Erik the builder has disappeared into thin air, leaving the extension skeletal. We could see into it through a large hole in the kitchen wall. But then it got colder, and Stepanov nailed a piece of plywood over the hole. The plywood isn’t quite big enough, and the wind still whistles in.
The kitchen is full of brick dust, which I should try and sweep away, but I keep hoping Erik’s back will get better and he’ll resume work, which would mean there’s no point in sweeping. The rest of the house feels like a hoarder’s house, with towering piles of things everywhere. Not very Christmassy, but the Daves don’t seem to mind. Dave 2 has been persuaded that Dave 1 doesn’t have ebola after all, so will be in the same room as him. They hang out in the small space left in the middle of the sitting room, playing that Wham Christmas song on Stevanovich’s ipad, over and over again.
A friend invited me to a talk about The Three Principles. There were seven of us, curled up on various sofas, in a beautiful, wheat-coloured room. A man called Ian was the talker. Small and spry, Yorkshire accent, a wry, detached kindliness. He explained that it was our thoughts that created our reality, rather than anything external. That traffic jam anxiety, for example, desperate not to be late – a hell of one’s own making. It was very familiar, this concept, and I usually found it comforting. In the wheat-coloured room, though, I got flooded with pictures of loss, suffering, torture. It’s all very well, the traffic jam example, I said, but what if your child is in terrible pain? What if your child is dying? Ian said maybe stay away from extreme scenarios. Stay on the spectrum of traffic jams, half-finished building works, a boring job. I nodded, realising what a hell I was creating for myself with my imaginings.
I was quiet for a bit, but a feeling kept rising up. It was wanting. Wanting to be asleep. Wanting the building works to be finished. Wanting my novel to be published. But what about wanting, I blurted out. What can I do about wanting? Everyone looked slightly surprised, because I’d sounded so passionate. It wasn’t the building works I was thinking
about, it was my novel.
Ian nodded. The detached kindness was very calming. Yes, people get caught up in wanting,he said. They decide they can’t be happy until they’ve got the thing they want. That’s all he said, but tears came to my eyes. So simple, yet ingenious. You could want a thing, and be happy nonetheless.
A couple of weeks later I was woken by scratchings and rustlings, It was 3.45am. I lay still, trying to work out what it was. It sounded too big to be a mouse. A rat, then? Or a squirrel? Or was it one of the Daves, burrowing his way towards me through the hoarder-like piles?
My mind started filling with other things. That Wham Christmas song, Stepanov’s new beard, and how it made him look like a completely different person; how all men had beards these days, and why that might be. Erik’s back, and how maybe he should see Abigail, the spiritual healer. My work Christmas party, and where to procure a Christmas jumper, which is what we’d been instructed to wear. Everyone I knew had a Christmas jumper event to go to. The Daves’ school had held a Charity Christmas Jumper day. Last Christmas I gave you my heart…. I imagined the marketing gurus, maybe the same bunch that had caused the loom bands craze, in their room high up in a skyscraper, dreaming up how to make people want Christmas jumpers. The scratching started up again, nearer and louder.
I remembered the lizard I’d seen a few weeks ago, flitting over the piles on the landing. So unexpected that I thought for a moment that it was my paperweight bronze lizard come alive. I’d moved, and it had frozen, and I’d stared at it for a while. A very small lizard. How
had it got there? Now I lay in bed wondering if it was the lizard scratching around, having grown as large as a crocodile. Knowing I wasn’t going back to sleep, I decided to investigate.
Of course the minute my feet touched the floor the noise stopped. Using my mobile phone as a torch, I crawled between the piles, looking for tooth marks, droppings, a disappearing tail. Nothing. What now? I was wide awake. I pulled on my dressing gown and went down to the kitchen. Rain had come in through the gap above Stepanov’s plywood.
Oh yes. I met with the illustrious publisher. She pronounced my novel “a gem”, told me to cut it by a quarter, then she’d look at it again.
A gem. Humming happily, I found a cloth and mopped up the puddle.