When I got up, I stood in the garden and toyed with the idea of just writing self-censored four hundred times and leaving it at that, and giving Aggie a rest. Then I went back into the house, and emptied the cat litter tray, did some back stretches, and had breakfast. The glamorous life of the writer.
There’s a cold edge to the sun this morning, a feeling that it will only take a minute shift in something, anything, to change this still and sunny morning into something altogether more malevolent and threatening. M saw two lights moving very quickly and noiselessly across the night sky the other evening. We forget too easily that we are surrounded by folklore and mythology wherever we are in the world. There are roots of truth in all these passed-on stories. We don’t really know what is beneath our feet, even in the most suburban of gardens. Everywhere was a wild place at some time in the past, and the traces of those places will linger forever, no matter what happens. Everywhere is goose bump territory. My hackles rise as I write.
I measure time in lost moments. We lost so much when we disconnected from the land under us, when we stopped wandering and stayed in one place. Perhaps that’s why I keep wandering. This is the 27th place I’ve lived in, and I get the feeling it won’t be the last. A connection to the earth and its stories doesn’t mean staying in the same place forever. We can put down roots anywhere, and pull them up again when we move on. To stop moving is to stop breathing.
Just as we turned the lights out last night, my mind scurried off to that place (I’ve used that word a lot this morning) where it turns over thoughts at an alarmingly rapid rate and then stops on a random idea like a spinning lottery wheel. This time is was There is no reality. I had arrived at the conclusion that we live our perceptions, nothing else, that what we see as reality is just our view of something that’s living itself out in front of our biased eyes. It’s a pretty obvious conclusion, and not a new one, but it’s interesting to muse on how this plays into folklore and myth and religion. Even putting any philosophical conceits and concepts to one side, we have left so much unexplored by concreting our cities and roads over it.
Each word is an effort this morning, in an odd masochistic way. It is odd to be sitting down after spending the last two mornings broadcasting standing up. Perhaps that’s where the sluggishness comes from, and I should have standing-up desks for everything I do. Something else to ponder.
The sky still has some blue in it. The sinister day has not yet come for me. Perhaps it never will.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 50
Silence. Even the sound of the engine doesn’t reach into the car.
Katharina reaches across and turns a button. A newsreader’s voice. More deaths. More war crimes. More missiles.
‘Turn it off,’ Marit says.
‘Don’t we need to know what’s happening?’ Katharina says.
‘We know already,’ Aggie says, unbidden. She hates the words coming out of the radio. They hurt her ears. ‘And we know what’s going to happen if no-one has the courage to stop it.’
Marit takes a hand off the steering wheel, presses another button. Classical music now.
‘That’s Tchaikovsky,’ Katharina says. ‘Should they be playing Russian music right now?’
Marit laughs. Aggie thinks she has a nice laugh. Doesn’t recall ever hearing her mother laughing as naturally. ‘It’s not Russian culture’s fault that Putin is a war criminal,’ Marit says. ‘Tchaikovsky’s still brilliant whether or not Russia’s ruler wants to destroy another country.’
‘I know, I know,’ Katharina says. ‘I was just trying to make conversation.’
‘You don’t have to make conversation for us,’ Aggie says. ‘I’m sorry we’ve invaded your lives, I’ve invaded your lives.’
‘Don’t be sorry,’ Katharina says, turns round, and pats Aggie’s right leg. ‘It’s not as bad as if Valentine had invaded our lives.’
‘Word of the day, invade,’ Zav says, leans his head back onto the headrest and closes his eyes.
‘Ignore him,’ Anna says, leans back and shuts her eyes, too. ‘Need some rest,’ she mutters.
Countryside borders the road now, a roundabout ahead, where Marit takes a left onto the Outer Ring Road. The sun is deceptively hot through the windows, the sky blue, the green beyond the road seemingly endless.
The roar of a low-flying plane shocks Aggie back into her other life. Sitting in another wide wood-panelled room, on a seat by the huge window looking out over the gardens, the mentor nowhere to be seen, chess boards abandoned and askew, silence, the tiny Anna next to her. Aggie won’t go too close for fear of hurting her with her own enormity, one of her hands seeming to her to be almost the size of Anna’s head. She can feel the scars pulling across her stomach under what she sees as an outsize jumper. They’re both staring out of the window into the blue sky, and Anna edges closer to her. You’re not as big as they tell you, Anna whispers. They’re trying to make you believe something you’re not; make you depend on them. Don’t let them. She puts her hand on top of Aggie’s and the difference in size doesn’t seem so great after all. Come and run away with me. Back to Hong Kong. That’s where they found me. And the sleek bright metal of a plane so close to the window, and the door crashing open, and the mentor screaming, and Anna scurrying to the other end of the window seat.
‘Bloody airport,’ Marit says. ‘Bane of my life.’
‘She works there sometimes,’ Katharina says.
‘Really?’ Aggie says. ‘Isn’t that a risk?’
‘The SIS flights go from London City Airport,’ Katharina says. ‘Valentine uses those when he’s doing his dirty work.’
‘How do you know all this?’ Aggie says.
‘Mum tells us,’ Marit says.
‘Does she tell you everything?’ Aggie says.
‘Only about Valentine,’ Marit says. ‘Never anything about what she’s doing, no matter how much or how often we ask her.’
The airport is behind them now, the sharp bends in the road around the north perimeter tapering out into an almost entirely straight dual carriageway.
‘She always says it’s so we haven’t got anything to give away if we get caught,’ Katharina says.
‘It sounds like you almost enjoy playing cat and mouse with Valentine,’ Aggie says.
‘It’s better than being bored,’ Katharina says.
‘Aren’t you afraid of dying?’ Aggie says.
Marit brakes as the road reduces into a narrow single lane.
‘We’re all going to die,’ Katharina says. ‘No point worrying about it.’
You’ll never die. The mentor’s voice, hands clamped around Aggie’s wrists. Pain.