We conjure demons only to anthropomorphize our mental turbulence. On the beach today, I saw a frankly ridiculous cloud. Bulbous it was, its lower part shaded and its quiff lit by the sun. I thought it looked like Donald Trump; my eldest daughter thought it looked like Luigi (Mario’s green brother). It stood there in the sky, brazen in its ridiculousness – an impertinence akin to slapping a speech bubble onto a Turner. But it persisted in its being there.
My demons, for what they are, sit upon me while my reason sleeps. On that final night, before leaving China, they (or he, or she, or whatever) seemed to grapple with a part of me that felt itself to be more me than demon. For all I know, I may have been grappling with a great, imagined spore of coronavirus, spiky and livid – one of hell’s polyps, malevolent, malignant and yet a part of me. I awoke exhausted, electric with restlessness, eager to wheel my suitcases to the stairwell.
When I was a child, I would skate around the block. Here’s a picture of me doing so:
See those orange wheels? Aren’t they the most joyous orange things on Earth? That board was proper Californian – it radiated West Coast optimism and ease from its solar plexus directly to my own. I have never surfed (I have windsurfed terribly) but I know what it feels like to find pleasure in a desire line. Even the Renault 5 is a source of immeasurable joy: its green is the sunlight glinting off of kelp – I swear its bonnet would be salty to the tongue.
Right now, my mother might be looking out of the kitchen window onto that driveway leading out into the road where I ollied and 360’d my way to scabby shins and worn-holey sneakers. Ghosts: the ghost of a Renault 5 and a shockingly red-haired boy.
It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and I’ll WhatsApp her. I hope that my card gets to her in time. Who knows what’s disrupted in these times of great pausing? When I see her on the screen, it seems that the living room is accruing more and more ornaments and framed photographs: a grotto slowly suffocating with barnacles of love. I spoke to her today and saw a big photograph of my sister-in-law holding my new nephew. He is named for my grandfather. Here’s a photo of my grandfather:
In this photo, he reminds me of Orwell, Eliot, even a little bit of Camus. (I adore the way his tie is knotted and pokes out of his collar as if he has only just been released by a violent photographer (“Sit there! Sit still! Take this pipe and put it in your mouth!”).
The greatest gift he gave me (apart from 20p for a Topic or a Mars Bar and how to do really painful handshakes) was the gift of the vision of an easeful death. I may have written about this before, I can’t remember. But look at his eyes (in the photograph) – look at his eyes! So much bloody life in them. Those eyes, on his death bed, they had the same bloody life in them. I remain so grateful to him for his eyes – whenever I look into a mirror.
Ah, me, as so many spirits are released into the sky; as so many coins rest cold on closed eyes – remember the burning brightness of intelligence, of awareness and of utter, utter love. It never leaves this Earth. It just moves around, rising and falling back to us like a water cycle. Nothing is added and nothing taken from the plenum. My granddad is there (here) and the red-headed boy is there, skating past a Renault 5. I’m there, imagining my mam watching me from a kitchen window.
Sometimes, the only way to deal with a demon is to forgive it and let it be incorporated into the sky with the spirits of memory and the lost. Life has its incongruities. Sometimes clouds still ill in the sky, but such impertinent clouds make the sky no less depthless in its beauty.
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