I don’t want to talk to anyone else other than you right now. I lost my rag at five-a-side. We were 6-1 down and my team was giving up. At some particularly woeful piece of defending, I swore and told them in no uncertain terms what they should be doing. But I was shouting at myself as much as the rest of them, and of course the fury wasn’t just about what was happening there in the moment in the sports hall. I was a possessed fury though, and we pulled it back to 9-7, so it almost worked. Late on I went into a head to head run for a ball with the goldsmith, both of us determined to get there first. We collided as I shot and both went sprawling. I scored into the top right corner but bruised my hand badly. I picked myself up and turned around, not saying anything to anyone. Afterwards the goldsmith and I gave each other a hug as well as shaking hands, and I wondered if somehow he could intuit that there was more to the way I played that night than simply hating to lose. Well, he can’t possibly know that I am as troubled as I am, but we’re friends and he plays with considered intent, like me. We’re a doubles pair at tennis now too. One night he’ll be off his game and berate himself silly, thwacking balls at imaginary umpires; another night it’ll be me berating myself. He lives closer to the surface than me, though somehow playing sport brings that self-criticism out of me in much stronger ways than anything else in my life, writing and moments of impatient parenting excepted. Though maybe tennis is another matter. I’m not really good enough to get competitively upset. I enjoy it even when I lose. There’s a pleasure in the rallying akin to our talking – that lovely tennis and those seldom-skied returns of ours – the variety of shot, the curve and spin or flatness of the ball as it whistles low over the net… And yes, sometimes the wicked grin behind the ruthlessly put-away winner. I feel so light in my feet, from the tennis. As if I might spring and fly away, with moon jump ease. Yes, talaria-shod. Of course it doesn’t really feel like that while I’m playing. The days after though. But my legs still cramp up badly from time to time, and I worry about the future. I miss the creative aloneness of distance running, but there isn’t time for it right now, on top of all the other gadding about. I am glad you are running and hope you keep it up. With your imagining of it, you inspired me to keep running, and so in turn (I like to think that) I inspired you. Just as you inspired my missing letters then borrowed them back; what’s mine was always yours. And what I took you gave freely, because our branches were interwoven, and our skies bled together all the colours of the most bruised or brilliant sunsets.
At a time when usually I would have been talking to you, I sat curled up with J on the sofa in front of the fire, the both of us tired after a cycle on the common. She was worried about me, because I hadn’t been able to disguise my unhappiness that day, though I did my best to reassure her, and curling up together was one way of doing so. We listened to the hypnotic ticking of her new ceramic clock, which earlier she had very effectively hand-painted with red and blue dots. Close and warm together, we drifted off into a dozy sleep. When I came to, I resisted the urge to look at my phone. I listened to my daughter’s breathing and marvelled as I always do at the perfection of her face; the delicate vigour of her cheeks like some impossible combination of peach and porcelain. The next day I took her to a new, bigger club, to see whether she liked it, whether she would be taken on. One or two of the girls were like whips through the air as they tumbled. She’s a way off their ability but keen and was welcomed. It’ll mean a lot of waiting around, because of the distance, and it’s in a shit part of town but I’m sure I’ll find a café where I can hole up and write of my days for a couple of hours.
In another part of town, at work, there is emotion in the air. My Christian colleague has had her faith challenged by a succession of trials. Her father has leukaemia and prostate cancer, her mother an enlarged heart, and now her sister faces a double mastectomy at the age of 39. On top of that she broke down in tears in front of everyone after a bust-up with another colleague who has also been subject to trials and stresses beyond work. I try and bring my humanism to bear, to console her. Even though at work I hold mine in check, she knows I can cope with emotion and comes to me with it when she needs to vent. It’s a kind of pastoral care that people have often asked of me. Perhaps if I had been born a century or two before I was, I might have been a vicar or a priest. My sermons whether long-winded or arch may have gone over the heads of my flock, but I’d wager that the odd troubled woman would come to me to confess her sins and then find despite herself that she was falling in love with me, and I would have had to test myself against Devil-sent temptation.
I have been sweeping up each successive downfall of leaves as well. Berries too. The rowan trees dropped so much fruit this year. A thick, bright red carpeted the steps by the side of the house for a month or more, till I got fed up of squelching through them, and swept and shovelled them up. As I did, I wanted you to come and smell the sweet decaying smell of rotting, fermenting, trampled rowanberries, so surprisingly like apples; as I worked they tumbled down the steps like coins in a tuppenny arcade waterfall.
Last night a huge golden moon swung from one side of the road to another as I drove home. Low in the sky, I lost it behind the trees and bushes lining the road, and then it peekabooed from behind them, a colour so rich and rare that I ached with longing for you to see it. (Perhaps you did, as you ran.) I wanted to take that disc and hang it like a pendant around your neck. Because we had the moon, we had the moon. It was there at the start and it lit our way throughout and whenever I see it I always think of you.
I want to say, read my words (this tiny insubstantial layer of the onion you once imagined yourself to be), because this is what I am. I want to tell you, because no one else will do.
(cf. also ‘Silence isn’t always as flat as it seems’, 30/09/2012)