I am finding it impossible this morning to find words to describe how I feel right now that don’t sound mundane or whingeing. Sitting in the garden just now with my espresso and my cigarette, I contemplated just not bothering with this today. But I made a pact with myself at the beginning of this year that I would journal every day, even if I did self-censor it to protect the innocent and those I work with in my day job. And I realised, as the sun warmed me occasionally, in the gaps in the clouds, that there would be no point just papering over the cracks (a phrase I first learned in my History O-Level class when I was 15 in relation to Metternich’s foreign policy if I remember correctly) and just writing some inconsequential half-truths (or half-lies depending on how you look at it).
Almost a year to the date that I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating stomach pains, I did so again at about 3:30 this morning. Downstairs to get some paracetamol, drink lots of water, step out into the garden. Back to bed. No sleep. Back downstairs. Tempted to do Wordle at 4am but resisted, and read the paper online instead, and did some social media. The pain eases. Back to bed. Curl up in foetal position. Feel cold. Sleep doesn’t come until maybe 5. Wake up as my alarm’s beeping is into the low tens at 7:30. Turn it off. Covered in sweat. Get up gingerly, wander downstairs, and this time do Wordle (in 4, for the sake of completeness), Scholardle (in 4, too), and Absurdle in 6 (I’ve only ever done it in only 5 once). Try to work. That’s a slow effort. Go back inside. Talk to M who is worried about me. Back outside. Back inside. Breakfast. Coffee. More human now. Less pain now. It will pass. My body is too susceptible to stress of all kinds, and all kinds of stresses are crowding in around me now. The irony is that this happens a lot when I’m about to have time off. I shout at myself (or speak quietly to myself) in my head to get through it breathe slowly and deeply, try to start the routine again.
C, one of our daughters, sent me a massive cookie for Fathers’ Day yesterday, much to big for me to eat all on my own (I mean, seriously large). So I cut half of it into three pieces and took those pieces to the three men who are my neighbours and fathers. I just wanted to share the joy. I felt slightly foolish, especially when I asked for selfies (which I promised not to put on social media) so I could show C the men I had shared the cookie with. The point, for me, was not just to share C’s kindness, but to show my appreciation for them as neighbours and friends (they have been incredibly kind and hospitable since we moved here), and to acknowledge that being a father is not easy (nor is being a mother), and that I’m very very conscious of the fact that we all have our fatherhood struggles. It felt natural to be like this, and I’m glad, very glad, I did it.
There are some brightnesses.
It’s now ten hours later, and I’ve still not started Aggie.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 125
‘You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,’ Martin spits, sweat now running down his face, a grimace, a caricature of the kindly old gentleman who first presented himself to Aggie. ‘Tell her to stop, Robbie, tell her.’
Robert is rigid in his chair, deathly pale, his hands clenching on the arm rests. He shakes his head. ‘Tell me, Martin. Tell me, and she won’t do what she’s going to do.’
‘What’s she going to do?’ Martin cackles hysterically. ‘She’s just a woman, a small one at that.’ He screams when his ring finger cracks.
‘I think she’s going to twist your head off,’ Robert says.
Aggie watches him, sees the slight twitch in his legs, not the illness this time, but the remnant of friendship and caring. He obviously understands what’s happening, understands what has happened, has realised before Martin has even admitted it. If Martin had broken down, cried at Lilibet to stop, he might not have believed so easily that he’d been betrayed. And he’s still having to stop himself from getting up and stepping in, from saving Martin from this torture, because that’s what it’s become, and Aggie can hardly bear it. She turns down her hearing, so the sounds of Martin’s screams are muffled.
‘The door,’ Robert says. ‘Go to the door. The others will be down any moment, what with the racket he’s making.’
‘Stop her!’ Martin shouts, his voice hoarse and breaking. ‘You owe me!’
‘I owe you nothing,’ Robert says as Aggie glides to the door and shuts it from the outside. The sounds are even more muffled now, and she breathes a sigh of relief.
A clattering of feet on the stairs. Zav and Anna. ‘What’s going on?’ Zav says, looks at her Aggie in surprise. ‘You were meant to be on a boat.’
‘It didn’t work out,’ she says. ‘So we came back. Interrupt you, did we?’
Anna stares straight at her, a challenge in her eyes, between friends always on the edge of love and hate. ‘No, you didn’t actually.’ She tries to push past Aggie. ‘Is that Martin’s voice?’
Aggie nods. ‘But it’s something between him and Robert.’
‘What?’ Anna says.
Zav stands silent, solemn. His eyes widen as he realises what the truth might be.
‘I can’t tell you,’ Aggie says. ‘Robert will have to explain when they’re done.’ She looks up the stairs. ‘What’s happened with Marit and Katharina?’
‘Katharina gave her some sleeping tablets. Knocked her out for the count,’ Zav says. ‘And Katharina’s too clever to come back down here despite the noise. I’m sure she knows more than she lets on.’
‘You’re probably right,’ Aggie says.
There is only silence now, beyond the door. The three of them stand, waiting, puzzled.
‘Aren’t you going to go in and see what’s going on?’ Anna says.
‘I’d rather not,’ Aggie says. ‘Robert will come and tell me soon enough.’ Her hearing is acute again now, so acute she can hear that Martin’s still breathing, even if no-one else can.’
‘So where’s the Scottish woman?’ Anna says.
‘In there with them.’
‘You said this was between Robert and Martin,’ Anna says.
‘Maybe there’s a little bit more to tit than that,’ Aggie says. She’s about to say more when the door opens, and Lilibet steps out, head held high.
‘He’s still alive,’ Lilibet says. ‘And I think he might talk now. I thought it was a good idea to leave them alone.’
‘Are you sure Robert will be ok? Aggie says.
‘I think the time when Martin could pull the wool over his eyes has well and truly passed.’ Lilibet runs her hands through her hair. To be honest, I thought the old man would be tougher than that. I only had to break his thumb, and he was done before I even put my arms round his neck.’
Anna stands there open-mouthed. ‘But you’re just a housewife.’
‘There’s no such thing as just a house anything,’ Aggie says.