March 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
Returning from a trip to Bristol whose motivation still puzzles him (a change of place, a distant desire), to find that the snow had reached Coventry too, he pushed open the door, shoving piles of post with it, snow slumping over the threshold. The terrace was dark, cold: the third day of the new year. With his housemates still out of the country he could run the heating as he liked for a few days. Then, or the next night, he walked to the city library – what used to be one of the big city centre clubs, one of the Specials’ most frequent haunts – through the snow, to find a book on estates, itself composed of memories of the midlands, of enormous ghosts of brick, of lives spent “going to bed early”. The streetlights pooled themselves on canals of white.
After the outburst, he spent the day in bed. That she’d gone as far as to send him a reproachful facebook message suggested there was something really wrong with him, beyond the sweating, the head-cold, the aching joints, the self-disgust. When he finished Handke’s The Left Handed Woman he swaddled himself up & walked to the Oxfam bookshop in the city centre to buy more poetry. It was a pleasure he’d learned to try & avoid – simply being alone, adrift in a time made thick by text, the clammy, over-sweet warmth of his room & a house abandoned to only his purposes, a suburban close where outside only the cats moved. Years later, reading accounts of the invalidism of Virginia Woolf’s adolescence, how her nervousness gave her time away from an overbearing father, pestering relatives, demanding social protocol, to read & write in notebooks, he remembered taking the day off from school for a cold, being in the house with only a half-absent mother, while he watched old videos of the misanthropic Daffy Duck & read, so strange & sweet it was only half-recognisable as a selfish impulse. He reads her essay on ‘Reading’, unimpressed, except for a handful of phrases: the “slips and somnolences” of the reader, the descent into text as if into the dark, dense late-afternoon air heavy with time. At his back the living room waited, a cube of light turning blue. Blinking, everything falls back into mere ink on the slightly lifting page, heavy in his already moving hands.
His feet were always cold. He saw his breath making breakfast in the mornings. He remembers the endless rain as he cycled to campus, duffel always uncomfortable, hood blowing back. Always under & overdressed, too many layers or too tight in the wrong places; as he was useless at buying clothes, always finding after a couple of weeks that they looked terrible, he just spent the money on books. Campus itself was enclosed by endless waiting & anxiety – whether he would see anyone, whether they would deign to see him – with nowhere to go except to the library to stay until they closed so he wouldn’t have to see his housemates or go out to the nowhere there was to go. “Self-absorption”: but what, after all, else was there to be absorbed in, save scrupulous observation of the temperature & weather? To slip into the guise of another name, another face, another town.