Figure XVIII

July 19, 2006

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She finds her in the hallway, holding her coat like an unfolded child.

“Anita?” the ampibrach quivering in the air between them, not caught, not taken, “are you going out?”

She stirs, as if noticing Nancy for the first time, “I’m not sure, I don’t know any more.”

Such connections falter for the moment. Either one of them might smile, or simply turn and the day would progress along its intended course, but here the hesitation is what is felt. Their mutual doubt, uncertain but in being so, somehow concrete. It is seen by both of them in this instant. Neither moves, neither speaks and it is as if this shared commotion of unbeing seems to stretch before them with all its lunatic possibilities, out of the hallway, out through the stained glass doorway and into the gunmetal sky beyond.

“I think I’ve felt like that for years.” Nancy says finally, “Undone. Not knowing. Maybe it’s what happens.”

“I got a letter,” says Anita, putting down her coat, “they won’t be exhibiting my paintings.”

No condolence is given, but neither of them seeks it. Theirs is a matter of fact; a statement of the hopelessness of failing.

“So no plans for the day then?” Nancy ventures.

“No. Not today, not tomorrow.”

“Horrible isn’t it?”

“I don’t know why I do it. I don’t even enjoy painting very much.”

“I think too often it’s easiest to stick with what you know.”

“Even if you hate it?”

“Even if you hate it, and it’s horribly impractical, and the thing’s falling down around your ears. Even once the moment has gone, when the purpose of the thing has long since passed and you’re acting out this masque of an existence as if everything were still the same.”

And suddenly she laughs, as if hearing her own voice and the absurdity of what she is saying.

“Sometimes that’s easier?”

“Maybe so. Maybe… or it’s the thought that things might right themselves that keeps you going on. The thought that things might one day all fall back into place and everything be good again.”

“So, no plans.” Anita says.

“No plans.”

Nancy turns and walks back up the hallway to the kitchen. She pushes open the door and enters into the cool, damp greyness beyond. The smell of rain and washing detergent broods about the place. Anita follows.

“But there is one thing I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time.” Nancy says walking over to a plant pot on the window ledge. She removes a squat, dark key and unlocks the back door, “Come on,” she says, “you don’t have any other plans.”

Out, into the undergrowth behind the house. Less a garden, more a battle of branches and dripping thorny shoots. Nancy presses on ahead. Suddenly purposeful, she pushes her way through briars that loom in the sable mass of bushes. Occasionally Anita catches sight of something she recognises, a garden plant grown large and strangely wild, unchecked too long, now rampantly feral and scratching at the sky with twigs. She has no idea where they are headed, or what there could be within this growth that Nancy seems so keen to find, but she follows her, beating down the bracken, beating back the years of this woman’s neglect.

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Figure XV

July 10, 2006

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In the history of evolution, the nematode worm never adapted itself to the crossing of roads or the opening of car doors. Though a million such species formed themselves on the earth, each suited in their separate ways to aquatic or subterranean life, the creature’s conveyance across an inner city street never came to light as a necessary specification until this moment in time. Neither had Ernest in his 76 years of life adapted himself for hurried progression whilst entombed in such thick rubber casing.

How curiously things turned out. He had been up for the role of Serebryakov in a touring production of Uncle Vanya the week before, but his agent had worried that he might have found the work tiring at his age. Might he not prefer this job instead? Just a small company, no lines to remember, just a bit of improvisation, only a few days work but the money wasn’t bad. He had auditioned for the role of pond–skater, but had been too tall for the costume.

His whole life was diligently spent on the margins. A lead star in radio light entertainment on the Home Service, there had once been some talk of him getting his own show, but he took to the theatre instead. He once shared a taxi with Lawrence Olivier. And now this. Spending every moment regretting one’s past, watching others succeed and going in fear of death –

Figure XII

July 5, 2006

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Through the steam that follows breakfast – the dire task of washing up, arranging plates on the drainer to drip alongside the slowing rain on the leaves outside the window – Nancy makes her peace with the world. The house guests have dispersed: Laura and Steve (such a quiet boy) back to their room; Ernest stumbling blind as the worm he represents to the doorstep to wait for his lift to the museum; Rupert to his van, off out into the world of wigs and ladies consumables. The voice of the radio, sombre and slow, filters through the thick, moist air in the kitchen, condenses upon the glass and falls in tiny droplets of sound about Nancy’s head. What would he make of her, standing here, doing this? What would he say if he could see the house in its current state? The back attic ceiling will need looking at after this rain, she tells herself. The French windows onto the terrace will no doubt have leaked again, turning the newspaper she has placed beneath them (to stop them flinging open in the smallest of breezes) to a soft grey mulch of lost events. But has she ever been happier than she is now? A guilty admission to be enjoying life more with these strangers, these fee–paying guests. She dries her hands on the tea towel that hangs above the sink and sets off upstairs to change. There are things to be done, she tells herself, things more important than leaks and damp paper.

Figure X

July 3, 2006

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Letters, like a windfall of poisoned apples from a tree, cascade through the slot in the front door. The house, an anomaly amid the neat town houses of Thomas Cubitt, is tucked away from the street and from the world behind a high stucco wall topped with four sandstone spheres. The postman resents the walk down the driveway. The gardener now only rarely comes, telling Nancy that there isn’t much that can be done on the amount she pays him, and if she isn’t prepared to hire someone to do the serious work then it’s a downward spiral from here on– And so the building swathes itself in the green, darkening its days as if within a wood.

Anita tentatively rises from the table and makes her way through to the hall. There it is upon the doormat, the white oblong she has waited for all week.

Figure I

June 22, 2006

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This is the house in Pimlico…