She feels as if she’s walking through treacle, that is, she feels the effort of pushing her body through a thick, sticky substance whenever she wants to move from one place to another. This isn’t anything like she usually feels. Usually she moves effortlessly, through friendly light air, like a dancer, with grace, as she was taught, a being responsive to music even when it’s only in her head, a being on good terms with the element that supports her life.
In the mornings, she wakes to find she’s crying. She’s detached from this crying. Nothing of her is involved in it. There’s no sobs. There are no physical convulsions. There’s just tears down her cheeks, an overflow. She wipes her face on her sheet. She gets out of bed. She goes into her bathroom. She avoids looking at herself in the mirror. She sits on the toilet. She pees, her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. She feels like really crying but she won’t. This is her goal for the day, the same goal as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. She will not cry.
She puts on pyjama pants, socks and the dressing gown hanging on a hook in the bathroom. It’s chilly, in what passes for winter in northern NSW. She looks in the mirror. Her hair is wild from the night. She pushes it off her face, behind her ears. She looks into her eyes. I don’t even know who you are, she thinks, without emotion.
She goes into the room where the dogs sleep. There are two dogs since she inherited Little White Dog from her son. Her own dog, called Big Dog now, is old and can’t accompany her on the long walks she likes to take on the beaches and through the forest. Little Dog, though, has proved fearless and inexhaustible and follows her over all kinds of difficult terrain, and though she has never been drawn to fluffy white dogs, she is fond of this one.
She goes into their room and they greet her joyously, as if they’ve been separated from her for months, not one night. She strokes them, tells them they are beautiful, and urges them out into the garden. Then she goes upstairs, into the kitchen, puts on the kettle, finds the teapot, puts bread in the toaster, by which time the dogs have peed and are lined up at the kitchen door waiting for breakfast.
She has learned that things will remain fairly manageable if she takes one small task at a time. If she attempts too much, she’ll be overcome by despair and a crippling sense of incompetence. She’s usually very good at doing a lot of things but since the air turned to treacle and since she’s had to spend so much time making sure she’s not crying, her energies and her attention span have diminished. If she gets this toast and tea made and served up to Mrs Chook and feeds the dogs, that’s a good early morning.
She makes an extra piece of toast for the dogs. She used to share the crusts from her own, but with two of them she doesn’t get any. She hears Mrs Chook waking up. She takes the tea and toast into the upstairs bedroom where Mrs Chook is struggling to fight her way out of sleep and the mountain of doonas, books, scarves, papers, socks, pillows and various other detritus littering her bed. She sets the tea and toast on a minute space on the cluttered bedside table, mutters good morning and quickly leaves, because talking just now is way beyond her capabilities and besides, she can’t think of one single thing to say. Language is leaving her, at least in its spoken form. It’s still present in her head, her own words, the words of others, poems, lyrics, conversations. But the effort of getting it from her mind to her mouth is beyond her and anyway, she thinks, what’s the point? Talking was always over-rated, wasn’t it? I would like, she thinks, to sit with someone, with him perhaps, in absolute silence. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to simply gaze and be gazed upon. Then I would like, with him perhaps, to touch, just fingertips. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to let the bodies and the hearts have their moment, released from the obligations of the spoken word. I am, she thinks, too tired for speech. Too tired for the enunciation. Too tired.
She takes her tea back downstairs to her domain, and turns on her computer. There’s mail. Stuff in which she has no interest, and a video from her daughter-in-law of her toddler grandson laughing. Mrs Chook says Archie laughs like his grandmother. If you look at photos of grandmother, son and grandson you can see they share the same full-faced grin, showing their teeth, joyful beings engaged with life, the three of them. She’s always loved it, that they share her laugh.
Archie, in the video, is beside himself with laughter. It seems to be inspired by a game his dad is playing with him. The child laughs with his whole body. He shivers, and prances with delight. He holds up his little hands and shrieks. He doubles over, clutching his belly and his hair flies out around his head, electrified with joy. She watches the video over and over again. She isn’t crying, but the tears are running down her cheeks again quite without any input from her. She wipes them away with the sleeve of her dressing gown, and wipes her nose while she’s at it. She turns up the sound. Archie’s laughter fills her study. She wants to be with him. She wants to hold his squirming body, catch his small hands in her own. Last time she saw him he was sick with a cold. He languished for long periods in her arms, and let her love him. He hadn’t been so long in her arms since he was a tiny infant, when she never wanted to put him to sleep in his cot where he ought to have been, even though his parents told her not to spoil him.
It’s all right, she thinks. Hold on. You can still want, so it’s not too bad. The worst time is when she can’t want. When all desire slips away, out of reach, and she can’t even remember how desire feels.
She turns off the video. She makes a plan. Shower. Dress. Take the dogs for a small walk, one that won’t exhaust Big Dog. Come home. Domestic tasks. One at a time. Then write. She must write. She must not give up writing.
Go out again, this time for a long walk with Little Dog. Take music. Stay out all morning. That way she won’t have to talk to anyone. That way she can concentrate on getting through this day the best she can.
It occurs to her that the only thing she knows how to do is to keep on keeping on.
She loads the dogs into the truck. The sun is shining. It’s warm now.
She can only write about herself in the third person. It’s better than nothing, she thinks.