Richard Pierce

Life, Poetry

Day 312

If you read this blog regularly, you may recall that I mentioned a few weeks ago that the vicar, Helge, who had married Marianne and me in the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Rotherhithe in 1991, died in September, which made us both very sad, and even more aware of how time is passing, and how we need to grab it. I finally had confirmation today that this family’s condolence letter had reached S, Helge’s wife, in Norway. I sent a poem along with it which I wrote when I heard the news. Just to complete the record of Helge involvement with this family, he blessed our marriage on two subsequent occasions (once at the Rotherhithe church, and once in the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Torrevieja – that 5 years ago), as well as christening all our four children, and he’s one of only two people to keep their real names in Dead Men. And he makes at least one appearance in the as yet unpublished sequel to that novel. I hope this poem is one of ony many memorials to a fine fine man.

 

THE BEST MAN

I meant to call you,
The only really holy man
In my life, and my
Imagined real life took
The time away from me.

Your unused number sits
On various pages of my
Day books, waiting to be
Dialled, and now never
Will be.

When we last saw you,
Too many years ago in Spain,
We all said we’d see each other
Again soon, and never did.
Reality pulls us so far away
From each other.

Life spread too thinly, made
Too complex and tenuous by
Technology and demands of
Money and useless striving.
Why do we want everything to
Be better, no matter how good
It is already?

I don’t know if I should ask
Forgiveness from you, or celebrate
That you simply are part of this
Family forever, no matter that
I can no longer see you nor
Speak with you.

My holy man,
You will always be
The best man I knew.

R, 25.9.2022

 

AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 242

‘You’re just trying to make me feel insecure,’ he says.

‘What a typically make thing to say.’

‘But it’s true.’ They’ve stopped moving again, because the queue is overwhelming, and Aggie thinks about how glad she is that she has that fake British passport. And sad, too, because Europe was such a wonderful seamless thing. Perhaps, after this, she’ll take Lily to Italy. Once she has the money. Once she’s killed. ‘And it’s ridiculous to give robots feelings and then just to control them as if they didn’t have any.’

‘But I don’t feel a thing.’

‘But you haven’t got free will then. And that’s what makes us humans human – free will.’

Valentine shakes his head. ‘Whatever.’ He looks at her slyly. ‘But you won’t know till you’ve tried it. There might even be …’

‘What?’ she snaps. ‘Robot babies? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’

‘You’ve heard of nanomachines, surely? Self-replicating nanomachines?’

‘If you’re telling me that your sperm is full of self-replicating nanomachines, then you’ve really blown your chance. What woman would want any of that inside her? There’d be nothing to stop her being eaten alive.’

‘He has put limits on their replicability,’ the robot says.

‘And that’s supposed to make me feel better?’ Aggie can’t wait to get out of here, take the money, and get on with things. They do say everyone has their price, she thinks, but is it enough?

‘I shouldn’t have told you,’ he says, sadly.

‘No, you shouldn’t. And he’s probably not too pleased about you telling me either. I’m surprised he hasn’t taken you over again or turned you off.’

‘To turn me off in a public place like this wouldn’t be wise,’ he says. And as he says it, he stumbles, jaw momentarily slack, then  suddenly clenched in some pain Aggie can’t see.’

‘There’s always one, isn’t there?’ The real Valentine’s voice. Aggie can pick up the fractional difference in pitch and delivery. ‘Should I punish him now or later?’

‘Get me the money first,’ Aggie says. ‘Then I don’t care what you do with him. Especially if you’re close. Because then you can just tell me where you are, and I can come and find you.’

Valentine laughs. ‘Nice try, but not good enough. And you know it. You’ll not know where to find me until you’ve killed them all. Including my grandfather. He’s outlived his usefulness.’

Aggie says nothing. She’s still not sure Valentine knows exactly what’s going on with Martin, that Robert and she and all the other know he’s a traitor.

‘You show no surprise,’ Valentine says.

‘You’re talking like a robot, Sir,’ she says. ‘Turning into one yourself, are you?’

‘ Just observing,’

‘And using stilted speech as a result?’

‘Purple phrases are over-rated.’

‘Yet you always prided yourself on your superior command of the English language.’

‘A superior command doesn’t just mean talking in the correct accent and tone; it also means being able to use the language at its greatest brevity to convey meaning.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ she says. ‘You’re not bringing him back then?’

‘Oh, I am,’ Valentine says. ‘I’m just turning those nanomachines off so you’re not quite so scared of taking him to bed.’

‘Who says I want to take him to bed?’

‘Me. I can see it in your eyes. You’re just like any other woman. The thought of robot sex, and you’re obsessed.’

 

AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 243

The thought, and Valentine’s words, make her cringe, but Aggie doesn’t disabuse him.

‘I couldn’t possibly say,’ she says as coquettishly as she can manage whilst trying not to laugh at him, and herself.

‘I know what I’m talking about,’ he says. ‘The things I could tell you about Cassie…’

‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ Aggie says.

‘A bit shy are you?’

‘No. Just this isn’t the time or place.’

‘She’ll be dead soon, anyway, so it doesn’t matter.’

‘Exactly.’

‘You’re really quite unprincipled, aren’t you? Underneath all that holier-than-thou exterior.’

‘You’ll see.’

‘Yes, I will,’ he says. ‘I’m done now. No danger of robot babies. You can have him back now.’

‘How very kind of you.’

‘Just remember I’ll be watching.’ The robot stumbles again, just as they get to the yellow line that bids them wait until the passport officers call them forward. Privacy, they call it, in a land where neither privacy nor kindness nor consideration exist.

And that’s what’s allowed people like Valentine to get where he is, where they are, Aggie thinks. Controlling all those they think are less worthy.

‘He took me away again, didn’t he?’ the robot says, his face grim.

‘Yes. I think he was teaching you a lesson.’

The robot says nothing, waits his turn.

There aren’t in fact any scanners here, just humans checking passports, and letting their eyes scroll through the lines and lines of undesirables on the computers in front of them, and keeping an eye out for anyone they think might be entering their great country illegally. Anyone who looks a bit different then, Aggie thinks, especially of their skin colour’s a bit wrong. Aggie watches his back as he gets called to the counter, part of her wishing he’ll be detained, part of her hoping he won’t because without him, the game can’t be played to its conclusion.

He passes through without incident.

Aggie’s turn. She turns on the world-weary smile and the crystal-cut accent again.

‘Not been in the US long, have you?’ the man says, looking her up and down.

‘Just a quick trip. I’m losing track of time, to be honest,’ she says, her smile widening.

‘Didn’t like it much then?’

‘Just a meeting, and then back. It’s not as glamorous as it seems to a lot of people.’

‘I’m sure, I’m sure.’ He bends his neck, head down, to look at the screen in front of him, the letters reflected haphazardly in his glasses. ‘Looks like you’re not one of the bad people.’ He hands her passport back to her.

‘That’s a relief,’ she says. ‘Thank you very much.’

‘Welcome.’ His eyes travel over her one last time, and move on. ‘Next!’

Valentine’s robot smiles at her. ‘Well, that was a lot more straightforward than you’d imagined, wasn’t it?’

Aggie nods. ‘Let’s get out of here so you can trasfer the money.’

‘So which hotel will it be?’

Aggie doesn’t stop walking, heads straight for the green channel, keeps going, him on her coat tails, if she had a coat with tails, out through the other side and into the crowds of people waiting with signs and hopeful eyes, craning their necks to be the first to see the one they want to see, the one they’ve missed, husband, lover, father, mother, brother, sister, in this endless queue of people who’ve just flown thousands of miles, maybe even halfway round the world, to land in this squalid little country not even important enough for Valentine to make its Prime Minister one of his main targets. And she doesn’t come to a standstill until she’s outside in the fresh air, the cool air of February, and feels like she can breathe again. ‘Now,’ she says. ‘Give me the money now.’

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