Sunday, 21 March 2010

100. Endinging

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But that’s only because nothing ever really ends. Every dying breath breathes life into something new and unexpected, and that’s the joy of living.

That means nothing ever really lasts forever. The state of things is constant flux: nothing is fixed in place, not the good times and not the bad times. The dark of the moon swells as the light shrinks to a sliver, but the moon endures and the light side will return. A flower is only beautiful because it dies and feelings are only precious because they pass. And that’s the point, and that’s why it’s worth doing the things that make the feelings happen.

And so I laid back and filled my lungs with warm summer's air, perfumed with the clean, sweet scent of newly-cut grass. It’s still the single most delicious thing I have ever smelled.

It was now late in the evening. Childhood's final summer was drawing to an end. I couldn’t remember a moment so perfectly bittersweet. I’d never felt so happy and I’d never felt so sad; a single point of sheer bliss so close to the end of so many things. Nothing would be the same after this and nothing would ever be so good. And when it was gone, it would be gone forever. I found myself looking forward to looking back on it, feeling my older self encouraging me to make the most of this moment of music and friends. And I promised him that I would.

There’s no such thing as a happy ending.

But sometimes, just sometimes, life grants you a few quiet minutes to yourself, to stand to one side and look around, to appreciate what’s gone before and not worry about what will come next. Sometimes what’s next isn’t just over the page or in the next chapter but in a whole new book, a book that’s yet to be written and one that you will get to write yourself.

They pass in an instant, like sparks above a fire, but they’re there. And these are the moments that make the rest of life worth living; a series of shining, precious points stitched across your days, like stars in a night sky.

There's no such thing as a happy ending. But just sometimes there are tiny, fleeting moments to look around and think, “Yes, let’s stop things here – ”

99. Overture

Ninety-nine different beginnings, crudely sewn together.

Hwaet! Who’s there? You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. As the manager of the performance sits before the curtain on the boards, and looks into the fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him. Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. This is the saddest story I have ever heard, of man's disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is the saddest night for I am leaving and I am not coming back.

I began this disorderly and almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations in order to gratify a good mother who knows how to think. How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. Why should I not publish my diary? To pity people in distress is a human quality every man and woman should posses. I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels.

It started as a mistake. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth in the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” You better not never tell nobody but God.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. As a proof of my readiness to accept autobiographical convention, let me at once record my two earliest memories:

1. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me.

2. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

Call me Ishmael. I am an invisible man. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – he was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn't matter what. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But all children, except one, grow up.

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black. It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen, when that April with his sweet showers has the dryness of March pierced to the root. April is the cruellest month. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. That is no country for old men.

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. It was a dark and stormy night. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. It was 7 minutes to midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. A squat, grey building of only thirty-four storeys.

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do.

"What's it going to be then, eh?"

“Nothing to be done.”

We are in a camp five miles behind the line. Yesterday, our relief arrived; now our bellies are full of bully beef and beans. A screaming comes across the sky. I can feel the heat closing in. After the siege and assault was ceased at Troy, the burgh destroyed and burnt to beams and ashes, the man who hatched treacherous plots of treason was there tried for his treachery, the truest on earth. It was a pleasure to burn.

Mother died today. They shot the white woman first. It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. It was the day my grandmother exploded. We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon.

I am a sick man. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense. If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.

For a long time, I went to bed early. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed into an enormous bug.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. The story had held us, around the fire. The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. It was love at first sight. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

Sing to me of the man. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

All this happened, more or less.

Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents.

98. Frogs, snails, etc

Gary was the kind of boy who pulled the legs off spiders and immolated ants with a magnifying glass.

He owned a penknife, wore an earring, and had Nightmare on Elm Street on VHS. Thanks to him, I got my first scar, saw my first pornographic magazine and learned my first swearword.

I remember that day well. It was a revelation. It was as if he had showed me another world hidden behind the drab one I’d known for the previous seven years of my life, a world more exciting, dangerous and adult. The Prelapsarian tabula rasa of my little brain – if ever a small boy’s head can ever be described like that – was no more. It would gain further stains before the end of that summer, becoming as grimey as my face usually was (and still is, for that matter). But for the time being I felt like I had been initiated into a secret brotherhood; one of the elite, some sort of profane Rosicrucian or a sweary Illuminati – not that I knew what any of those words meant.

I had danced home from school with devilish glee, dying for an opportunity to use my newfound knowledge.

Happily, my little brother stepped up, as he so often did. He showed our mother some picture he’d drawn at school. I took a deep breath.

“That’s crap, that.”

For a second I assumed the sky had fallen. Then I realised it my mother’s hand (the right one, backhand).

With perfect timing, Gary chose that moment to come in through the kitchen door. He never knocked and he ever used the front door.

“Hullo, Mrs Ball,” he said brightly.

“Hello, Gary,” mum replied, suspiciously. Gary was the one of my friends who wasn’t allowed to come round for tea.

He wiped his nose on the back of his hand (I remember his nose was always running, even in the middle of summer. How was that even possible?) and turned to me. “Robert, you gay, you will not believe what I found in the Woods,” he said, his eyes burning with delight.

He was right; I wouldn’t. And it would turn out that I was right not to believe, because what Gary had found was a world away from what he thought it was.

97. Undertow

Her eyes were cold , grey and beautiful as the iron sea by his home. Looking into them, he remembered standing on cold beaches, watching the surf for hours, scoffing at scuffed metal signs warning of rip tides and dangerous undercurrents.

Why fight it? He felt like a harpoon had come out of the spray and plunged deep into his heart, pulling him in, the sound of sirens in his ears. He could barely keep his head above water. He gave himself up to the undertow.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

96. Alpha to Omega

Alphabetising actual acts and adventures
Catharsis and composition to the chaos and cacophony of the
Disparate, desperate deeds of those dismal days.

Everything that
Follows flows from finding
Guile and guilt and greed for gold in God’s
Holy house.

I am irreligious but if invoking
Jesus in judging others,
Know kindred
Law will be levered by me, the laity, to be levelled at you; a litmus test for the legitimacy of your
Mendacious minister’s morals.

Not now -
Other openings, onerous
Parts of this piercingly painful parable, position themselves as priorities, priest.

Quite quickly, it is
Shown that I should
Rein in my rage, bring regulation to my record, ready myself to relate my recollections of your regime.

The truth I
Unearthed is currently untold, but it will, ultimately, be uncovered as this unfolds.
Veils, vituperation and violence – my
Writing won’t waiver, whatever you wish.

Your yoke is yanked away

95. Darkness visible

Let us not begin at the beginning; let us begin a little before then.

Let us begin a few seconds before the beginning of everything.

What follows may obfuscate more than it illuminates.

94. Nighthawks

No one noticed them sitting together at the counter. No one asked why they were still there, when it was so late. No one saw that their coffees were cold and undrunk. No one noticed their hands, so close and yet still not touching. No one heard them speak. And no one noticed when they were gone.

93. Daydream

On a warm May afternoon, a man fell asleep amid the twisted roots of an oak tree.

And there he dreamed a dream of a new world.

And when he awoke, he wrote down his dream and he placed it next to his breast to keep it safe. And he fell back to sleep, knowing that he had seen a new world and knowing that he had seen how it could come to pass.

This is not the story of the dream. It is the story of the dreamer and his lifetime of torment. For when he awoke the second time, he could not remember the dream. And when he looked at the record of the dream he could not read what he had written.

This is my story.

92. See Emily play

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Emily.

She was beautiful little girl. She had cheeks the colour of Damask roses, flawless skin as white as porcelain and lips as red as blood.

But she lived in an attic of a large house, where no one played with her. She spent her days in half-light and dust, away from the other children, not seen and not heard.

For although she looked like a real girl, it was an illusion. She was too fragile to play with. Her body was too brittle to embrace and her skin too cold to kiss. Only the hair on her head was real, hanging in perfect ringlets. But even that had been taken from the heads of other children.

If only the rest of her was real, then the children would play with her. She wanted to be like the other children ever so much.

Emily resolved that she would begin with her eyes. She had heard them called the windows of the soul. Emily had no soul, but she would take one of those, too.

Presently, her only companion was Thomas, a black kitten who had nearly been drowned by one of gardeners in a water butt. A stable boy had pulled the sack out just in time, but not before the cold water had taken eight of Thomas’s lives, which played around him all day long, pale reflections of his coal black self.

And so, at midnight, Emily crept down into the main house, Thomas alongside her, her knife glittering in the moonlight. She looked for Mistress Constance’s bed chamber.

91. Post hoc

I want to get something clear before we go on: just because one thing happens after another thing, that does not mean that there is any causal relationship between the two of them.

I mean, I come home from work. The sun sets. Not, I come home from work – the sun sets, you’ll note. Two things just happen. One thing does not affect the other. We clear? Good.

Because the fact that my wife left me at the age of 40, homeless, hopeless, helpless – after 15 years of submerging my own life to try and build something I never really wanted, that she then so casually destroyed, as if she’d just kicked down a sandcastle, turning 15 years of my life into a total waste of time – because that has nothing whatsoever to do with the events that I’m about to relate. Bear that in mind at all times.

Okay, so six weeks after my wife walked away, I was in Camden with Anya, getting my first tattoo. It was a star with 15 points. A Russian prisoner’s tattoo, Anya said. I never asked how she knew these things.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

90. Elementary

I've always been interested in the fact that Sherlock Holmes is held up as a paragon of logic and reasoning, when he's anything but - he just casts that illusion. And I also like the fact that Conan Doyle was repeatedy duped by con artists, promising visions of the afterlife or fairies at the bottom of the garden. So this is an attempt to square the two.

All tales have a beginning, a middle and an end. Just not necessarily in that order. That was the lesson taught to me by my dearest friend and colleague Mr Fortitude Saville.

I remember it clearly. Mrs Hudson had cleared away the dishes from a most robust luncheon and Saville and I had retired to the drawing room. Saville was applying himself with wordless Trojan industry to a box of Egyptian tobacco.

With silence hanging in the air as thickly as the blue smoke emanating from Saville’s pipe and for want of some kind of conversation, I touched on one of his favourite subjects: himself and his mysterious methods.

“My dear Saville,” I said, “I am still puzzled at our most recent case. It is truly remarkable that you could have determined who, in a city of more than three million souls, was sending those poison pen letters to young Lady Constance. Even after all these years, I am still unsure as to how you can produce such prodigious, nay, miraculous, instances of deduction.”

He took a long drag on his pipe and looked at me with that familiar heavy-lidded ennui. “Your uncertainty is no accident. Deduction itself s a simple process; even you would be able to grasp it, Herring.” He leaned forward. “What is important is that we make sure other people don’t grasp it.”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“Precisely!” Saville walked across to the fire mantle and leaned against it in a pose of artful nonchalance as he gathered, or chose to cast the impression of gathering, his thoughts. “What one omits is just as important what one says. And so is when one chooses to say something. You see, every story has a beginning, a middle and a conclusion, but not necessarily in that order. Indeed, the most effective sequence for the gentle reader, in terms of crude if pleasing sensationalism, is most certainly not that order. It is a question of presentation, Herring.”

Although I appreciated Saville’s patience and slow deliberateness of explanation as he sought to illuminate his methods for my singularly dim eyes, I struggled to comprehend. As a master of observation, he perceived this in a trice.

“I am using an analogy, Herring. You know what that is, don’t you? Any case that I deign to investigate is nothing but a small story. It begins with a problem, proceeds through observation and deduction, and concludes with the solution. And a deduction is a small story itself, beginning with a general rule, proceeding to a particular instance, and concluding with the truth. All that one requires is a rule that one knows to be true, and then to apply it to the instance before you. If alpha, then beta.

“It really is elementary. And rather dull – both for me and for the clients whom I charge so rather handsomely for my services. And that, Herring, is precisely we must obfuscate and call upon a little sleight of hand. Far better to give them the beginning and the end, and leave the dreary middle to their imagination. Would you pay to see a magician who unconjured his illusions as he performed them? Maybe once, but then you would try to perform the tricks yourself.”

I suddenly felt like I didn’t know my closest companion in the slightest it. “Magicians, Saville? That doesn’t sound very scientific.”

“Science! I couldn’t give a damn about science. Give me magic and mystery any day. You may not have observed, Herring, but science does not pay. So let us not lay bare our methods, like a common street whore, but rather, like the dancing girls of Paris, tempt, tease, tantalise. Detection is a performance.”

I felt indignant and not a little hurt, as though my chair were shifting unnaturally beneath me. Had Saville been lying to his – no, our – clients these last six years? Was I the victim of sustained falsehoods, too?

A cold look flashed across Saville’s face. “Let me show you. Oh, my dear Watson, do not excite yourself. Your emotions are no doubt still a little agitated after last night. Just because you had been so ill-prepared to become caught in a downpour, was that any reason to strike your servant girl simply for being clumsy?”

Lizzie. I felt like I myself had been struck. “How did you know that?”

Saville drew smoke down deep into his lungs, held it there and slowly exhaled, looking like an Oriental dragon, his lithe frame wrapped in his silk smoking jacket. Eventually, he said: “There are some cuts on your shoe. The only way to get those cuts is from a shoe being rather clumsily scraped. If your shoe was being clumsily scraped, that must mean that you have a clumsy servant and that she had cause to scrape your shoe. And if she had cause to scrape your shoe, you must have been muddy, and therefore wet. And I know your temperament towards the fairer sex all too well.”

He was right. How was he right? Were the signs so clear? I felt like I was being made a fool of. “And this is your ‘deduction’?” I asked.

Saville laughed. “No, that was abduction – the polar opposite. I saw an effect and looked to determine its cause. But I begin by telling you my shattering conclusion and then present the reasoning in reverse, as if it were deductive reasoning, rather than abductive. Generally, my methods are abduction.” A smile one might expect to find along the banks of the Nile flashed across his face. “You may interpret that as you will.”

“Of course,” he continued, strolling around the drawing room, “in any piece of deduction, of the general rule is true, then your conclusion will be logical, if not actually true.”

He looked at me. “All snowballs are cold. Herring is cold. Therefore Herring is a snowball. Do you see? Clearly false – you are many things, Herring, but not frozen water shaped into an orb. But with the impression of logic. And that is all that is necessary. One cannot argue with cold, impersonal logic, Herring. And people do not like to argue or think too hard. If it is ostensibly logical, that will suffice. We live in an age in which soft-headed cretins pay kings’ ransoms for mediums, mesmerists and Theosophists to show them ghosts in the parlour, ectoplasm in the drawing room and fairies at the bottom of the garden. They want to believe. And it is so very easy to lie when the other party wants to believe.”

I felt dazed. “But how is that you’re always right?” I asked. “There are hundreds of reasons why I could have cuts on my shoe.”

“Are you aware of Occam’s razor?”

I believe I unconsciously brushed my cheek.

“No, Watson, it is not a product for your barber. It is the principle that the simplest explanation – the least elaborate – is most likely to be true. It is also patent poppycock. Consider the case to which you referred, the Case of Poisoned Pen.”

I remembered what I had seen; what I thought I had seen. “You identified the writer from the quality of note paper, the typeface of the newspapers he had cut out and affixed to it, and from his handwriting on those words he had been unable to find in each day’s Times,” I said.

“Yes. Rather elaborate, don’t you think?”

I concede that it was.

“No, the simplest reason, is that I knew who was sending the letters is because I ordered that idiot Jew to send them on my behalf, so that cretin girl would come to seek my help. And I knew about your conduct towards dear, sweet Lizzie because I have been bedding the girl these last six weeks.”

89. Fading glamour

It was a face that had seen better days.

It seemed to go well with his slightly threadbare sequinned jacket.

It wasn’t just the deepening lines. Try as he might, he couldn’t smile with his eyes any more.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

88. Exposition Position

Daniel frowned.

"So, what does exposition mean?"

"Well," said Rory, "exposition is when a character in a novel or play or film gives the reader or audience some background information or explanation about the present situation. It's a way to quickly bring them up to speed on what's happened previously but is usually a bit clumsy.

"Now that you're clear on that, let's get a move on. Thanks to your exploits on my stag do last night, we're 100 miles away from the church where I'm supposed to be marrying Laura this afternoon, with no money, no clothes and no time."

"But what about the Sarah? Do you think she'll make good on her threat to wreck the wedding?"

"Let's not begin to get into all that again," said Rory.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

87. On shifting sands

John and Julie are walking arm-in-arm along a cold English beach in spring.

They come across a curious thing. In the sand, in letters six feet long, is written, “I love Julie.”

Happiness swells up through Julie’s face and bursts into a smile, like someone blowing bubble gum.

“Did you write that?” she asks.

“Yes,” John lies.

“You are so sweet,” she says and grips his arm tighter.

Julie and John walk on. They happen upon a trail of pristine white shells, laid out in a perfect line across the sand. They follow it together and soon it begins to curve and wind its way across the beach in ever more complex knots and tighter spiral. They feel like they are becoming together enmeshed in a labyrinth. Then they see that the trail of shells has spelled out, “I ♥ Julie.” John and Julie are standing together at the centre of the maze in the middle of the heart. Julie’s smile is like an excited round of applause.

“Was this you, too?” she asks.

“Um, yes,” he lies. “Yes it was.”

“You are so amazing,” she says.

John and Julie walk to the end of the beach. Near the water’s edge, someone has scratched something in the wet sand. It reads, “Julie fucks like a train.”

John definitely didn’t write that.

“I think we should talk,” he says.

“Yes,” she agrees.

At the end of beach, near the storm barriers, unread, lies written in the sand, “John 4 Julie 4 ever.” John did write that. The sea starts to wash it away.

86. What lies beneath

It was one of the most unusual autopsies in which Robert Knox had been employed.

The official verdict cause of death was given as misadventure. The real cause would take several months more to come to light.

In the meantime, he was presented with two ineluctable questions.

One: why the man in question had ingested a Lego Darth Vader just before death.

Two: how and why he had managed to slice open his own scalp and carve on to his own skull the phrase, “If you read this, you are gay.”

85. Les Fleurs du Mal

Nothing quite says romance like stolen flowers. Certainly not like stolen flowers from a churchyard.

“It’s what they would have wanted,” he insisted.

84. Dichotomy

Bernice was a very pretty girl with a very ugly voice.

83. Beginninging of the Endinging

This is the beginning of a story about me trying to reach the end of a book.

I know that sounds trivial, but hear me out. I haven’t not finished a book, if I may mangle a double negative, in my entire life. But now I fear this book is going to finish me.

Seriously. I have been reading it for two years now, and I don’t think I’ve slept for the last 100 days.

At first, I would near the final few chapters and then something petty would get in the way. I’d end up working late, or old school friends would invite me for a drink out of the blue, or I would somehow lose it for a few weeks. And then things started to escalate.

It was a bit like Achilles and the tortoise. I went from reading a few chapters, to a few pages to a few paragraphs, to a few words, to even less than that. It’s not even a very good story, but not finishing it started to drive me mad. Insomnia suddenly hit me, so I’d end up staring at the pages, unable to take anything in.

I can’t remember everything that happened. I spilled paint on the book, although somehow it only covered the final few pages. I tried to buy a replacement but no book shop, library or dealer anywhere in Christendom appears to have a copy of the damn thing. It took me months to work that out and weeks more to patiently slice the pages open and carefully scrape the paint off, finding the words miraculously untouched beneath.

Six months ago, I got an eye infection and was basically blinded for 12 weeks. I asked Jessica to read to me to finish the damn thing, but she lost her voice. And then my father died, throwing my life upside down. I’m not saying the book killed him, but I’m pretty sure it’s killing me.

I wonder whether books have life only as long as the story within them is alive in the reader’s head. Is it a bibliographic Scheherazade desperate to stave off the inevitable?

I need closure on the book before it has closure on me. I found it in a second hand book shop – did someone hide it in there before me to rid themselves of it?

But before I tell you about the end of the book, I should tell you about its beginning.