Richard Pierce

Life, Poetry, Writing

Day 69

Have you ever seen a discarded note or letter on the pavement and wanted to pick it up? I did yesterday, and it seemed like a physical confirmation of my voice reaching all the way round the world and back to me.

The night before last, just before I went to bed, I had some words in my head that I wanted to remember, so I went into M’s office and ripped a purple sheet of paper out of a random notebook, scribbled the words down, and took the paper into our bedroom and put it onto the shelves next to my bed where my vinyl records still live, for now. The next morning, I took the sheet of paper, folded it up, and stuck it into the back pocket of my jeans. And totally forgot about it, of course. Then, after work, I decided I’d walk to the hypermarket and back as my exercise, and because I didn’t want to waste petrol driving a mile and a half there and a mile and a half back just to get bread and beer and cheese. 19 minutes there at a brisk pace, into a shop full of people with no masks and no sense of social distancing, resisting the temptation to browse for something I didn’t need anyway, past parents refusing to listen to their children’s reasonable requests, past new couples going shopping together for the first time, past exhausted looking women doing the shopping at the end of their already too busy days. Basket full, I checked out, carefully packed everything that I’d bought into the rucksack that had accompanied me to the Antarctic in 2008 (it always comes back to the Ice, doesn’t it, my life?), rucksack over shoulders, that comforting weight on my back, somehow making me and my life more solid, back outside, mask off, gloves in left hand, right hand to start the stop watch again, and the walk back home, the sun now low behind the houses and the shadows colder than I expected. Fifteen minutes later, I turn back into our road, the last hill ahead of me. My eyes are distracted by a flicker of colour on the ground to my left, caught behind a green electrical junction box. No, I say to myself, don’t pick it up; you’ll be intruding on someone else’s life. And then I recognise the colour, and the slant of the writing on the colour. It’s the note I wrote the night before. It must have fallen out of my jeans when I set out for my shopping. And the wind hadn’t blown it away. Or maybe it had blown it all the way around the world in 30 short minutes. My words come back to haunt me. My words come back to taunt me. I’d better turn them into something useful now.

 

AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 26

‘You don’t know me,’ she says.

‘I know enough to know you can’t escape a bullet.’

‘They’d shoot in public?’

‘Hardly anyone here,’ he says.

‘What do you actually want?’

‘You.’

‘Is that a proposal?’

That sad smile again. ‘You know it’s not.’

‘I’d have said no anyway. We’re incompatible.’

His eyes glance past her.

It’s Aggie’s turn to smile, and it turns into a laugh. ‘I heard him a minute ago,’ she says, and, in a swift movement that no-one can decipher, grabs Zav, throws him over her so his body is covering most of hers, and is over the barriers into the Tube station before anyone can move. And then there’s a pop, a fizzle, a spark, a bullet shaving off part of a fitting just by Zav’s head. ‘I don’t think they like you,’ she shouts as she disappears into one of the many service doors at this level of the station, its frame too weak to resist her battering ram of a shoulder. Into neon-lit corridors, which she follows, zig zag pattern, down metal stairs, her ears popping, deeper and deeper down. She doesn’t question the direction she’s taking, ignores his feeble struggles, holds hi  with one arm while her other hand unpicks a lock of yet another metal door in this maze of corridors, shuts and locks the door behind her, giant strides down more stairs, her shadow sharp on the whitewashed floor, years of dust swirling around her boots. One more door. She puts him down. ‘You didn’t make much of an effort.’

‘No point,’ he says and shrugs. ‘Where are we?’

‘Wait and see.’ She looks at this wooden door almost reverently before she unlocks it. ‘Wait.’ The click takes longer to come this time. She opens the door, waves him through. The musty smell of years of neglect envelops them. The half circle of the tunnel is majestic.

‘How did you know this was here?’ he says.

‘A guess,’ she says, lying. She can’t blush. It’s against her nature. The echoes of their voices mingle against the curved ceiling above them.

‘Sure.’

‘I think it’s time to stop playing stupid games,’ she says as the door closes with a louder click this time. ‘What is it you know that I obviously don’t?’ She folds her arms.

‘Valentine Blackwood,’ he says.

‘What about him?’

‘You don’t know he’s Russian?’

‘What?’

‘I thought you would. You share a house with him. Maybe more.’

‘So you are the fool you were pretending to be.’

‘Are you denying it?’

‘Denying what? That you have some sort of fantasy of the maid screwing her employer?’

‘The maid? That’s rich. What maid would have guns and a knife strapped to her leg?’

‘A careful one.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ he says.

‘Now listen,’ she says, and jabs him in the chest with her index finger. ‘I know nothing of what Sir and Madam do. Nothing at all. They took me in when I needed a job, when I was close to … to …’

‘To what? Running out of ideas? Money? Time? Or when you were close to being unmasked as someone you say you’re not?’

‘I’m just …’ The memory is so painful it nearly knocks her over. Her rescuer teaching her the ways of guns, the flights of knives, the room full of books on warfare and philosophy, full of poems and novels, all those languages and plots and patterns, that relearning of Polish, of English, of so many words she had lost after that almost death in the silent snow when everyone deserted her, and she was left alone and vulnerable and one breath away from being just another victim of some war somewhere. Those green eyes staring into her, the words cold revenge in her head, a daily mantra, the training never to lose her temper, never to question her instincts, always to trust the mechanics of her body and mind. Snap back to his blue eyes staring at her. ‘I’m just a girl who needed to live,’ she says.

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