What to do between writing? There’s an occasional visit from my mother, which means a cup of tea and church gossip. [A mad woman comes every Sunday and interrupts the sermons. She says the pastor is an agent of the devil. Several members of the congregation probably agree.] Otherwise, unable to go out, it’s a cigarette beneath an umbrella, a cheese sandwich, and some music. I don’t like to read. Other people write so much better than me – it’s insulting.
In the same way that Proust was transfixed by smell, I find the right kind of melody transports me somewhere else. By accident, I rediscovered Couperin and now I’m listening to Leçon de Ténèbres again and again. I’m probably confusing my composers (Gesualdo? Palestrina?), but if I stretch out on the floor and close my eyes, I think I can hear this music ten years ago in a room in Cambridge. I have few happy memories of that place, but one of them was the year that I took lodgings at the lonely end of my college. The windows wouldn’t shut properly and a wind blew from the living room, down the hall, and into my bedroom. There wasn’t a corner of my home that wasn’t cold. The pain was exhilarating: like a wet electric shock running all over my body.
I converted to Christianity while living in those rooms, thanks to several exciting conversations with a priest in his study. He had a big black Labrador that stunk of nicotine. Then I’d return home and stretch out on the bed, close my eyes, and listen to the sacred music that travelled the breeze from the living room, down the hall, and into my bedroom. “Qui tollis peccáta mundi, miserére nobis; qui tollis peccáta mundi, súscipe deprecatiónem nostram.”
In that crystal clear isolation, I came closer to God than evermore. Perhaps it was the product of physical and mental discomfort, I do not know. But whenever someone opened the door of my cell – letting the wind and the music escape - the spell was broken. And yet, I could never resist inviting them in. I dreamt one night that I had put the nails through Christ’s hands myself. When I awoke in terror, I called a girl. Physical infatuation followed and I never felt the same frozen peace again. Lord, have mercy.
Some months later, I went to confession at an abbey. They said on the phone that I could turn up at any time and someone would hear me. I rang the bell repeatedly for ten minutes, until a man in his eighties opened the door wearing nothing but a bathrobe. I said I was here to confess. “I was asleep,” he replied. “I’m very old.” He complained about his knees throughout the confession and, at the end, said he was going back to bed. I suspect that I went home and did the same.
Ten years later, the music ends and I peel myself off the floor. Back to the kettle, back to the fridge, back to work. Tap, tap, tap, type, type, type. The days of innocent slumber are over. A pretty memory for an ugly spring.