My, now oldest, sister messages me from Australia that I’m overthinking things, and my younger sister up North (I suddenly realise I’m the problematic middle child now) asked me three weeks ago what my motivation is behind writing this every day. Maybe time for a change of tack. I stood in what felt like the eye of the storm in the garden a moment ago, and tried to understand my part in the greater picture. No understanding came. I woke full of curses, mainly for eating peanuts at midnight, when I know my body will rebel against me as a result (not an allergy before you think I’ve been stupid, but I couldn’t contain my craving any longer. The gloom outside persists.
There are 322 days of this year to go. If I write 500 words a day including today, that will be 161,000 words. That was thought that crossed my mind this morning in bed, and people and titles flew through my head, in and out of the breathing, and the wish that there was nothing between my eyes and the window. The thought that I could write a very long throwaway novel just by writing 500 words each morning (in addition finishing The Mortality Code. It may come to nothing. It may come to something. A novel of 322 chapters. Written only here, not thought about until I re-start it every morning.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 1
Happiness is the art of not thinking, Aggie thinks when she punches the risen dough back down to its original size. Her lop-sided smile at thinking about not thinking fades as she looks out of the high window only to see her own reflection before her eyes even find the elegant floodlit spire of the cathedral. She ignores herself, having always had a low opinion of how she looks, of her shape, her colouring (or lack of), her height (too much of it), feels the dough under her flour-covered knuckles, and strains her eyesight to see beyond her own failings and out at the perfection of the holy old building over there, down the slope to the road, across the tarmac to the wide pavement and its grey reilings, the sudden drop to the river hemmed in by road and buildings, up the opposite bank to the ancient thatched cottage where the grey-haired lady sometimes wanders around the garden looking lost and lonely and emptying occasional bags of breadcrumbs onto the water for the ducks and swans, through a short maze of cobbled alleys to the cream-coloured limestone church (that’s all cathedrals are, big churches) which looks yellow in the floodlights at this early time of a winter evening. The spire is so tall and narrow she often thinks – like now when the wind is constantly tearing through the city and its streets, this relentless weeks-old wind which refuses to settle back into the bays and forests of its origin – it will lose its balance and fall over onto the rest of itself and the Close which surrounds it, where those who can prove their wealth are allowed to live if they live long enough for their place on the waiting list to reach the top, and eradicate it all in an ochre cloud of ungodly dust and clatter.
She turns over the dough, pats it gently without looking at it, slides the metal bowl to one side and starts work on the next. She’d love to live out there, in Cathedral Close, in a house where the blue front door (and the doors all have to be blue and stay blue) opens out onto cobbles where weeds hardly grow because the Cathedral authorities won’t allow weeds to grow between their cobbles, where there’s a village in a city, where everything seems perfect even on days the sun doesn’t shine.
‘Hmm.’ She hates it when sound escapes from her mouth because she doesn’t like to make a sound, doesn’t like to talk, when the Polish inside her head comes out as accented English some people still pull faces at her for; most people, actually. Doesn’t like to talk because Sir and Madam don’t listen, because her opinion isn’t needed, because all that’s needed about her is what she does; the laundry, the washing-up, the cooking, the serving, the baking, the opening and closing of the curtains in all the rooms except for the bedrooms, the hoovering up and down the stairs and round the vastness of the rooms, the polishing, the whole endless vicious circle of what it is to keep a household. Sir and Madam, up before dawn at this time of year, are out of the house before the sun becomes conscious, off down the road, a left turn out of the front door and a few minutes’ walk to the train station, and off to London on the train. Something they didn’t stop doing even when the virus stopped everyone else from doing it. She has no idea what they do. All she knows is that they advertised a job which got her out of a damp bedsit on the outskirts of what used to be the second city in England, out of a job that barely paid the rent and into a warm dry bedroom at the very top of the house, and into a back-breaking job that gives her too much time to think.
And as she gazes across the river to the cathedral, past her own face, she stops thinking, and just wishes for that house in the Close with the red roses around the door, roses whose thorns won’t ever make her arms bleed.