Yesterday had been a good day, a day on which I got so much done that I’d wanted to do. I went off on my walk in good spirits, a mask and debit card in my pocket, the plan being to go to a DIY shop and pick up a night latch for an outward-opening door, and to see if I could give myself any ideas about how to put down slabs outside the new extension when it’s done (or even before). I spent an age in the shop, after having walked in the sun and under the canopy of the trees on the Heath, but didn’t find a suitable night latch, nor any particularly innovative or easy ideas for the slabbing. My impracticality is something which gnaws at me more than most other things, I must admit. I got home, did my stretches, devised an additional stretch set to work on my core (one which has, no doubt, been devised a million times before). At. Sat in here for 90 minutes listening to lots of new music, only a fraction of which I liked enough to include in my radio show I’m presenting tomorrow. And then I sat through the last half of The Repair Shop which had unfortunately gone down the route of repairing only things associated with the damn Jubilee. And then a sense of total and abject failure overtook me, and I haven’t been able to shake it. Part of it comes from reading articles yesterday about the inevitable and irreversible aging process, and how the composition of many people’s blood abruptly changes when they reach 70, almost overnight, after which they become ill and fragile and geriatric. It scares me, paralyses me, makes me even more aware that time is finite and running out, that I need to do more than what I’m doing to have any impact.
And so I lay awake for almost an hour, unable to get to sleep, disturbed by all the noises to which I seem to have become hypersensitive lately, and the colours they make explode in my head, and the racing thoughts they light the fuse of, and the restless mind they encourage to be even more restless. So I got up, stumbled through the dark house, blinked into the light I turned on, fetched wine and cashew nuts, and sat and read more of The Priory Of The Orange Tree, which A recommended to M and me, and which I am enjoying immensely (if with a sense of envy that I can’t just sit and write all day every day, that I have yet to see someone in a train, or on the Tube, or on a bench in a park somewhere, anywhere reading a book of mine). I guess that’s another thing that gnaws at me. That’s where the sense of all-encompassing failure comes from. I went to bed after 1am after scribbling a last-minute thought of a poem into my small notebook, and woke up at 7 feeling dreadful and staying in bed till almost 8.
And yet it shouldn’t be like that. B, one of my most steadfast and kind listeners and readers, had sent a DVD of Cyrano because none of the three of us managed to catch a viewing in the cinema, a gift which touched me immensely with its thoughtfulness and care. Enough to make a grown man cry, and to get the validation he has given up seeking.
But it’s this black dog of the sense of failure that forever wraps itself around my legs, falls asleep on them, and stays there. Perhaps that’s why I don’t actually like dogs that much. And what targets I am failing against is a question I do know the answer to – it’s something that was just about beaten into me when I was a child. Compounded by the perpetual state of worry about all and sundry – and that can trace its root back to my youth, too, when I was having to constantly worry about being in the good books of the head of the household, who had the power, and exercise it, of excising those who failed from the family circle.
That’s where I come from, and that’s what I’ve always tried to escape from. And writing, when I can, is a blessed escape.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 107
‘Tom!’ Marit’s screams echo back from the Minster walls.
‘You fool.’ Aggie drags her away from the body, away from the blood and brains flooding the cobblestones. Bullets, silent in flight, become fire crackers on the stones, a hail of bullets. Aggie, in bounds and leaps, backing towards the door of the house. Aggie, with pain erupting from the wounds she’s taking to her arms, her shoulder, her stomach. Aggie stumbling back against the door, crashing through it as it opens, falling onto the floor in the hall, kicking the door closed behind her, jumping up and locking it, the bullets now cackling their laughter against the closed front of it, metal disguised as wood.
Robert, slippers and pyjamas, now down here. ‘Are you alright, Marit?’ The panic in his voice.
Marit can do nothing but nod, her eyes full of tears, the black make-up smudged down across her cheeks, a torrent of saltwater and soot, her sobs uncontrollable, her body a shaking wreck.
Aggie, on her feet, swaying, blood flowing from her wounds, the pain forgotten. ‘What the fuck were you doing?’ The rage rips away the last of her gentleness. ‘You killed that boy. You did this.’ She holds her bloody hands up, pushes them into Marit’s face. ‘How could you, how the fuck could you go out there when we knew there was danger, when we know we could be attacked any time?’
‘I used the house phone.’ The words are incomplete in her despair, come out as poorly-formed sounds between the sobs and struggle to breathe. ‘I wanted to see him. He … he wanted to see me.’
‘That was foolish,’ Robert says, his voice alarmingly level.
‘What?’ Anna down here now, out of breath, dishevelled, all glow gone from her face that might have been there before. ‘Aggie, Aggie.’ She rushes across, throws her arms around her friend.
Aggie winces. ‘It’s nothing.’
‘We need to fix you.’
Aggie shakes her head. ‘I’ll fix.’ She wills the blood to stop flowing now her rage is subsiding and she’s seeing clearly again.’
Somewhere in the house a window shatters.
‘They’re still shooting,’ Aggie says.
‘I thought we’d got rid of them,’ Robert says, shakes his head. ‘At least for tonight.’ He turns, his slippers making no sound on the floor. ‘I’ll call Martin. See what if he’s alright.’
‘And if he isn’t?’ Aggie says.
Robert’s retreating back shrugs. ‘Not much I can do about it. Occupational hazard.’
‘Stupid old bugger.’ Marit sits in the floor. ‘What am I going to do now?’
‘Beg for forgiveness?’ Aggie says. ‘Didn’t you even stop to think?’
‘I thought we’d won.’
‘No-one ever wins,’ Aggie says. ‘Even if we get out of all this alive. Even if every war in the world stopped right now, we wouldn’t be winners. We’d just be peaceful losers. And then, at some point, some other madman would come along and start everything all over again.’ She walks into the kitchen. ‘I need to tidy myself up.’
Anna starts to follow her.
‘Alone,’ Aggie says. ‘You look after the idiot out there. And I guess someone will need to call the police. I can just see the papers already – student gunned down outside York Minster.’ She slams the door behind her, ignores the muffled voices behind it. She walks across to the sink, takes off her shirt and trousers, holds her hands under the cold tap to wash them clean, makes the water hot and keeps her hands under it until she can stand it no longer, and closes her eyes. She can see her anatomy like this, allows her hands to roam across it, her fingers worming under her skin through the bullet holes, senses most of them have clean exit wounds, and seals them. Only two of the wounds have no exit, and she turns her fingers into precision claws and hauls out the bullets and drops the bloody metal into the sink. Exhales, focuses, makes the wounds close, bends over the sink in a coughing fit, throws up a little bile and blood, and opens her eyes. She pulls on her shirt and trousers, despite the blood stains. Turns the water onto cold again, and splashes her face. ‘There,’ she says to herself, avoiding her reflection in the window which she knows is winking at her. ‘Alive again.’