It doesn’t do to question the wisdom or usefulness of this public journalling, even with its self-censorship, to spend time thinking about if anyone is actually reading it or absorbing it or paying any attention to it. My life is the same as billions of other lives, an ebb and flow of intensity and monotony, a litany of forgotten things, of wrong priorities, flashes of extreme happiness, periods of drudgery and apathy, all those things that go to put together the pattern we describe as normality. Looked at in the grand scheme of things, there is nothing extraordinary or unusual about any of our lives. But looked at in depth and specifics, each one is its separate unique and extraordinary work of art, a complicated collage of conflicting and complementary emotions, of joy and suffering. I spend endless hours admiring other people’s lives which inevitably seem more interesting, more organised, more liveable than mine. But when I get a glimpse under the surface, by design or accident, it becomes obvious that the challenges those lives have faced are of an enormity I couldn’t even have guessed at. My greatest hope, when I do get sidetracked into thinking about whether or not these scribblings are of any significance, is that perhaps they can show others who have mental health issues that they are not alone.
There is no describing the feeling of lightness and relief I had when standing in the garden earlier with my espresso and cigarette, when I realised that I wasn’t having to clench my stomach at the prospect of playing cricket, when I didn’t have that feeling in my head and bones and guts that I would have another day on a field when my mind would wander and ask itself why I was doing this, why I hadn’t performed as I should have, questioning why I couldn’t score a hundred every time I batted, trying to justify in my head my presence in a group of people inevitable far more talented than me. Instead, I could revel in the slight nervousness doing radio always brings with it, could breathe the fresh air without taking huge gulps of air that bordered on hyperventilation. Sad that I feel this way about what is essentially just a game, nothing more, sad not to have been able to enjoy it for exactly that. In my acupuncture and therapy sessions this week, I focused on this at length, compared and contrasted it with how I never felt anything like this pressure when I was fencing regularly, talked about how fencing, by its very martial arts and individual nature, made me feel somehow more complete, more disciplined, more self-reliant. Perhaps I’m not a team player, after all. Perhaps my body, with all its back problems, was sending me an indisputable signal, one I’ve been ignoring since I was 19. Well, I’m listening now.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 116
Aggie looks at Lilibet, sitting there, face vacant, sipping at an almost empty mug of coffee. ‘Maybe it’s best of we go now,’ she says to Robert, voice still quiet.
‘And when will you be back?’ he says.
Aggie shrugs. ‘It’ll take however long it takes.’
‘No trains this time of night,’ he says.
‘I’ll take Marit’s car.’
‘They must have been tracking that, too.’
He laughs, the motion of it cracking in is throat. ‘You’re an impossibility.’
‘You knew that when you first set eyes on me, though, didn’t you?’
He inclines his head slightly. ‘Oddly enough, yes.’
‘Look after your daughter,’ Aggie says. ‘She will end up blaming herself forever.’
‘I know.’ His eyes are heavy with tiredness and potential tears. ‘I’ve never known how to be a father. Cassie … It’s complicated beyond complicated.’
‘I think I can understand.’ She closes her eyes for a second and wonders what that child she had been carrying would have turned out like. No point thinking about it. She opens her eyes. ‘Driving is the best thing. Even if it’s just a few main stations north, and then onto a train.’
‘Perhaps Martin can give you one of his spare cars. At least you wouldn’t have a potential trace on that. And before you ask, I don’t have a car anymore. Better to stay caged.’
‘That’s sad,’ Aggie says, and reaches out to him.
‘But it’s true. I can’t imagine now what it would be like in the big wide world. Covid did me a favour. It showed me that actually we can all live on our own somehow, without going totally mad.’
‘But she was here yesterday.’
‘The day before, says the pedant.’ He nods. ‘Yes, she was. And I rejoiced that she shared my prison with me.’ He sighs. ‘But I could never keep hold of her, could never get her to stop from doing exactly what she wanted.’
‘Except when it came to killing Valentine,’ Aggie says into the involuntary pause he leaves between his sentences.
‘Except that. But I don’t know why she listened to me in that one instance. Not really. I … I didn’t really have her down, ever, as someone who calculated outcomes and structured their life accordingly.’
‘Don’t we all?’
‘I never did. Just fell into one thing after another. More luck than judgment. It always was. Even when I was a little boy, a schoolboy, an adolescent with no idea of his own trajectory. Teachers just pointed me in the right direction, people just approached me, whispered in my ear, got me to join this and that, the Service, the clubs, et cetera et cetera.’
‘But the music,’ she says.
A smile creases his face. ‘Well, look at that as you will. What is talent but a lucky distribution of capabilities? It could have been anyone.’
A hand drops on Robert’s shoulder. ‘I think decisions need to be made, old boy,’ Martin says. ‘Enough of the philosophical conversations. Save them for when this is all done.’
Robert directs a sad and lazy gaze at his friend. ‘I am so tired of all this, Martin,’ he says. ‘Can’t we all just stop playing this stupid game and get off?’
‘And let Valentine and his stooges just take over the world?’ Martin says. ‘Not on my watch.’
‘So old school,’ Robert says, and stand up straighter.
Martin takes a deep breath, as if he is about to share an unpleasantness, and looks at Aggie. ‘I may disagree with your plans for that woman, but I see no option but to submit to your judgment.’ He coughs, wrestling with himself. ‘There is one other option my dear friend here hasn’t thought about.’ He lifts his hand. ‘Let me finish. I can drive you out to Filey. It’s only forty-odd miles. And I can arrange for a boat to pick you up and take you to Montrose. There’s no way Valentine can know what’s going on, not unless he’s got someone in my camp, and I very much doubt that.’
Robert looks at Aggie, and says nothing.
‘I think that’s the best option,’ Aggie says. ‘Thank you.’
‘Let’s go now then,’ Martin says. ‘Get you there before it gets light.’