M really dislikes it when I say the damp gets into my bones. But this morning, my back is aching, my joints are stiff, and I’ve been awake on and off since five a.m. wondering whether or not to get up. Just before I did get up, in a rare moment of deep sleep, I dreamed of M digging up the front drive with a shovel. I had other dreams, but I can’t remember them. There are water drops on my glasses from the rain outside. These are my privations. Not much, are they?
For those of you who don’t know cricket, don’t understand cricket, the following may be difficult. Shane Warne died yesterday. He was a special kind of cricketer. He was only 52. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the death of a man who played what to all intents and purposes is a minority sport in the grand scheme of things (though not to me), may seem like a minor distraction. For those of us who love the game, who admired someone who, for those of us who are English, played for the wrong team (Australia), someone who was the ultimate spin bowler, this is an incomprehensible thing. Death is always tragic. The death of a hero cuts even more deeply. And the older we get, the younger our heroes.
Warne was mercurial, a man who did stupid and careless things on and off the pitch, a man who, when he was bowling would have every gaze, in the stadium, on the TV, on him, a magician, a keeper of the dark art of making a ball of leather and cork deviate from its natural path to move in unnatural loops and twists and turns. Spin bowling doesn’t look ferocious, doesn’t look physical or intimidating, looks simple. It is the opposite. A hop, a skip, a jump, a twirl of the arm, a counterintuitive rolling of wrist and fingers, the red projectile emerging somewhere along that unnatural curve of muscle, sinew, and bone to explode into a fizzing blur of madness that rises and dips, swerves and swings, rips dust from the grass, and finds its way through any defence any batter may think they have, all in a fraction of a second, when time stops and hangs there, and eyes are deceived by angles and trajectories, and even the air makes way for a sacred and screaming demon. That’s what Warne made of this game, every single time he took to the field and held the ball in his hand, and mesmerised the world into submission, bent it to his will. That is what has gone, and the world, with all its troubles and deceits and tragedies, is an emptier place without it. Warne may have been a man we English all loved to hate, our pantomime villain, but we could never take our eyes off him, could never stop loving him for the brilliant sportsman he was. And somehow his shape gave us all hope.
I have been working since 7 this morning, and I’ll be working again after yet another radio stint (which is now over). There is much need in the world that demands attention. For me, on a work and a personal level. I feel drawn towards the borders of Eastern Europe, but I will remain here, in dreary isolated England, and do my best from here.
There is no monotony in the repetition of tragedies, nor in the songs of ghosts.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 21
‘But I’ve got their weapons,’ she whispers at Zav’s retreating back. ‘They’re no danger to me.’ She closes the door softly, walks past the locked reception room doors, up the stairs, past the kitchen, up the next flight of stairs, and the next, goes to her desk, ignores the view out of the window into the gloaming this time, picks up the papers from Madam’s room and her notebook, and takes them downstairs where she puts them on the kitchen table. She clears the table of the debris of his eating, shakes her head at the hole in the floor the bullet made, determines to fix it at some time soon, to see if it went through the floor and out through the ceiling of the room below. She makes herself a double espresso in the coffee machine on yet another work top, carries the small cup across to the table, sits down, and starts to put the papers in some sort of order, pays more attention this time to what the Cyrillic words tell her, what they mean, how they might explain the hone call, Sir’s disappearance, Zav’s assassination attempt, if that’s really what it was, and not just some distraction, some double or triple bluff. She closes her eyes and the past starts at her again, her other self threatens to loose itself from her again to find the face with the green eyes, the old guardian angel, but she pushes it away, banishes it for now, because needs the present to make sense.
What she had thought were harmless references to harmless parties are in fact references to sightings of Madam at functions she should not have been at, putative sightings, blurred photos, half a face, half a body, an arm, a silk-clad leg. Kremlin, Downing Street, Kyiv, the White House, the Elysee Palace, the Norwegian royal palace, Johannesburg, any capital anywhere. Not public appearances, not occasions on which she might have been photographed paying some sort of lip service to public duties. These were photos taken on the hoof, on the move, photos behind closed doors, behind the scenes, pictures of her moving in circles that were beyond most people. Aggie looks closely at each picture, reasonable doubt in her mind that it is actually Cassandra in them, that it could be someone who just looks very much like Madam, that there could be a mistake. She smoothes the crumpled papers out, her palms covering almost the entirety of while pages, lets her eyes walk again across the lettering on them, notices that they’re emails all addressed to VBlackwood at some obscure domain name she doesn’t recognise. The last page. No photo on this page. Just the scan of a letter, simple letterhead. CB dangerous. Eliminate. Aggie recognises the signature. She knows what she’ll see when she turns on the TV. Russian tanks rolling through Ukraine; missiles, bombs, dead children, dead women, death everywhere.
Aggie puts the papers to one side. She should have realised, probably did realise but suppressed it, that what Sir and Madam did wasn’t something they’d tell their friends about, that working in secret services was just that, a secret. But for Russia? One of them? Both? Neither of them? Double agency? Deceit is so deep. She picks her coat up from the floor, empties its pockets. Four Makarovs. Makes sense now, though not the ease with which they were beaten. The small black pistol from Madam’s desk, maker’s name scratched off the barrel, Zav’s explosives, his gun, her lockpicking kit, sundry tools, a knuckleduster (though she has no idea why she might need that with her huge fists of steel), random pieces of paper. She checks the magazines of the Makarovs. Over half the bullets left. She empties two of them, refills two magazines to the maximum, fills the third one, leaves the empty one on the table, puts two of the guns into her pockets, along with the small bombs. Puts all her tools back into one of the innumerable pockets, too, gets up and drapes the coat over the back of her chair. Finishes the espresso. She goes back upstairs, lets herself into their bedroom, goes to the drawer where she found the gun in the first place, and pulls out all the pare bullets.
Back in her room, she pulls a small leather satchel out from under her bed. In it, there are two passports and a wad of cash, dollars and Euros. She throws in the ammo and the Prévert, snaps it shut. She locks her door from the outside, key into her trousers. Down in the kitchen, she pulls on her coat, puts the papers in the satchel, looks out at the cathedral, day almost completely here now, turns out the lights, and on down the stairs, pulls on her boots.
‘He was lying,’ she says to herself. ‘London is where this carries on.’