The sky is yellow. When I was a boy, I had (and it still is somewhere in a box full of memories) what was a pamphlet or chapbook about, without exception, fictional disasters at sea. One of them has always stuck in my mind because one of the authors spent a whole page writing about how, in the southern oceans he was sailing, a yellow sky presages a typhoon, so whenever the light turns the sepia-edged shroud-yellow quality it is now, I always expect the worst of the wind and rain, and to be floating around an endless ocean on a shattered plank of wood. And right now, with weather warnings in place again and the forecast talking of another two weeks of storms, it doesn’t just seem like it’s a metaphor. The world is at the brink of war once again, with mutual destruction seemingly assured. The only funny thing right now is that the UK government pretends it’s a big player in all this, when it’s really an irrelevance.
Yesterday I had lots of messages asking me to carry on with this morningly exercise. I am going to. The point I was making was that it often seems to me, feels to me, like I’m creating ever-decreasing circles for myself by talking about myself. R called it writing about minutiae, and she’s right, S calls it the continuing battle, and she’s right, too, and what I’m pointing out is that there’s a difference between creating a work (ie writing personal experience into a poem or short story or essay and turning it into universal truth) and just writing about myself without turning that into a universal truth. And the self-reflection can be counter-productive and self-destructive. That’s not what I want this to become.
As for giving away a novel, we’ll see if this works out at all anyway. The story might lose its way, Aggie might run out of energy and run away out of my mind to some more fertile landscape. Or she’ll be an immense success, and I’ll delete it all and put her behind a paywall on Patreon or something like that. You never can tell.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 2
Aggie’s kitchen window gives her a perfect vantage point, not just to see the cathedral, but also to look up and down the road, left and right, to watch the comings and goings from the other houses, the traffic, the daily routines of those households that share the street with this house. When she came to her interview for the job, she was surprised to see a kitchen on the first floor. Sir and Madam had obviously spent a lot of money on remodelling the place. It was partly that, and the dislike of her own voice, that kept her answers to very few words. They liked that, and she remembered Sir saying ‘She doesn’t talk much. Perfect,’ at the time. She may have slightly exaggerated her accent. She doesn’t know why.
And now, as she puts the second metal bowl to one side for a second proving, a movement catches her attention, a movement off to the left, on the road coming from the train station. It’s Sir, running, his jacket flapping around his skinny frame, his face looking, for once, flustered, and his cheeks blowing hard. This has never happened, to see him without his wife, and moving at anything faster than a stroll. Mindful of the temperature the kitchen needs to hold for the dough to complete its second proving in the right way, she slides both meta; bowls into the lower half of the oven, closes the oven door, wipes her hands on her apron, and steps out into the hall just as he opens the door.
‘Ah, Aggie,’ he says, out of breath.
She has never seen him sweat before. All she does is to make her usual small curtsey.
‘Something’s come up,’ he says, and rushes towards the stairs. ‘We need to go away for some time.’
‘Some time?’ she says. ‘We?’
He shrugs impatiently. ‘My wife and I.’
‘Sir and Madam? For some time?’
‘Yes. For God’s sake.’ He takes the steps two at a time. ‘I haven’t the time to explain it all.’
‘No time.’ Her despised voice fades into empty space. He’s gone, and she can hear him rummaging upstairs, one level under her room. She leans against the wall, crosses her arms, ready to wait until he comes back, for come back down he must if he’s going away again. She shrugs and thinks of the dough in the oven. There’s plenty of time, as long as no-one opens the kitchen door and the oven door at the same time. The carpet is soft under her slippered feet. She has always been thankful that, up until now, today, no-one has ever come into the house with their shoes on. She should have told him off about it when she saw the leather soles of his shoes canter up the stairs in the haste he’d never shown before. To her, it’s strange that they’ve never thought of buying a house in London instead of living her, in this city so far up in the eastern bulge of this foreign country. The paintings littering the walls of the halls up and down, all around, would be much better exhibited in some fine house in London than in this forgotten corner of England. But then she remembers the beauty of the cathedral and its heritage and thinks that maybe they are where they should be.
‘Your wages will still go into your account.’ He’s in front of her face again now, wakes her from her thoughts and reflections.
‘We could be gone a week, a month, a year.’ He shakes himself down, as if a shiver has passed down his spine. ‘I have no idea.’
‘Money for shopping…’
He puts down the single suitcase he has in his hand, pulls a piece of folded paper from the pocket of his jacket. ‘I’ve thought of that,’ he says and there’s a half a harried smile on his face, which is starting to show signs of needing a shave. ‘Here’s the card for the household account. The PIN is on the paper.’
She takes the card from him. ‘Phone?’