Richard Pierce

Life, Writing

Day 67

My brain feels starved of words this morning. Although the sun is shining. Ebbs and flows.

Occasionally, a monastic existence has its attractions; the repetition of rituals, the sense of being cut off from the world physically, an existence away from noise and haste. You may have guessed I watched Stacey Dooley In The Convent last night. Ignoring the unquestionable populism of her programmes (and some associated controversies), it’s always interesting to see how the glitz interacts with the modest. Of course my problem with a monastic existence is that I like sex, and that I’m no good at living within rules that could be deemed as arbitrary. I have in the past pondered retraining as a vicar because I sometimes get this sense of having a calling, but I am not convinced that any establishment of any faith would want in its midst a man who thinks organised religion is a usurper of real faith.

The words are dripping out of my finger tips very slowly this morning, and I shall never be able to stick to my 30-minute limit.

I did write almost 1k words for The Mortality Code last night, to bring to a close one chapter and start the next. So the fate of the person bleeding out has finally been decided. I can’t say more than that, but never forget the one and only writing rule worth paying attention to (except for those of grammar and punctuation which you must know if you want to effectively be able to break them and invent a new language) – kill your darlings.

I need some breakfast.

Standing outside just now after breakfast, I realised why I sometimes have to force myself to write these words. Despite doing this for 67 days now, I still haven’t managed to overcome being drawn to start work as soon as I get up, to sit down and get something that I might describe as productive and meaningful. It is, after all, the habit of a life time, ever since I started working in 1985 (I think). It always struck me as a strange thing, that a man obsessed with putting words together in patterns should also be drawn towards sitting down in front of spreadsheets and practical problems, an eternal conflict, if you like. But the point is, especially with the job I do now, that it’s a vocation more than a job, that it’s something in my blood, something that’s part of me as a person. Someone, and I forget who, said to me yesterday that no-one’s defined by their day job. I do two full-time jobs (day and writing), and they’re inseparable from each other, and from me as a person. Mostly I think that must be a good thing, although it leaves little time for other things (I guess those edges of the shroud that’s me are the ones that lack focus).

Two things yesterday that meant a lot to me.

A book arrived yesterday morning that I’d not ordered; Humankind by Rutger Bregman. Initially, I had no idea who it was from, but it rang a bell, as I was sure I’d been talking about it on social media with someone. So I searched my twitter (nothing), my WhatsApp groups (nothing), my Instagram (nothing), and finally my fb conversations. This all just demonstrates what I mean about being worried about losing my memory. And in the fb conversations I realised that only a few days ago one of my best friends (who lives in Belgium and whom I used to play cricket with) had mentioned the book to me in 2020, and again a few days ago. And had sent me the book. I am overwhelmed by such kindnesses.

B, whom I met through work (though I’ve never met her) emailed yesterday about how she was feeling sad and frozen by the war in Ukraine, and how she has a tendency to retreat from the world when such disasters happen, and in her email described watching chatterings of jackdaws (that is the collective noun; I checked after she used it), and how she admired the way I use words to talk about my reactions to the world. She’s an artist. I said maybe we need to focus on small happinesses, that she should sketch her jackdaws. That those birds were small happinesses. She also said she didn’t know how I did everything I do – I don’t see myself as doing everything I do; in fact I see myself as a lazy man. Therein lies all my thought.



Aggie tries to remember when she last slept. Draws a blank. Not that it matters. She’s never tired. She watches out of the window as the train picks up speed, trying, as always, to avoid her reflection, although this morning she is drawn, again and again, to the black-haired twin staring past her, wonders why she has never before thought to change the colour of her hair, why she has always felt honour-bound to stay true to the colouring she was born with, to the colouring that allowed Zav to track her down, to the colouring the old face and strong arms and green eyes and wise words saved and preserved and healed and loved. She pushes herself further back into the corner of the carriage, lets her eyes roam round the space, makes sure she’s not being observed by anyone. There’s no-one else in the carriage. She keeps her mask on, knows there are cameras everywhere, but doesn’t look for them. She feels the stiletto holster around her calf, and it gives her more peace of mind than the heft of the guns and ammo in the satchel.

The day grows light. The fog lifts. The sun shines into the train. Aggie’s warm, but won’t take off her coat nor her mask. She wonders, as she often does, about spending an entire life describing one single moment, an extension of Proust’s musings on involuntary memory, of his obsession with some moments from his past which, once gone, can never physically return, but forever return in the form of visions and dreams and regrets. Which moment would she choose? And how describe it? She knows, knows it so well, the one which comes back to her daily, the one she replays in her mind before any other; the now, the blood, the hands, the rescue. She just doesn’t know the exact date, the exact time, the exact place. From that moment, and she could describe the unique shape of every snowflake that drifted past her dying eyes, every snowflake that fell on her face and melted, the shape of every shard of ice around her, and the blades of grass beneath her, the trampled blades on the battlefield, the corpses out of sight of her memory, out of reach of her saviour, slipping away, slipping from history and memory and fact into fiction, into an imagined imaginary world where they and their deaths never existed. And every time she relives that one moment, the narrative shifts further forward. Now the itching has stopped, the scabs have gone, the hospital room has been replaced by a comfortable bedroom, wood-panelled walls, book cases, warm carpets on wooden floors, exercise equipment, daily exercises to learn again how to walk better, more efficiently, how to control those extraordinarily long limbs, how to move her hands ever more quickly until they become a blur to her and her mentor. How to become a magician of movement and stealth.

The train rushes through stations, stops at stations, runs through a tunnel, twists and turns, and the sun rushes in and out at different angles, in Aggie’s corner one moment, and gone the next. The train never gets busy, Aggie’s carriage never populated by more than four or five other people, and they always out of sight, though she can hear them. Ebbs and flows in movement, sound and distance. Aggie has never known impatience, and she’s not impatient now. What will happen will happen. The important thing is to know why.

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