We aren’t part of that dispute at all. & we wouldn’t want anyone to know we had seen the pictures. We’re fine thank you, we just don’t like the train. The door isn’t right. We don’t like the door. Everyone else in the carriage is asleep, everyone but us. The train is so slow. The soup gave us indigestion & we don’t like the faces at the window. We are not part of that. We are not part of that. The soup gave us indigestion & we don’t like the faces at the window. The train is so slow. Everyone else in the carriage is asleep, everyone but us. We don’t like the door. The door isn’t right. We’re fine thank you, we just don’t like the train. & we wouldn’t want anyone to know we had seen the pictures. We aren’t part of that dispute at all.
Tag Archives: ghosts
“I forgot to say,” I wrote to her, “that we had some rain yesterday. And some hail. And some high winds. It’s very children’s book up here.” Then, the following afternoon: “This is going to be a permanent adventure. The main fusebox switched off everything but the lower ring main just as it got dark. An overnight leak in the bathroom dripped through the floor and into the kitchen sink.”
I was trying to entertain her, but she only wrote back: “I’m surprised your surveyor didn’t pick up on the leak.”
Later, I emailed: “I’ve got a feeling no one’s used the bidet for years.” To be honest I had only used it myself because I couldn’t find anywhere else to clean my shoes, which had picked up some kind of gluey ash in the garden. “I’m painting the study ivory white. Ivory white is a story in itself.”
While I was writing that a wasp pushed itself into the room from behind the wooden blanket chest, as suddenly as if it had made itself from nothing. I looked behind the chest and found a ventilator, daubed with layers of paint. Had the wasp blundered down the old chimney? It flew straight up into one of the skylights and sat on a bent nail, grooming its antennae. I tried to hit it with the local freesheet, but I couldn’t reach that high; and anyway I didn’t believe in it as a wasp. My writing long ago began to fill up with characters who suspect that they don’t understand the world: not because the world is impossible to understand (though it is) but because their intelligence has either reached its own limits or the emotional limits that demark what it can be allowed to understand.
I haven’t cut my nails since we arrived here. They haven’t grown much. Perhaps it’s something in the water.
I wondered if I should cut my nails when we arrived here. But in the subsequent month they’ve hardly grown. Something in the water, perhaps. That’s what F thinks.
I remember looking at my nails the day after we arrived here, and wondering if I should cut them. In the subsequent month, though, they’ve hardly grown. “Something in the water, perhaps,” F suggests when I tell her. She looks down at her own nails.
I looked at my nails the day after we arrived here and wondered if I should cut them. A month later, they’ve hardly grown. “Something in the water,” F suggests when I tell her. She shrugs. She won’t let me look at her nails, but later I catch her examining them carefully.
I remember looking at my nails the day after we arrived and asking F if she thought I should cut them. A month later they’ve hardly grown. F shrugs. “Something in the water,” she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails, but later I catch her at the bathroom sink, washing her hands, spreading her fingers, washing again. “What’s the matter?”
The day after we arrived, I remember, I asked F if she thought I should cut my nails. A month later they’ve hardly grown. F shrugs. “Something in the water,” she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails–though I am always up for inspection, F never is. But later, passing the bathroom door, I catch her at the sink, washing her hands, spreading her fingers hands held flat above the water, washing again. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “Nothing,” she says, smiling and closing the door. “Nothing’s the matter.” Then, from inside: “Nothing, nothing, nothing’s the matter.”
The day after we arrived, I remember, I asked F if she thought we should cut our nails. A month later mine have hardly grown. F shrugs. Something in the water, she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails. I am always up for inspection, F never is. Later, passing the bathroom door, I catch her at the sink, washing her hands; spreading her fingers, hands held flat above the water; washing again. What’s the matter? I ask. Nothing, F says, smiling and closing the door. Nothing’s the matter. Then, from inside: Nothing, nothing, nothing’s the matter.
Nothing will ever be the matter again.
When I first came here I saw a hawk kill a starling then crouch over it on the pavement in Grove Road. I thought I was hallucinating. After that, the old cat kept the birds away. Now he’s gone, life is back in the garden. Two wood pigeons have constructed something deep inside the foliage of the bay tree and are raising a brood there. They make an enormous fuss about getting in and out, struggling and flapping as if to demonstrate to someone that they weren’t designed for this. They are performing how hard the pigeon life is; how hard it is to be a parent; how conscientiously Barnes and committed they are being about it all. The forget-me-nots, meanwhile, are still in flower. Poppies and columbine thrive. Two or three rose buds have cracked to display promising glimpses of deep red. Fiona upstairs has mowed the lawn.
They start between six and six thirty in the evening. They’re usually distant. If they have a motive, it’s internal and psychic: like the sounds of someone with a head wound, they are not rational except in relation to themselves. At times they seem to move closer, the way sounds do on a wind, especially in the night. For a moment, the listener is able to distinguish more than one voice, perhaps even differentiate male from female. There are qualities of both plaintiveness and aggression, but words are hard to make out. They reach a peak by ten in the evening. By midnight they have moved away for good, and the centre of the little town is dark and quiet.
I woke up a few months ago in a shower of unpaid bills. I’d forgotten to top up my current account. All I felt was a kind of cheerful disappointment with myself. I walked around for a bit thinking mildly, “You’d better get a grip.” Then I began to see the terror of it: a lifetime’s anxieties exchanged for a state of warm dissociation interrupted by brief moments of politicised rage. Later I went to see Haneke’s Amour at the Gate in Notting Hill. The Gate is a smallish cinema, maybe a hundred seats. Eighty of them were occupied by couples over sixty, all acting as if they had arrived recently from an Anita Brookner novel. That was a lot more disturbing than the film. It’s a wonderful film, but I didn’t feel I belonged in that demographic, or that I’d gone to see it because it was in some way addressed to that demographic. To watch it for those reasons would seem to me to rigidify the meaning of the film and limit its scope.
“Sometimes as it blows across the Great Brown Waste in summer, the wind will uncover a bit of petrified wood. Mammy Vooley’s head had the shape and the shiny grey look of wood like that. It was provided with one good eye, as if at one time it had grown round a glass marble streaked with milky blue. She bobbed it stiffly right and left to the crowds: who stood to watch her approach; knelt as she passed; and stood up again behind her. Her bearers grunted patiently under the weigh of the pole that bore her up. As they brought her slowly closer it could be seen that her dress–so curved between her bony, strangely-articulated knees that dead leaves, lumps of plaster and crusts of wholemeal bread had gathered in her lap–was russet-orange; and that she wore askew on the top of her head a hank of faded purple hair, wispy and fine like a very old woman’s. Mammy Vooley, celebrating with black banners and young women chanting; Mammy Vooley, Queen of Uroconium, Moderator of the city; as silent as a log of wood.” [The Luck in the Head, 1982, from Viriconium, also in audio download.]
“Sometimes I feel as if I went a step too far, walked too far ahead of myself. I think in the end that’s how it feels to get older. You look around, you feel exposed, as if it would be better to give the rest of your life time to catch up. But it doesn’t. You’ve outstripped it, somehow. Not by reinventing yourself, which is the usual source of this feeling, or by outgrowing yourself, or shedding any kind of skin: but simply by outdistancing the greater part of yourself. It’s not too late, you imagine: that part of you could still catch up. But it never will. You’ll always be waiting, hanging back, having a rest, giving it a chance, but it will only lose ground further. Older people have a ruthlessness because of this, not so much a lack of compassion as a very clear idea of what they want.”