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The long haul

  • 08 December 2015


Two more timorous beasties   This mouse across my pantry shelf as quick as a mercury spill, darting behind jars of rice and quinoa and those resigned wallflower spices. I catch only a glimpse, but it's long enough to learn all there is to know about terror: the blind heart yammering triple time against delicate ribs so the whole body beats, eyes bulging dry in their sockets like the dead. But never so alive, panic shooting that mouse away from me, and, more importantly, from my cat, at my heels, trilling and alert, coiled. I have no idea whether it will survive, after all, they have locked eyes.   Second beastie, even closer to home. Time has set like jelly, it quivers, no longer flowing downstream. I am holding on, I am only just staying on this horse. He charged into a canter, nose to the ground, back legs kicking behind at saddle height — pig rooting. I know I am all bone and blood, nothing but pain waiting to happen. Nowhere to escape: no poem to compose, no dinner party anecdote, no cave wall painting. I share this moment with all that breathes, this deep pool of animal terror we have all skirted around. The horse stops bucking, my teacher, sensibly, won't let me off.  Not that I could stand, the shaking has begun. She talks me through it, her voice kind and with her help, I ride through it. The mouse runs through it, the cat always waiting, patient as the years.       The long haul   There is another life where we end up together. We wake in the same bed, startled but not sorry; the timber frame is warm, hand-caulked with the day-to-day dedication of the long haul. The air between us no longer electric, all now sanded smooth. But whose dog jumps on the end of that bed: yours or mine? I don't plan to think about my husband or your wife; let's leave my son right out of it. Fantasy, no more dangerous than eating gelato and dreaming of Mark Ruffalo. But when, sometimes, we brush against each other online I feel it and I hope you do too — you could have been my dawn breeze and me your mast of oak. There is another life out there, I watch it as it goes, a bobbing toy with a paper sail, jaunty in calm weather; and wince to see it tacking close to the mouth of the river.       The handbag   This shop always beckons. Inside, the light is perfect, constant as an aquarium. Not the sort you find in boys' bedrooms or Chinese restaurants, redolent of pond scum, fish poo, sleepy with rot. Not like that. Pulsing bright like a screen-saver emanating light,