It was the week she discovered Bob Kaufman and read a poem of his (now forgotten) while the rain streaked across the window of her suburban flat. It was the week the cancer first looked ineluctably fatal.
The news streamed in dolefully: news of supporters and opponents, the disaffected and the quietly optimistic, as if they were some covert vigilante force, untrustworthy renegades all, double agents plenty.
The news was totemic, untouchable. The language was all wrong. The words she was hearing, the words that remained despite visits to the hospital – they were words beyond the window, beyond the rain.
“The wee fat man: the Mittel-European; the guy with the cheeky smile; the captain of the ship; the Boss. He’s the one you want. But you’re starting from the wrong place. You are at the door of his castle, but you can’t enter. You must speak with his agents. His agents are not here. I can’t tell you where they are, but they will tell you if you are likely to be granted some level of permission. It would be best not to try; it’s best to wait. They’ll come for you. If they don’t, then that is an answer.”
There will be no clichés. No morning light, no birds singing, no greening of the year. This is no bildungsroman. We learn nothing. We will repeat the same mistakes because we have the same hopes and the same fears and we continue to lack the facility to contend. We are compromised by ourselves and others but prefer not to think about it. We will not accept ourselves and our complicity. We accept feeling thwarted, but deny the true challenge. The roles of hunter and hunted are vainglorious, but we never let them go. We enjoy stasis. It is our alibi.
– What are the white flowers in the grass?
– Cow parsley, said John.
– No, no, Alex starkly corrected him: it’s Queen Anne’s Lace. She held his stare. He turned around and started down the lonning.
– Maybe May flower, something, he said.
– What was that?
– Nothing. Nothing.
Jack ran up to his heels:
– Does the cow eat the parstley?
– I don’t think so.
– Why did mummy say it was Queen’s Laces.
– She… well, it’s called that too. It has different names.
– It depends.
Alex had caught up and took Jack’s hand:
– You’ll tell him it’s about class.
– Don’t dislike me.
I can’t explain it in any other terms, she said, waving her hands in front of her and gesturing at the trees. I can’t read the papers any more. I can’t watch TV. I know what’s coming. It’s like this every time. Whoever wins out, it will be the same. We’ve still a month to go. And then here, this morning, it hit me. The nettles are coming up, those little purple flowers dotted around. And there’s this stench. It’s meant to be spring but something already smells of decay. Breathe in: can’t you smell it? You know what’s coming.
In a pub, the winner of a popularity contest, as captured in a reporter’s photograph, balances an empty pint glass on his head and grins a rubbery wet slop of a grin. In the background, unwitting members of the public, alongside some of the man’s friends, are also grinning. Their mirth has been caused by an off-camera remark, now forgotten. The winner has taken a vow of silence. His agents say it is nothing tactical: let his plastic expression speak simply for itself. He has never said anything and never will. And silence will amplify silence, if he’s truly won.
A statement will be issued in due course.
First things first, what you need to understand…
It is not our place.
All in good time.
We should not jump to any conclusions.
Of course these issues are a priority.
Our work does not stop.
We cannot pre-judge the matter.
There is no point making promises.
There is a process that must be followed.
He is attending to the matter in hand.
He is treating the matter very seriously.
He is on official business.
He is away from his desk.
David Cameron is out to lunch.
Please go away.