Richard Pierce


Day 268

Often, too often, I long back to when things were less complicated, back to when it was just M and me, or even to before that, when it was only me. It’s not regret; it’s the typical behaviour of a mind that shies away from real complicated things rather than complex plots or poems or abstract complexities (when it can be bothered to engage with abstract complexities, that is, which it often thinks are actually just a waste of time). Our lives, my life, have become so complicated, so full of things we don’t need, full of obligations we don’t actually want or need. Of course, being a writer who wants to have success (critical or populist) means having obligations, juggling many different things, and sometimes I think the only way out of these would be to give up writing, but I can’t, nor do I particularly want to.

Perhaps this is something that happens to me most often at the onset of autumn, that cliched season of melancholy, but I’m not entirely sure about that. In therapy I often talk about how I feel that I run away from complex and/or confrontational situations, partly because I can’t be bothered with them, and partly because I am afraid of them, and afraid of the potential loss being confrontational might bring with it. My therapist (and I) think it’s part of the legacy of my upbringing, where the feeling in the family was that if you stood up to my father you’d end up not being allowed to be a part of the family anymore. I am still putting off writing my never-to-be-sent (or read by anyone else) letter of closure to my father (who did have some good bits to him, for the sake of completeness).

Of course, when I think back to the days when it was just me, there were complexities, too, but of a different kind, ones that didn’t carry with them the same degree of responsibility that being a husband and a father bring with them. Some extremely complicated situations with girlfriends and work. The thing that always amuses me, looking back, is that I never thought I was boyfriend material, but that my sisters thought, in today’s parlance, that I was a bit of a player. I never was, in truth, and I never knew if a woman liked me, could never read the signs like that. For a man who says he’s sensitive, this is a remarkable failing. And, in truth, I still can’t really read people’s reactions to me. Therapist and family tell me that’s due to my continuing low self-esteem. Perhaps complexities at this stage of my life arise because I am more aware of things about me that my 25-year-old self never thought of nor was aware of.

What’s spurred this train of thought I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because  I’ve been shifting things from office to garage, getting the dust of ages on my hands, and the volumes of poetry, especially those of my poetry for M when we first met, are emerging from the chaos of the mess in the office as it becomes tidier. And, as I say, no regrets. I am here now, and wouldn’t actually want to be anywhere else (except for that parental desire for all our children to be happy).



‘What the hell!’ Marion says, eyes blazing, her voice sharp enough to cut through glass.

‘I’ll go,’ Bill says, leaves the room.

Marion and Aggie hear him drawing back the bolts, unlocking the locks, hesitating, and then opening the door.

‘Dean,’ he says. ‘This is unexpected.’

‘You’ve heard the news then?’ the Dean says.

‘Yes,’ Bill says. ‘Come right on through. We’re all in here.’

The dean has to bend lower his head slightly to fit in through the door. ‘Hey, all,’ he says. ‘Late-night frat party?’ He’s not smiling.

‘We were just talking about tomorrow’s lecture,’ Marion says.

‘Which won’t now happen,’ the Dean says.

‘When we heard the news,’ Aggie says. ‘I assumed immediately that I now wouldn’t be able to speak.’

‘You did, did you?’ the Dean says.

‘Like you said, it wouldn’t be appropriate.’

The dean shakes his head. ‘No, it wouldn’t.’ He sits down. ‘Marion, put on the TV, will you?’

‘Of course.’ Marion picks up a remote, presses a button, and the screen on the wall lights up.

CNN. It would be, Aggie thinks. The sound is quite low, and she has no trouble hearing the newsreader, a woman with red hair. She looks incongruous, somehow.

‘What the hell was an intern doing at the White House at four in the morning?’ the Dean’s voice cuts across the newsreader who looks like she’s about to cry.

‘They were having an all-night strategy meeting about Ukraine,’ Marion says.

‘You don’t have interns at high-level strategy meetings,’ the Dean says.

… the woman in question only joined the White House staff a week ago… the newsreader says. As to why she was in such a high-level meeting, sources say she was in an adjoining room to the Oval Office pulling together reports on renewed Russian attacks on Kyiv. Sources go on to say that staffing at the White House has been severely adversely impacted by covid-19, which is why new interns were drafted in. The woman was shot dead by a member of the President’s security detail, but not before she was able to shoot the President at point-blank range. She was apparently of Polish descent, Agata WisznievksiA picture appears on the screen.

‘Fucking hell,’ the Dean says, turns to Aggie. ‘She looks like you. Just younger. And she hasn’t got your colour hair.’

Aggie shrugs, although her heart is racing. Her accent holds. ‘We all have doppelgangers everywhere. That throws us every time.’

There are already suspicions that this might have been a Russian act of aggression. The newsreader pauses, looks off-screen, her mouth opening and closing as if she’s gasping for breath. A piece of paper slides across her desk from nowhere. Breaking news. Unconfirmed sources say that the Russian President has been assassinated at the Kremlin. I repeat, these are unconfirmed reports, and we have no official statement from the Russian government.

‘What the hell is happening?’ Marion says, looks across at Aggie, raises an eyebrow. ‘This is like all hell is breaking loose.’

‘Do we know where the VP is?’ the Dean says. ‘She’s now in charge.’

‘She would have been at the meeting, too,’ Bill says. ‘Something important like this.’

‘It’s a power vacuum,’ Aggie says. ‘The attacks have to be linked. Someone’s making a big play for the world.’ What she thinks but doesn’t say is that it seems that Cassandra is still working with Valentine, after all.

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