This morning, I wake to rain, and war. I stand under cover in the garage to have my first cigarette of the day. The rain is too heavy to stand outside. I feel the beginning of a possible panic attack when I think about Ukraine, when I think about the evil of men, when I realise I am too powerless and helpless to have an effect on anything that’s happening, that’s going to happen. All I can do is talk about it, and think about it. The panic subsides when the rain lifts a little. It’s 6:30 a.m. and I have to prioritise my day job right now. When 7:30 comes around, I’ve done the most urgent stuff.
Piece-meal thoughts and notes and movements. Jagged, this morning. More urgent tasks ticked off the list that’s a day long. There have been other mornings like this – a shattering morning in June 2016, a similarly juddering morning in February 2020; and many others where my eyes have been weary from the moment I woke up and my brain remembers what’s happening on the world stage and I have to ride the huge troughs and minor ups. It’s part of the territory, all the territories my life inhabits. That doesn’t make it simpler for this pacifist, this man who’s more articulate writing than speaking, but who would sometimes be more comfortable roaming the streets than sitting in his study watching screens and doing calculations while waiting for emails, phone calls, and WhatsApp messages.
I finally got round to sending a lengthy email to my MP yesterday complaining about her lack of response to most of the emails I have sent her since September last year, which I copied to the Parliamentary Commissioner For Standards. Surprisingly, I got a fairly rapid response from the Commissioner’s Office which, unsurprisingly, let me (very kindly) know that there is not actually an authority or individual which monitors MPs’ behaviour towards their constituents, and that it’s actually up to MPs’ discretion as to how they treat their constituents. So much for holding elected representatives to The Nolan Principles. And this is what makes politics in the UK (and elsewhere, really) rotten to the core, a rottenness that spreads from the very top of government down to parish councils (read lots of my older blog posts about this canker at that level).
Shrapnel. In all senses of the word.
The rain still hammers down on the roof of the study. This morning, the rhythm is particularly unsettling. The seasons are confused. The shrikes of war and death skim low across the rooftops, and swoop into all our lives. There is no hiding place.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 12
‘How did you know where I’d be?’
‘They told me.’
‘How do they know?’
The figure attempts a shrug. Coughs. A hollow echo.
‘To kill me?’
‘Nice.’ Aggie doesn’t move.
He shakes as if he’s laughing.
‘He or she?’ Aggie says.
Aggie gets off him. ‘Get up. Slowly.’ Her knife cuts into his coat.
‘The assassin says.’
‘Whatever.’ She towers over him. ‘They should have sent someone bigger.’
‘Same old story.’ She laughs. ‘Come on.’
‘What if I run?’
‘You’ll be dead before you run.’
‘In a church?’
‘That’s what you were going to do.’
The darkness still envelopes them, but she can see, feel, him shrug again. ‘It’s a mistake to think albinos can’t see in the dark,’ she says.
‘I know that now.’
‘You should have known before.’
‘They didn’t tell me.’
‘Never rely on what others tell you.’
‘Life lessons from the victim turned assassin now, eh?’ His voice drops an octave.
‘You need them.’
‘And now what?’
‘We leave this holy place.’
‘A religious assassin.’ He laughs.
‘We all are.’
‘That’s why you failed.’ She grabs his shoulders, turns him round, puts a hole in the back of his coat just to make sure he knows she’s still a clear and present danger, pushes him towards the tunnel out of the cathedral. Outside, she turns him round again, locks up behind them.
‘Have you got three hands?’ he says.
‘Just two very fast ones.’
They go back the way she came. The gravel slipping under their feet. A caravan of two. He stumbles. The knife reaches his skin this time. ‘No tricks,’ she says.
‘Wasn’t a trick. I can’t see a thing.’
‘Surprised you didn’t have night vision goggles.’
‘Way of the world.’
The echo of Pull’s Ferry in the mist. Old stones. What they’ve seen. A part of Aggie’s mind separates from her again, back to times she has no conscious recollection of, just muscle memory, just snapshots of moments she’s not sure she’s experienced, events that drove her away from wherever she was before this place. She doesn’t falter in her multiples. She’s accepted by now that her soul can split itself into innumerable pieces and leave her where she needs to be. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a curse. They’re at Bishop Bridge now.
‘This is where you kill me and throw me in, right?’ His voice doesn’t waver.
‘Don’t be silly.’ She pushes him again. ‘So you can see something.’
‘Of course I can. Just not everything.’
‘I know. Should’ve been a teacher.’
‘You still can be.’
‘More life lessons.’
‘Just encouragement.’ Her voice is quiet, reflective.
‘So they say.’ She feels him turning as if to say something too foolish to contemplate. ‘Keep moving.’
The street is still a ghost street. Just as it should be. A few more footsteps. Aggie is tired of having to keep her strides so tiny because he’s such a normal size. Needs to stretch her legs, feels them tautening down the hamstrings. Needs to keep moving.
‘Where are you taking me?’ he says.
‘You’d know that if you’d done your homework.’
‘And spending cuts,’ she says.
‘And staff shortages.’
‘Here we are.’ She pushes him up the few stone steps, forces him round and up against the wall. Another hole in his coat.
‘Steady. It’s like a sieve already,’ he says.
‘Oh, shut up.’ The door opens, and the dim light throws itself out through the opening, as if it had been waiting all this time to escape. ‘In.’ She closes the door with an arm behind her. ‘Shoes off.’
‘How very civilised.’
‘It’s not mine.’
‘I meant the shoe ritual.’ He kicks off some tan Chelsea boots. ‘And now? Any other rituals in mind?’
She stares down at him, such a non-descript mousey-haired normal. ‘Upstairs.’
‘Bit forward, isn’t it?’
She laughs. ‘I like your humour.’
‘But it won’t change anything.’
‘No. But you knew that.’ Another hole in the coat. He doesn’t even complain, doesn’t try to throw her off balance. She’s a head taller than he is even when she’s on the next step down on both flights of stairs.
Aggie leads him to one of the guest rooms, the one at the back of the house with the bars over the window. ‘In,’ she says. ‘There’s water by the bed. Good night.’
‘Do what you want,’ she says, steps back, closes and locks the door.