She’s Not There has been rejected by seven agents. Each rejection has caused a subsidence of spirits (even though Agents 1 to 7 all said very nice things). I didn’t do anything with it over the summer holidays, but then yesterday I managed to send it to Agent 9. Shortly after I’d sent it, Agent 8 got in touch, asking for the full manuscript (having read the first 10,000 words). This was cheering.
A few months ago my sister sent it to an illustrious publisher she used to know, but hasn’t heard anything back. More recently a friend of mine sent it to another illustrious publisher, one he actually knows currently, so more hopeful. It would be easier, though, for hope to swell, in the presence of a floor.
Of course we owe Stevanovich our lives. As he delighted in telling us, if it wasn’t for him, we’d have ended up crushed, like that poor rat. When replacing the rottenest of the floorboards it had come to his attention that the brick piers supporting our house had collapsed, leaving it balancing on some thin, mouldy joists.
“Listen to me. You no wonder why your house like Shakin Stevens? You no wonder about all these cracks? Boys, I tell you, without me, kaput. You dead in your beds. ”
“Who’s Shakin Stevens?” asked Dave 1.
“Shakin Stevens! You English, how you don’t know Shaky! Yes, because your mother, she don’t like music.”
“I do like music.”
“Only rubbish music. I feel sorry for you two boys.”
We are very lucky that Stevanovich has a friend in the building trade, a man called Erik, who is rebuilding the piers. “Cheap price. You so lucky, I tell you.” Erik doesn’t speak any English, apart from “Coffee”. He holds up cement-coated fingers to show he wants four sugars. With each coffee he smokes a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes.
“How long do you think Erik has got to live?” asked Dave 2.
“I don’t know. Hopefully long enough to put the floor back.”
“What’s worse, to die of smoking, or to be killed with a rope?”
“Well…” I tried to think it through. “What do you mean by killed with a rope, exactly?”
“Like, round your neck. So you can’t breathe.” He showed me, clasping his own throat.
“Don’t do that.”
“OK.” He stopped choking himself and went tiptoeing along a rotten joist to peek down at Erik.
I started going all weepy, and Stevanovich told me I was stressed. Luckily, he has a friend in the spiritual healing trade, called Abigail. I said I couldn’t afford it, no matter how cheap, but he said it would be free, because she owed him a favour.
I decided to go and see her, because it would be nice to be somewhere with a floor, and to get away from Dave 2’s questions for a while. A spiritual healer who owed Stevanovich a favour had conjured up a certain image; so Abigail was a complete surprise. About my age, warm and chatty, bright eyes, corkscrew curls. A green smock top, faded jeans, big woolly slippers. And her floor was amazing. I stepped onto it with reverence. “What a lovely house.” I was glancing through into the sitting room, which is large and airy, with big, battered sofas; the walls and the ceiling covered in a fine web of cracks.
As she led me to her treatment room I noticed there were cracks everywhere, very pretty and delicate, not like the enormous fissures in our house. “Subsidence,” said Abigail. “It’s been four years since we started our claim.” In the treatment room we sat and chatted for a while (the schools our children went to, subsidence, my weepiness); and then she invited me to lie down, but just then there was a knock at the door. She sighed, exasperated, and said, “Seeing as it’s you, can I see who that is?”
She was gone a full ten minutes. I could hear her voice, and a man’s voice, they were having a huge argument about something. I looked at her certificates, framed, on the wall, and tried to decide what I thought about spiritual healing. When she came back she told me it had been the loss adjuster, come to tell her there definitely wasn’t any subsidence at all. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. It just makes me so angry!” Then I lay down, and she put a blanket over me.
Everything had been very normal up to then. It was like I’d known Abigail for years. But lying down felt strange, like a taboo had been transgressed. It was too weird to look up into her face, so I looked past her head, at the ceiling, which was like a hatching eggshell. It was a relief when she told me to close my eyes.
She said she preferred to work in silence, but not to worry about the noises, which was the healing energy being channelled through her, it made her jaws click. Then she withdrew… not out of the room, but back against the wall… I wasn’t exactly sure, because I had my eyes closed. There was complete silence, and then a sighing yawn. And then the clicks. I had to squeeze my eyes tight in order not to peek. I thought of Doctor Who, of the aliens they have these days, and I imagined Abigail transformed into a kind of giant iguana. I could already feel an eminence, a surge of something, coming from her, or from her direction. Then I felt her approach, and put her hands on my feet, and there was a warm whoosh, up my legs and through my whole body.
The treatment lasted about an hour I think. I don’t really know, because I was transported into a timeless golden cocoon. When it was finished, I opened my eyes, and looked at the spidery cracks on the ceiling above me, and wondered if the loss adjuster was right, and that Abigail herself, or that extraordinary energy she was transmitting, was causing the gradual implosion.
“Have you got any questions?” Abigail was sitting, hands folded in her lap.
“Yes.” I sat up and swung my legs down. “So how come you owe Stevanovich a favour?”
With apologies to Abigail Caller, a gifted, skilled and very professional healer, who has made me much better, and whose house really has got subsidence. http://abigailcaller.co.uk/ (website courtesy of Stevanovich? Is that right?).