Richard Pierce


Day 296

Despite a late night yesterday, I managed to get up before 9, just. There is some sort of physical energy brimming below the surface, a rebuilding f reserves that have felt entirely depleted for the last two weeks. I spent the morning doing homely things, things I hate (like the washing up – yesterday it was vacuuming the downstairs of the house), things that make me feel like I’m being distracted from the greater and better things I can do (like putting words together, like thinking and reading and being). Then on to carrying on in the office, sorting out spaces so that O and his cat can live in here temporarily at the beginning of November when, hopefully, fortune and fame in Norwich will beckon for him (I’ll settle for a living wage and obscurity for him at this point, to get a foot back on the ladder of living). And now it’s dark outside again already, it’s almost done, and it looks like a big space rather than a bomb site of paper and electronics and abstruse objects thrown into a room without much thought.

I went for a long walk, prefaced by a visit (my first ever) to a Turkish barber 8 minutes walk away from here. A Number One haircut expertly done, which included a trim of my almost non-existent eyebrows as well, and the anointment of my head with some wonderful fragrance, the like of which I’ve never smelled before. And then a walk along one of my old longer routes, up the Norwich hills until I could see the top, and then the entirety, of Aggie’s cathedral, before veering off to the east and up past Mousehold Heath again on the homeward leg. IT’s good to build up a decent sweat and feel tiredness in my legs that’s not the tiredness of disease.

There are only 8 days left until the deadline for the National Poetry Competition, and I really need to get some thoughts down on paper in a form which to me seems to be appropriate. When I was lying on the sofa last Saturday (I think it was last Saturday) I had very many thoughts that crowded into me and onto my notebook which I hope will become a poem, or two or three. I need t start threading a line of words through the eye of the needle of existence again.

It’s 33 years ago to the date that M and I first kissed. That’s time passing, right there.



The courtyard between Blair House and the back of the doughnut shop is strangely quiet. Aggie, the din of the explosion still in her ears, was expecting a crescendo of emergencies to be blaring into the sky, for the world to be in uproar, expecting to find the night suddenly invaded by even more upholders of the law, for the latest explosion to have brought even more destruction on this capital of the strongest nation in the world. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. She pushes her weary way into the dark and empty shop, sits down in one of the empty seats near the counter, hunched over. I want to go home, she cries inside. I need to go home. She holds her head in her hands and tries to order her thoughts, tries to work out how she could just get to the airport and jump on the first plane back to London. She supposes that might make her more of a suspect than she already is, not a suspect to have done the killing, but a suspect of having been involved, of being the one who pulled the strings of this particular assassination. Her phone vibrates, and its screen lights up the small space as she pulls it out of her pocket. At first she’s confused when there’s no text, and only when it keeps vibrating does she realise it’s ringing. She presses the green button, and holds the tiny phone to her ear.

‘Was he the real one?’ Cassie’s voice is tinny and distorted.

‘No.’ Her voice sounds tired even to her.

‘Shit. Neither was mine.’

‘You got close enough to decide.’

‘Too close, almost. He blew himself up into a pile of molten electronics.’

‘Same here. But he seemed real. He even bled.’

‘What monstrosities he’s inventing now,’ Cassie says.

Aggie nods, then adds a yes to the useless gesture, invisible to Cassie wherever she is. ‘I want to go home.’

‘Then go. There’s nothing to stop you.’

‘Someone will try to stop me.’

‘They won’t.’

‘Marion and Bill. The dean.’

‘Are you a grown-up or a child?’

The words wake something in Aggie, something back from the time in that institution with the mentor, make her realise who easily she’s been swayed this last day or so by what others think, how she has felt like a stranger not just to this country she doesn’t recognise and feels no affinity with, but a stranger to the whole human race, like she’s apart from it somehow, how some sort of kernel of fear has been lodged in the pit of her stomach, and she doesn’t know how it got there. ‘You’re right,’ she says. And you’re partly to blame, she thinks but doesn’t say.

‘You can blame me if you want. Instructions from your absentee employer. Unclear ones to boot.’

‘It’s not all your fault. Valentine.’

‘Yes. But he’s my fault, too,’ Cassie says.

‘I’ll call the airline in the morning.’

‘You can just go to the airport. The airline has to find you a seat. And Dulles isn’t locked down. Presidents aren’t worth more than the economy. No-one is.’


‘I may see you at the house in the next few days.’

‘Coming back?’

‘Perhaps. Unless I can think of something better. I wish I knew where the fuck Valentine is. I can’t believe he managed to fool both of us.’

‘Fooling me was always in his plan from what his robot double said. But he didn’t have a clue where you were.’

‘That’s good news. Though not if there’s war.’

‘I don’t think he will fight himself. He’s in charge of both countries now, isn’t he?’

‘I suppose that depends on how he’s manipulating what’s left of the governments.’

‘He will be.’

A click on the line. It goes dead.

That’s the beginning, Aggie thinks, and jumps out of her seat, out into the street. This time she runs away from the White House, and not in the direction of Marion’s house. She’s running to the airport, and she doesn’t stop until she gets there, her huge strides taking her there under cover of darkness faster than any car ever could.

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