I don’t want to talk about it.
The holiday, I mean.
Too much of it was spent filling out insurance forms in surgeries while listening to Mother weeping about ma vie misérable to the doctor in the next room. Charlton was absent at these points, having told me he needed a break from caring for her. He must care for her a lot more than anyone knew, because we never saw him in two weeks.
Like I say, I don’t want to talk about it. Because despite all the awfulness, all the complaints about cold, heat, poisonous cheeses and suppositories, I kept hold of the words Lyre had used to soothe me just before I left.
“I know good things await you,” she had said. “How do you know?” I grumbled to myself every night as I lay awake listening to Mother’s high pitch whistle as she slept beside me. “You just said that to keep me going. How can you possibly predict good things? Eh? How?”
And yet there I was earlier today, putting the phone down from a most wonderful woman called Roberta who publishes – “well, it’s more like a beloved hobby than a business” – a select number of “little gems” and…well… this is what she said:
“It’s very funny, you see, your best-known book being called Mrs Tempest’s Marriage Bureau because my publishing business is called The Tempest Press and so I often accidentally came across your book but I only actually bothered reading it this weekend and oh my goodness but it’s a delight, a true delight.”
“Oh,” I said to her (I’m not good with compliments, never was, and could feel the defensive, negative stuff approaching). “It’s self-published you know. I thought everyone assumed self-published books were rubbish.”
“Oh far from it. Plenty are, of course. But there are some who labour away producing real quality and for whom independent publishing is just the thing. That’s what I do – discover the best of the independent market.
“I take pleasure in rootling out oddities and stuff that is outside the mainstream but still very good. I talk with the author and we either re-plublish or agree a marketing strategy. It’s all very tasteful and disastrously low key but there’s never any artistic compromise. Get that! In this industry. I’ve just published a fine little story called Your Most Avid Reader by Bibi Berki – crazy name! – have you read it?”
“No. But I will.”
And then, as though I’d handed her a script, she told me: “I’m all about great stories well told. Simple as that.”
“Me too! Me too! Oh that’s what I always say. What else is there?”
“A kindred spirit,” she said warmly. “I can’t promise you fame.”
“Don’t fancy fame much.”
“Bit vulgar and compromising, isn’t it.”
“I just want to have a point to what I’m doing.”
“Oh there’s point. Please reassure yourself there’s a point.”
And that’s possibly the kindest and best thing anyone has ever said to me.
So we agreed to talk a little more, over lunch, and I rang off with my heart beating at double speed. It’s not the prospect of recognition – not at all, far from it – it’s the lifting of the darkness of out there. There is someone out there.
And then this evening the phone rang again and when I answered, he said:
I couldn’t answer him. You see, Laurence’s naked ambition had seemed to eclipse what he felt for me and while I didn’t blame him for feeling that way, I was a little reluctant to put my head above the parapet once more.
He sheepishly filled the silence.
“I put my momentary flirtation with journalism above you. How could I have done that? It was a minute of madness. But you, you are what is above everything else. I must have hurt you terribly. I will never do that again.”
“They’re rejected you haven’t they.”
“Turns out I’m a better doctor than I am a writer.”
But I was feeling magnanimous. Poor sod. He must feel crushed. His writing career lasted about ten minutes.
“Fancy another go at going abroad?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said. “I’m done with abroad. How about a walk in the cemetery?”
You could hear the relief.
“Get the dog lead. I’m on my way.”