It is eleven o’clock in the morning. I have not done any work yet today. I haven’t done any work for days, months… years if you count books, my only real work, the only work I value; what with Alex’s unhappinesses, and now this. Others find their work disrupted when babies first come along. But that was easy. Easy to find the discipline, even with three in terry nappies, one at nursery school, no car, no help, no money.
I remember when Shaun was on a conference and I wasn’t well, and I had to pile all three of them onto a tricycle to get Serena to nursery school, and then dash back to get them occupied long enough to meet a deadline: one of my first writing commissions, for a magazine. The day before I’d been issued with notice to quit the house by the end of the week. With Shaun away. His first post, as Assistant Curate in North London, was due to end and he was looking for another, and his boss, our vicar, thought it was “businesslike” to evict us.
It was possible to cope with all, then. It didn’t sap the spirit in the way that this does.
Upstairs there is a terrible, dark and brooding presence. It is like a thunderstorm waking to break.
I have been out to Starbucks to buy hot chocolate and an almond croissant. There was a time when I would have thought, I can’t afford Starbucks; but I have run out of other ideas. Besides, so much money has been poured down the drain, it now transpires, over the last year and more, that it seems futile to baulk over a few more pounds. All the savings Granny gave her in her post office account, hundreds of pounds being preserved for some special treat or project, all bled away. All Serena’s too, lent secretly to her sick sister, our Iphigenia, to appease this awful god that is poisoning all our lives.
I understand now, about the changelings left by the hidden people. She is gone. The ray of laughter and music we once knew is long gone. It went into hospital and what came back eventually, when they were done, the husk that was spat out, was this, this other, this possessed thing, this thing bewitched by the powerful doctors with their hidden arts and powers. We thought she was escaping from hospital, I thought I had outwitted the doctor by stealing her back again. What I now realise is that it was already too late.
They took her by various strategies. A friend, a close and dear friend, saying we must let her go, because she will do it again and one day she will do it for real. She wouldn’t, I knew that. But they frighten me and bully me, and I don’t stand up to them. Why, when my own child was at stake, why didn’t I? Because they came in the guise of friends. And because they threatened suicide. I know how suicide is, how much worse than accident or murder, because it nearly happened to Alex. But do you really think, I say angrily now, do you really think suicide would have been worse than this? Death would be sweet, compared with this. Death would be easy: no more awful hoping that she might come back.
A few days after she came home, after what I thought was she had come home, I went into the room, the guest room, not her room, where she was not exactly sleeping but brooding, and found a snow storm. Every page, every Indian-paper-thin page, individually torn out of her bible, the bible she was given as a baby at her baptism, and the room was white. The bible that had tormented and taunted her with her illness and God’s deafness and his unheeded promises.
She must get up, the doctor had said, the witch doctor who had to let her go. She must get up, and out, and do something, do a job or something. I was outraged, that she could contemplate labour for this child, such a bright child, who had been snatched out of her education so prematurely by these wicked doctors. I would not have it. I will not send her to work. She will finish her studies, she will. Make sure she gets up every day, the doctor said, to work or attend school or anything. I smiled, happy to agree to anything, so that she should be free.
But how? How do you get something, so solid and heavy, up and out of bed? How do you insist? Do you scream, do you steal the bedclothes, do you drive her to tear every page out of her bible?
You go to Starbucks and buy her favourite treat and pray, or leave your friends to pray for you because you have no emotional or spiritual resources any more, because all you have left is the tiniest trickle in the bottom of the vast wide empty riverbed, so dry it doesn’t even catch the sunlight any more. You hope that hot chocolate will do it, because you simply can’t think of anything any more. You plead. You go up every few minutes and plead. Your favourite treat, downstairs in the kitchen.
Two hours later, I wrap the almond croissant, her favourite, their most expensive, in a paper napkin for some use, sometime… something. I don’t know what, but something. It cost too much to waste. I pour the now cold chocolate down the sink.
I still have not done any work. Not for a long, long time, nor a long long time to come.