Again, as has happened so many times before, I was awakened, after only three and a half hours in bed, by my heart pounding and pounding and pounding, with the vague weight of an ache in my chest, and my stomach and guts and back muscles pulled tight by another onslaught of panic that I have known so many times before, especially in these later years, since my wife died.
The panic speaks of what it has always spoken of – of no more conversations with my dear wife – for once the hours were filled for hour after hour, day after day, year after year, with her conversations – most were her conversations, and I loved it that way because she had that treasured capacity to make any subject so very interesting, and to open such unexpected and thrilling topics. That was the best thing, by far, for me the very best, and now I am so sorry for being bereft of it, for now my days are silent, so empty of talk, and, oh, does that reduce the world and its woes to such a terrible tedium… There are no others to talk to now for, as I explained, we became so very isolated in the world of her sickness. There is no one to call, no one who visits, no one who writes. So I try to have conversations with my books, and I have started to fill them with notes and underline their sentences to a degree quite out of proportion to my former practice.
She was there, through those three and a half hours, in my dreams, telling me what to do, because she would, of course, know what to do. But what she said, I have forgotten. Perhaps knowledge of it was there on waking, like sand dropping through an hourglass, like scattering leaves on a windy, autumn’s day. All I can remember is that I said I should tell the dentist of my plight. But that makes no sense at all.
I should have had my appointment at the dentist’s yesterday, but they phoned to cancel. That’s all right. I am not in the least cross. They have no intention of causing any inconvenience, and no inconvenience is caused, nothing beyond the upset of my schedule, for I do, in a rickety and haphazard fashion, plan for my days, for I do not want my projects to languish or be forgotten. They have no value, like this little book, beyond serving as a distraction, a way to pass the time, and for me (but not for my reader) some of the writing that I consign to my little coloured notebooks serves to make external my thoughts and observations, such that I do not need to try to keep them alive in my mind, and now, if I forget them (and I shall) it won’t matter, because I can recover them by simply going back over my scribbled handwriting, hoping that not too much of it will be illegible. For illegible some of it must be, because I cannot hold back the speed of my scribbling, and my handwriting has always been rather bad. Focusing on this task does help, for now the weight of that aching has eased, and my stomach is not so cramped, though my back is in agony, and those who have experienced the same thing may know that your back muscles are needed (with all the others in your arms and fingers) for the production of the moving trace that tries to capture our thoughts. And when these muscles are tight and sore, and not working as they should, those thoughts are harder to catch and shape, and what we wanted to say maybe now is not said after all, and so on re-reading this hasty script, it will fall short of its intended task and tell only half a story, or even tell a fib.
 If only I had mastered shorthand, as had my grandfather. I had ticked the option for taking courses in shorthand and typing when I entered the sixth form at school, but I was not allowed to take them. Because I was not a girl, the Head of Sixth Form said. But I knew writing would be important to me, and I tried to explain, and I even pleaded, in a state of desperation, for at least half an hour. But no, I was not a girl, and only girls do shorthand and typing. How I have hated that man, Mr Lewis, ever since. I did make some little headway, having later acquired a few shorthand manuals, but without the regimen and discipline of a regular class, I could not make proper progress, and the project was abandoned. For some years, I had thought of writing to him, to explain how his decision had hobbled me, how every task of writing takes for me much longer than it would have done had I mastered those skills I had so wanted, of how, in effect, he has shortened my life. What a bastard. My dear wife, I was to learn later, was also denied access to shorthand and typing by Mr Lewis (we went to the same school), not because she was not a girl – she was – but because she was deemed capable of achieving three A-levels, and that she would always regret gaining only two A-levels if the third was to be sacrificed to provide the spaces on the timetable required for the shorthand and typing. She got the three A-levels, but would much rather preferred to have abandoned one in exchange for the shorthand and typing.