05 September 2018

The roads away


By eight last night, it was dark, or dark enough, and I went out to walk around St Peter's after dinner, catching a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the real estate agent at the bottom of Victoria Road. I was wearing basketball shorts that my father had given me in 2012. They were too small for him and were always too big for me, and I had the impulse to go home and change in case someone might see me. I passed people on the way up the hill to the church, but no one I knew, and when I reached the cemetery stones in the churchyard, the path was starting to ferment, decaying leaves gathering and the subtlest sweetness of the autumn and the streetlights.

After putting everyone to bed, the Pihlajas of Harborne each in their place, I poured a glass of whisky and organised my emails, made lists of things to do, and felt again like a well-oiled cog in the machinery of my life. Getting up at five in Sweden was pointless — I ran and had breakfast at seven thirty, was at the empty university by nine, stood around at my Ikea desk overlooking the city, trying to write. But the schedule was made up, arbitrary. It didn't matter, did it, where I was, whether I had run or when, or if I did anything. Now, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ buzzes me awake at five and it's a race against time, to make my insufferable blackstrap molasses protein pancakes, meditate, and respond to emails before the first sounds of waking children and the bathroom becomes unusable. The activity is contagious.

Today, at seven-forty, Naomi and I set out to walk to secondary school for the first time, up Fellows Lane, the other way from St Peters. I timed and narrated our walk in a patronising, paternal way, knowing she would need to do it herself in the future. Watch for the cars here, and see this asshole isn't looking, you can't walk out in front of him, and make sure you get to the crosswalk there, but make sure they see you, because they aren't looking for people, just other cars. And then she walked away, on to whatever was unfurling before her, like the morning she walked up the road in Malaysia, to the International school in the palm trees. She was pulling her books in a rolling suitcase, two hands behind her.

Still, things need resolving in the house on Victoria Road, the cycles of euphoria and grief and anger and acceptance, the histories that write the present and future. The Pihlajas of Harborne are by no means a done deal, I say to anyone caught in my orbit at the wrong time and forced to abide me as I go on about plastering and visas and the madness of Brexit. The Wikipedia page on epigenetics is useful, but it doesn't resolve the issue of responsibility — we need to hold someone responsible, I assume, someone must be punished for all the wrongs we’ve accumulated, the books need to be balanced before we can start again. When I was a child, the rules were clear: it was either Jesus or you, who gets God's wrath is your choice. I laid in bed and worried about this endlessly, had I said the prayer right, I must have said it right, but there was no change that I could see. Was I saved if I didn't change. Now, my own children sleep soundly, I check to make sure, but of course I don't know. My parents watched me sleep too, I assume. The lights go on and off and it’s the morning again. I pull out the stool from under my desk and breath for a time, let my body breath me, as the man says. You can will nothing, can you. The girls will be up soon, best to set my intention first.
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