You catch whatonomy in a reflective mood, uncharacteristically bereft of platitude. I’ve been spending most days engaged in a light back-and-forth with students, colleagues and family members via a range of social networking apps: Zoom, Teams, Whatsapp, Messenger, Twitter, Facebook, even Outlook.
The character of my communication is largely of a uniform nature: I want to reach out to fellow humans with a ladle of love. I want to know how you are today; I want to know if there’s anything you need; mostly, I want to exist between us. That’s where I seem to be: between you and me. The most innocuous gesture of camaraderie is apt to cause me to well up: clapping for healthworkers, walking outside (when I can) past a child’s drawing of a rainbow stuck up with smudgey small fingerprints in a neighbour’s window – even though there is a quiet but perpetual buzz of hysteria dancing on my diaphragm, the thought of you – and of us – quells it. I am eating well; I am finding ways to maintain fitness; I meditate for twenty minutes each day sat upon a closed toilet seat in an attic bathroom. I bought a yoga mat off of Amazon and spent a quiet couple of minutes wiping its box down with an antibacterial wipe. These genuinely feel like such strangely full and empty days. I don’t think I will forget them.
I look out of my window at a tree: a bare sycamore, the airy conduct of each branch is shaped by a spring breeze that tickles a river and catches the Versaille ears of a spaniel. The dog sniffs the air. She knows there is something in it: an acridity of stressed owners.
Earlier today, I went for a walk, over the river, up the road and along to the beach. I stopped short of the newly-barricaded car park and headed back for home. On the way back, I walked around an elderly couple sat on a bench. I gave them an appropriately respectable berth of social distance, but took care to seek out a bit of eye contact and chirp hello.
They were nine-sheets, the pair of them. Perhaps in their early sixties, they leant together, the man reaching with a shaking hand into a bag for life. I didn’t look for long enough to see what he took from the bag. Aurelius’s Meditations for all I know. Of course, I imagined a green bottle of something. Perhaps something like the many bottles I’d just dropped off at the bottle bank on the way to the beach. The whole time they were sat together, I think they maintained physical contact – they kept each other warm. I said hello to them and they looked at me through nine sheets. I wonder what I looked like to them, billowing past with a rudely alert wave.
I stop typing and I reach for my cup of coffee. I think my hand shakes a little as I do. There is, undeniably, an acridity in the air. Something being brewed that is more than coffee.
I’m tempted to fill my days with projects. I’m tempted to write lists of buckets and tick them each and every day. But I have a suspicion that these dog days are meant for neither productivity nor ambition. I’ll be buggered if I know what they are for, but I’m circling closer to a kind of proposition.
Perhaps I am meant to watch and listen – to smell the air like my mother-in-law’s beautiful spaniel. Perhaps these unfolding moments are meant to be fully understood and hence need to be fully regarded – sensed with all senses.
I draw no conclusions from these ruminations, indeed I will actively reject, for now, any claim to certainty. All I know, all I can be a little bit sure of, is that I need to listen and watch with great care and that I need, if I can, to maintain a kind of silence that can be filled like a brandy glass with experience.
Every day, I ask my mum and dad: “How’s everyone today?” And I patiently wait for the dot-dot-dot of their replies. They are getting their shopping: Iceland has been good to them, Asda is being better to them, their neighbourhood support group is being wonderful to them. My brother’s boss is ill. Eddie Large is dead.
In the swirling ying and yang of these viral days, I refuse my sense-making instincts.
Three days ago was a real lowpoint: I found myself needing to listen to the song Let It Be. My ears have never been so thirsty for authentic nostalgia. I listened to it sat upon the same closed toilet seat where I meditate for twenty minutes each morning. “Has it come to this?” I think to myself.
“No,” I answer (thinking, not talking to myself over the sound of Let It Be, sat on a closed toilet seat). I think about drinking a glass of brandy on the toilet (if it can be thought, it can be done – and these are times that call for such innovations with fervour). No, this is a time to deny conclusion.
We are in the middle of an argument, not at the end.