despite my young neighbour K standing on one of his planters this morning to stick his head over the fence, the day he got back from his delayed honeymoon, and calling me darling. Nice chat, espresso and fag in hand (me – he’s clean(ish) living). A and M thought it was all very cute. We have been very fortunate with our neighbours here in this new place.
Lending editorial support to people. Writing more lyrics. Thinking about how I have, essentially, less than a month to finish The Mortality Code. Wondering where Aggie is going. Not entirely certain when my next therapy is. Looking forward to acupuncture tomorrow. The sound of a movie clicking along the projector’s wheel. Flickering pictures.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 98
Aggie stops them all, bends down and pulls her trusty stiletto from her boot. She’s somehow become the senior member of this strange crew, despite Robert’s headmasterly manner, despite all her doubts about herself, her memory, her size. Perhaps it’s because she can feel Robert’s fear and trembling life even when she’s not touching him. ‘Wait here,’ she whispers. ‘Give me the key.’
‘Be careful,’ Robert says, and hands it to her.
‘I always am,’ she says, slides away on those quiet feet of hers, blends into the bushes, disappears despite the light from the windows. In the dark now, alone, conscious of her friends (are they her friends now, she thinks, shakes the thought and question away from her like a troublesome fly) behind her, calculates angles and approaches, something in her head ticking and whirring and computing, eyes adjusting and readjusting. She takes one deep breath, glides forwards, stands stock still when her back connects with the wall of Robert’s house, right next to the door, the light somehow seeming to shine through her rather than creating an enormous shadow to throw across the cobbles, along onto the path where they’re waiting. One step to the door, her long fingers gently probing for movement. It doesn’t give. She tries the handle. Still nothing. Locked. How can that be? She puts the key into the lock slowly, noiselessly, turns it clockwise until there’s some resistance, turns even more slowly. See can hear the click of the lock as it opens. Can anyone else? She thinks not – no-one has her acuity of hearing.
The door open without a creak, and she steps slowly into the hallway. All she can hear now is the house breathing, settling, dreaming. Her boots make no sound as she flits, quicker than lightning, from music room to kitchen to living room to a room they never saw, stuffed full of books, most of the spines looking ancient, an undiscovered new set of stairs up. Deserted. But there’s something. She can feel it, sense it, some creeping sense of being watched, being judged, being evaluated. She turns rapidly in every room, hoping to surprise wherever the feeling is emanating from. Still nothing. Back in the hall, she creeps up the stairs, arm extended in front of her, the deadly point of the blade and extension of her being, wrist soft, ready to become a shard of immovable steel, unbreakable bone, unshatterable flesh, fixed joint, fulcrum, all her thought just in that one single blade and sharpness.
Upstairs, the lights are on, too. Another adjustment of the eyes. A confusion of doors and rooms. Another set of stairs to the second floor. Aggie becomes a blur of a ghost, hurtling faster from one room to the next, only briefly taking in the spartan furniture and beds, and more walls covered from bottom to top in any free space by frames and paintings and drawings and photographs, Robert’s entire life spanning the walls, the halls, no empty white space left anywhere. Two rooms with double beds, and one of them with a tiny photo of Cassandra in a frame on the bedside tables. All the beds dark oak, all made and tidy and without wrinkles. She closes the doors behind her as she invisibly floats across the floors. Nothing. Up to the next floor. Just one huge room here, directly under the roof. Empty. She turns to where there should be another room. Just a solid wall. This house must have been two houses. Back down, right downstairs and back towards the book room. Up the hidden stairs. A bathroom, a bedroom, Empty. Up again. A solitary single bedroom.
Less than a minute has passed since she unlocked the door. The house is empty. Her sense of being watched prevails. Although she moves like one, she’s never before believed in ghosts.