14 March 2016


With so much sin to account for, you struggle sometimes to know how you will fare when the judgment comes down. I have been, I said last week, insatiably angry, something I recognised when I shouted at a man with a poodle, after the poodle jumped at me. At that moment, for some reason, the dam had broken and all the fear I have been holding back broke over, or broke through. I knew, however, that the moment with the poodle was not isolated and that, because I run the same roads at the same times, I would see the man and the poodle again. I knew this the way that you know you are going to die; that is, I did not really think about it, but rather the thought of it was just below my consciousness ready to come up at the right moment.

And then it happened, only two days later. I was on the other side of California Rd and I was coming up the hill. The man and the poodle were coming down and yes, he recognised me as he moved the poodle to his right side, away from me and held the lead more tightly, with no slack. I slowed to a walk and approached him and said, I’m sorry, I shouted at you last week when your poodle jumped on me: I was surprised and scared, but I shouldn’t have shouted at you.

The man, at whom I now got a better look, was in his sixties, a pensioner and white and red the way old British people are in the cold. I saw a woman this colour one morning while running and almost shouted out, she startled me so much. The man was afraid initially, but once I said I was sorry, he softened and was nervous and said, ‘No, no, he shouldn’t have jumped up.’ I realised both of my hands were out, one toward the dog and the other towards the man, like I was going to touch them and be absolved. The American shouting and then apologising, as you would expect: we are so stereotypically open with our emotions. I apologised again and then was running back up the hill like it had never happened, towards the house, towards Yoko and the kids.

My life is filled with train tickets to different parts of the country. London and then Nottingham and then Oxford and then back to London, for meetings about different things and symposiums and talks to give. I stand on the platform in a suit, a suit I bought this weekend with a set of other suits for seven pounds each, or rather six pound and ninety-nine pence each. I look at my reflection as the train comes -- how do you describe that feeling of awkwardly wearing a new suit when you rarely wear suits. You were a teenager and you remember being that teenager who wore t-shirts from thrift shops. I’m telling everyone I see about the three suits that I got all from one man who must be dead now. Brown, blue, grey. His things were still in the pockets: handkerchiefs and medications and business cards. Two shelled peanuts. They are a conservative cut and classic, like I can wear them for years and years, until I die too, and someone finds my oddities in the pockets.

I wore the brown one yesterday to St Anne’s in Digbeth, where there was a St Patrick’s Day mass. I was overdressed and thought about asking Yoko to put on that dress we got for my sister’s wedding in 2012, when I was about to turn thirty and losing my mind with my PhD. Yoko asked me if I wanted to go a few days before, asking the question in a way I hate by adding the conditional clause, ‘If you don’t have any work to do, would you…?’ Still, I wanted to see the building, and I feel like if we attend different churches on different Sundays, we’ll be harder to track. So I said yes, and stood quietly like a trained dog as the mass began and the Irish music started for the processional. 

Digbeth, south of the city, was a centre for Irish migration I learned, and the mass was raucous. Everyone was wearing the colours of their county, and I thought of my own trip to Ireland  to see my sister in 2002. I’d gone for St Patrick’s Day and had been growing my hair out for a year. Martha, my sister, and I, have been around the world together when we were young, to Ireland, and Tokyo, and Paris. Ireland was just the first place and I remember how green everything was: the insufferable obvious thing that millennial world travellers remember about Ireland. I remember the smell of cigarettes and now, as I think back, I have a profound sense of understanding of my sister, who was living in Europe for the first time and realising all the things I would some years later, about Americans and how American Americans can be when abroad.

The mass came to an end with everyone belting out the The Valleys of Erin! and I felt the whole of the experience, my time with Martha, and then walking through the Republican side of Belfast that morning a few years ago, coming back to me. This brown suit and St Anne’s in Digbeth, the children looking on. The sun and the stained glass windows. Christ beside, Christ below me, Christ to the left of me, Christ to the right of me. There are so many things to say, so many experiences packed inside each other. CD Wright, before she died, had talked about trying to make a chain reaction as a writer. Precisely, I think: you can’t possibly say them all.