66: Darkness – Hurting

Is there not then, inevitably, always, almost always, a shortfall, a gap, a distance we cannot cross, between what we hope for, desire, wish, an­ticipate, yearn for and for which we may stretch forth pleading hands, and what our capacities as agents, in these bodies with these powers, at this time, hemmed in by this history, can actually achieve? Are we not doomed to disappointment? Even if we start off heading in the right direction, we nevertheless never see our journey through to the end we had hoped for.

Oh, such effort, such tiring effort that always fails.

Is this a petty, mean, peevish complaint?

What I had imagined for this world, for me, for everyone, remains forever in imagination. At best it may inspire and motivate actions that only ever go so far, then fail. Everything is a botched job, a crudity, a parody of the ideal that hope and imagination conjured in the bright sun beyond the mouth of the cave in which we are doomed to lie tethered to great iron rings, tightly bound by iron chains all our days … for in here, here in the des­perate darkness is the reality of things, the truth of how matters stand. There is no sun outside, just as there is no outside. The cave goes on forever, an endlessly recycling Möbius strip of disappoint­ment.

I do not understand why so few have noticed. They do not even laugh at the folly of their predicament, because they do not see any predicament. Instead, they think that money and power, status and possessions are actually important. They bask in the sunlight of their folly, when really, all is dark and useless, and soon enough hurtful.

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59: Panic – Recurring

Panic, panic, panic, like the torrential rains we have had these past few days, beats down on every thought, drenching every thought, negating every thought, and my heart pounds and pounds and pounds its terror, and I hear it speak in a quiet voice, Oh, dear God, must there yet be more of this?

And I have no words of comfort other than the truth, ‘There will be no more conversations, now that she has gone, now that my dear wife has gone. For she was the one who spoke to us, she was the one who always knew what to do.’

But can she not come now, from the afterlife, if only infrequently, if only once?

‘I thought she would, because she could not doubt the fact of life after death. There is just too much evidence, and she read the books of re­searchers who jolly well knew their craft, and in the face of such evidence, there could be only one rational position. So if anyone were to come back with words of comfort, it would be her, yet she does not come, and that is half of your panic. The other half is stirred by the realisation that there will be no more conversation, for the rest of our time in this dismal, cruel reality, there will be no more conversation.’

Can we not find other people to talk to?

‘Maybe. But how do we find them? How could we ever develop that intimacy that we shared for all those years? No one knows we are here, you and I, slowly losing our reason for lack of conversation that like the centreboard of a boat would hold us to a sensible course.’

Could we not continue on our old course?

‘No. Have you forgotten? She died, and for all those years, because of her lifelong illness and disability, we looked after her, and her thoughts were as free and vigorous and engaging and enlightening as they could be, for her sickness lodged only in her body. So that is why we were always so busy, you and I, preparing meals, wash­ing and cleaning and taking her out to the hospi­tal, and once in a while, so infrequently towards the end, we would have a day out at St Albans, and before that we used to visit that second-hand bookshop that had taken over the premises of a closed-down solicitors, with all those little offices, ideal for categorising all the books into major sub­ject areas – in this office, history, in this office next door, literature, and further down the long, long corridor, other little rooms for gardening, adven­ture and travel, crime, and children’s books, right at the very end. But do you remember, the owner had to close the shop when the council put up the business rates to a level he could not sustain? That was when we bought one of his tables, which we brought home in the back of our car, which to this day has been in the back room, its two shelves, and the top of course, stacked with books, so maybe the table does not know anything untoward has happened, and in its own feeble way, for it is made of wood, it thinks it is still in the bookshop, and that when I go to take books from it, and bring them back, it thinks I am a customer.’

Is there nothing, then, that will end this pounding and this panic and this despair?

‘I do not think so. We must hope that it will not last for long. We are not young any more, you realise? Not like we used to be. For that is how we felt, we felt so very young, right up until the day she died, even though others, especially those who are as yet young, would think us already old. This is how our days are now, and they are not so bad, not so bad when tabulated against all the other days that sometimes others must suffer, for the suffering here is so very great.’

I do know that, I do. And I am so very sad for it.

‘As am I, as am I, my dear heart – for that is how she would refer to me, sometimes, and that is how I may now address you, just for a little long­er, to keep the phrase alive in this little house (for it is not “our little house” any more).’

48: Still – Waiting

As a person passive who waits to see what floats towards me on life’s variable stream, what comes? What attracts my attention? What seems worth picking up and holding to? What follow? What look into? What learn? What throw passion into? For these past few years, life’s stream has seemed such a poultry affair, filled with little things of no value, mostly dross, disturbances, annoyances, difficulties, frustrations, not even a false promise, let alone a promise. For this is the lot meted out to humanity as a whole, the experi­ence of everyone, everywhere, for the whole of time. There is no personal fiefdom of misery, but a collective prison camp where all must gather, from which only the insane and deluded ever think they have escaped.

And as a person active, what do I stride out towards? What prospectus do I examine to weigh my choice? Do I suppose the existence of some­thing, and in blind faith set off to find it, master it, possess it? There is no vantage point that I can reach from whose raised summit I may see that clearly. What to choose? What to choose? And why? It all seems such a nonsense, now … ambition, career, empire-building (oh, such a grandiose notion), making something of myself – for what end? Life’s miseries are not dealt any blows by such egotistical cravings, whether one’s desires succeed or not. Striving, driving forward, taking up, asserting one’s will seem the preserve, perhaps not entirely (I will grant you that) of the selfish, the greedy, the self-opinionated, the cruel and the stupid. No value, then, in ambition for the quietist, for the lover of sunny days in gardens. Either the sun shines, or it does not. Either fate takes you to that garden, or it does not. The man mistreated in a prison cell may conjure in imagination the most exquisitely cultivated curtilage, and place himself there, and the glow that comes through his narrow window from beyond closed lids may be shafts of sunlight scattered by the most beautiful of boughs, laden with sweet fruits.

Where does all this get me? There is nothing to pick up, nothing I can see that fires the chase. All is waiting quietly in such sorrow…

45: Orchard – Drowning

A storm has come today, that throws itself up­on my dark and dismal shore, whilst I cower, huddled in my ramshackle hut at the back of the beach, whilst a wild wind rips through the heaving palms behind, whilst the sea rages and seethes and crashes upon the fluid shingle so that you cannot tell where sea ends and land begins. The whole sea is monstrous breakers breaking, breaking, furious­ly breaking, whilst the wild wind whips foam and spray right up into the atmosphere, so that you cannot tell where sea ends and sky begins.

I am cold and miserable, but I can still remem­ber the sun that I have not seen for such a long time, and I would like it to come back, to light this sorry place once more, as it did before, when there was not sea, but a garden, and I ran, and rode, up and down, up and down the path, from house up here to orchard down there. But that has all been washed away by this furious sea. The orchard lies somewhere under the waves, and I do not know why this has happened, and I do not know how to undo it. I would like to undo it, if only I could.

41: Facts – Forgetting

These past few days, I have been assailed, every few minutes, every hour, by an unending stream of panic-stricken thoughts, limited in num­ber to be sure, but they keep returning again and again, repeating themselves, first this one and then that one, and then the last few that came just a few hours ago come again. Oh dear! It is such a long time since we visited my grandparents! They will be wondering why we have not been to see them … not even at Christmas! Oh dear! We haven’t had a day trip to St Albans, to visit the cathedral and roam around the Roman museum, for such a long time … we really must get that booked! And we said that we would show my father around the Open Air Museum. And when my mother comes next, she will be so cross, and say such unkind things, when she sees the mess and disorder in the back room. And my dear, dear J … how long must it have been since I last washed your hair and bathed you? Oh my goodness … so much … so much left undone.

But there is no J. She died over a year ago. And there is no mother to come again, for she died, too, nearly three years ago. And we cannot now pay a new visit to my grandparents, for they both died, a year or two apart, nearly a decade ago.

Again and again, I remind myself of the facts, and each time my losses return, like torturers queuing up to have another go, and they strike me again as if for the first time.

My dear J would know what to do, as she al­ways did for all those years of married life, but I keep forgetting that she has gone, and I keep calling out to her in the other room, for the anxious thought will keep coming that it is hours since I last made her a cup of tea.

28: In My Little Hut – Sitting

I find myself standing again on shifting shingle, on that dark deserted shore, staring again over the crashing breakers towards the distant, gloom-lost horizon where hope holds court for others, but not for me. All is noise and foam and stinging spray and the smell of the sea, and all is wind and low, turbulent cloud that smothers and obscures and murders the stars.

The only colour is grey. Even the white foam is grey, as if something has happened to it to make it dirty, the result of some hateful contamination that took place a very long time ago, yet does not disperse or lift or reduce or slacken its ruination.

O sea of desolation. O shore of shattered dev­as­tation, is there never to be any relief?

So I go back to the top of the beach, to a little ramshackle hut I have constructed over the weeks from debris that has washed up out of the grey­ness, and in this rudimentary shelter of silvery flotsam I sit quietly, trying not to move.