I suppose it comes as little surprise that I haven’t been able to finish a piece of writing in over three weeks. It seems my ability to focus, hardly enviable in the best of times, is pretty much obliterated now. I am a nervous bird fluttering about the flat, starting a letter to a friend only to glance at the clock and think 830?! how is that right? and leap up from my task with the pain of realisation that the silence from the children’s rooms is a cry of starvation—with daylight savings in the midst of all of this, the light lingers in London and how disorienting the long days have become—- when I receive a WhatsApp that I must reply to immediately, for that attached video of the Parisian ballerinas dancing to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet in their kitchens and basements and bathtubs has stunned me, stopped me in my tracks. I flop on the chair in the salon and begin to weep (let’s watch it again)—and oh my gosh, that reminds me….
But, what is that? My God, look at the way the mouse has gathered the fallen tulip petals behind the couch, how shocking and beautiful. Is it true? Four red petals with brushes of yellow, arranged with thought. He must have gathered them from under my desk while I slept. Who is this industrious and sweet nocturnal mouse who I admire so? Who is he who has defied the odds for months, foraging about, non-plussed by two exterminator visits as well as my cunning network of old-fashioned traps? I smile thinking of my son’s stern breakfast advice, We can’t get too attached to it (which made me laugh, thinking of my favourite line in a film when two urban drunkards must kill a chicken in the country for their dinner)— because just that morning we had read a children’s story about a dreamy mouse who is considered sort of useless until the last months of the winter descend, when most of the nuts and berries and straw was gone, and the corn was only a memory, and it was cold in the wall and no one felt like chatting, and the dreamy mouse who was considered sort of useless begins to describe the rays of sun, how it glows, and soon the other mice begin to feel warmer, and he tells of blue periwinkles and red poppies, and they see the colours as clearly as if they had been planted in their mind… Soon the tired, scared mice are reassured and they applaud, and the dreamy mouse is a poet. And behold, I think to myself, we have him in our midst.
What will happen if illness sweeps through Africa? I wonder for the millionth time, turning to the window and procrastinating dinner. I do still love the world (I reflect) but I can no longer apologise for my desire to flourish. I clear my throat, it is perhaps a bit sore? Or I’m probably just hungry. There is still no dinner happening as darkness settles out the window, and that incredible indigo blue twilight reaches deep into something profound. I hear the children’s quiet and wonder, how does illness begin? I try to remember when I last had a fever. He found an odd bruise on his leg and a month later he was dead… I fucking hate those stories, and touch my forehead—perhaps I should take my temperature—and I think of a line that I read today:
To avoid pain, they avoid pleasure— To avoid death, they avoid life.
Will we ever be so foolish to postpone our love again? Will you continue to play those stupid games, or even hesitate before you reach over to touch her cheek? If we choose to shelter forever, we shall go to our graves with regrets, I think, shifting my gaze… How lovely those red and yellow tulip petals behind the couch, arranged like Japanese calligraphy, cryptic and startling. This is a mouse after my own heart, I decide. Ok, you win. You may live. I can’t pretend to kill you anymore, it’s too exhausting. But let’s agree to this— please don’t have babies. I turn back to the window with the delicious sense of peace that comes with a truce.
How I digress! I haven’t been able to finish a piece of writing in three weeks; my focus is obliterated. But this morning, torrential rain came to London after weeks of generous light and one’s thoughts turned inward, my friends are writing to me from their beds. What is the use? they reason. It is what it is, and it’s lovely being in my body, and look how even time has started to transform. Let us sleep and dream and flutter about all day, and shout from the windows each night. We are all artists now.
And when this ends, some of us will remain in stillness, and we will teach you how to love. Look, here is an online lecture about how to manage an architectural firm from home, and a trillion zoom calls about how this institution or that framework will proceed during and after the time of quarantine. I am enamoured by the will to keep the world afloat. Tomorrow the dreamers will benefit from your determination today, thank you. But we will never sit at a cafe by the sea with a glass of wine in the same apologetic, distracted way again. We will look into your eyes this time, and it will hurt. For soon, we will all suffer from an open heart.
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