For the first time in some years, I have not wanted a holiday to end. As A said to me in the car last night when I picked her up from the station after her weekend in London with her siblings, “You’re normally a bit weird when you’re on holiday.” Well, this time I wasn’t even a bit weird, maybe because of my back, maybe because I really needed a break, maybe because I’ve finally grown up. Anyway, I had great difficulty getting out of bed this morning, from a willpower point of view anyway, and not just because my back is complaining, not just because there’s residual fear there, but because I felt comfy in bed and wanted to stay there.
I did resist the temptation yesterday afternoon to check my work in-box. It wouldn’t have been in the spirit of making the most of my time off, and I have been really good; even when my phone has told me there was work email, I didn’t check it. But I did just check my inbox – 128 actionable unread emails. A busy day ahead.
The weather has turned again. It’s warm, wet, and windy out there. My back doesn’t like wind. I don’t like rain. Cold and sunny, or hot and sunny, preferably prefaced by “very” is my kind of weather. But then this is England, and I’m sure I’ve written before about how I think the English weather is very reflective of the English temperament and achievement. That’s now truer than ever.
I tried to navigate my way on foot (without using my phone) to Norwich airport yesterday afternoon. Unsuccessfully, I hasten to add, although, on checking when I got back, I wasn’t actually that far away. If I’d have followed a different road instead of being tempted into multiple dead ends in a couple of housing estates (or just one huge one), I’d probably have got there. No agenda to the enterprise. I love airports, and I wanted to walk somewhere with a purpose other than just walking for the sake of it. I did cover over four miles, so that’s a good thing.
I often have to remind myself that what the Aggie I’m sharing here is a first draft without really thinking about it, if that makes sense. It’s interesting to write in short sharp bursts (although yesterday morning was a struggle) and not to go back and edit as I’m going along. As I’ve said before, the edit and final 4 weeks of chapters will happen out of the public eye, and I will take all extant chapters off this blog at the end of November.
I took a break for back stretches, Wordle, and breakfast. The wind has strengthened, the rain is audible on the study roof. The one at the previous house had a corrugated iron roof which was immensely loud in weather like this. This one has a wood and rubber roof. Much quieter, so I write this in relative silence. I need that silence because there’s so much noise in my head.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 51
If you stop this obsession. Hands like a vice round Aggie’s wrists still. She’s incomplete, she doesn’t obey. We must teach lessons. A slow release of the hands, and the feeling comes back into Aggie’s hands. The mentor stalks from the room, straightening the chessboards, the books, the tables, slams the door. The roar of the plane still echoes round the room. Anna, unafraid again, crawls across the window seat back next to Aggie. Tonight, she says. I’m going tonight. She’s still there the next morning, mouth drawn down at the corners, a fleck of blood in one of them. Ignores Aggie except for one shy look, one shake of the head, one hidden wave of the hands. Don’t come near me. They’ll punish us both. It was the next day that Aggie missed the kill shot and Anna escaped.
‘Covid’s more likely to kill us than Valentine anyway,’ Marit says. ‘We’re risking enough as it is with you three in the car.’
‘I was negative the last time I tested,’ Aggie says, trying to remember when that was.
‘It doesn’t matter anyway,’ Katharina says. ‘Everyone thinks it’s over, and it’s not. It will spread even quicker than the plague. As long as we’ve had the injections there’s not much else we can do. I do my best to ignore it all.’ She waves an impatient hand at the space in between them all. ‘It’s not worth talking about.’
Marit, eyes on the road the whole time, sighs. ‘We still need to be careful, and we are. I didn’t work at the airport for an age because of all this shit. … Anyway, you probably need some rest, just like the others, so don’t be afraid to put your head down. We’ll wake you when we get to the first stop.’
‘I don’t really sleep,’ Aggie says.
‘Then just rest,’ Katharina says.
Aggie says nothing, leans her head back into nothingness, turns round, pulls the headrest as high as it will go. She closes her eyes, but all she can see is the slow motion of the bullet going through Anna’s shoulder, forces herself to blank it out, distracts herself by listening for all the creaks and clanks a car gives off when being driven, sharpens her hearing again, listens to Anna and Zav’s regular breathing, wishes she could just turn everything off just like that, wonders if she’s right to be so trusting of the two women in front of her, makes sure she is coiled as tightly as she can be because danger is sure to be just around the corner. She walks through the Norwich house again in her mind, wonders if there are more things she has missed, can’t think of anything, surreptitiously checks her pockets for the guns, sensitises her skin to make sure she can feel the pressure of the knife holder and its stiletto against her calf, slows her breathing so it chimes with Anna’s, so they think she is finally asleep.
The secret of patience is to forget about time. The mentor’s voice again, and the wrinkled face with the green eyes luminous in the half-light. A hand moves another piece to another square. If you forget about it, you’re not waiting for it to pass. Your breathing slows down. You’re in the present, nowhere else, so there’s no pressure to arrive in the future. It’s an essential skill. It means you can wait forever without getting bored, without wondering what might happen next, but always be ready for anything to happen. Aggie’s piece moves almost without her touching it, and she watches the mentor’s hesitating hand, shaking slightly, and wonders why, and calculates a thousand possible moves ahead a thousand times without waiting, without having to think about time. She’d learned this lesson already, without having to be taught it, prostrate on the ice, life flowing from her, no help anywhere, eyes wide open so the snow fell into them. She’s part of the snow, part of the landscape, a part of everything. She always will be. Her hand pounces as soon as the mentor makes one of those thousands of thousands of possible predicted moves. I’ll always be ready, she says to the shape opposite her. Watch me.