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Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
The City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
I really do not know WHAT to make of all this. I seem to have died and come back to life as myself. I mean ..... oh dear ..... oh dear, oh, dear, oh dear, OH DEAR.
Now hold on.
Since I was about to die, I decided to open the 1971 Yquem. What difference would it make?
I opened the bottle and poured an inch of the wine into a glass.
I looked up through the roof, to see the waning moon, clumsily suspended in the sky - over the high-rise blocks. I half expected something in the nature of a portent or a sign. Nothing. I turned my attention back to the Yquem in the glass on the round kitchen table before me. Château d’Yquem. 1971. Sweet golden perfection. Nowhere near ready to drink, of course. This was a wine that would outlive me even if I wasn’t about to die. Even so, as a last sacrament, in a suicidal situation, well, I can’t think of a better wine pairing, can you?
I extricated the tiny tablet from its plastic envelope (Envelope!), held it between my forefinger and the ball of my thumb, and placed it on the back of my tongue. I picked up the glass, raised it. Intense aromas of butterscotch, caramel, peel, peach and plum - honeyed happiness assailed my wine-starved nostrils.
Then I swallowed.
The last thing I remember, I was sitting there wondering what …. and how ….. and then ……..
How can I put this?
As the Instant Death dissolved inside me, it was as though it started turning into a huge sort of laugh - which began to roar around and completely fill me up, as though I was hollow, with this vast giggling hurricane of amusement, hurricane of hilarity. And I do actually remember thinking: Death is a laugh. Death is a laugh. Perhaps I even muttered it aloud.
But then - you know how you normally think of yourself as one thing, and the air as another thing, and the furniture as something else, and the walls and whatnot as something else again .....? Well, suddenly, I began to see, literally see, what one knows to be true, that all those separate things, including me, are made of atoms, which are all exactly the same. The television is made of the same stuff as the dresser, on which it stood, which was made of the same stuff as the door and the sofa and the window and the moon and the sky and the Yquem bottle and me.
And as the Instant Death dissolved into laughter, the laughter spread out through the atoms of my body, touching and tickling them, through my skin, and touched and tickled the atoms of the air, infectiously, so all the air began to move and giggle, in turn infecting the atoms of the fridge and the telephone and the dart board and the moon and the whole house and everything. Terrific!
The next thing I knew, I was standing on Westminster Bridge, shivering.
I did not have the faintest idea how I came to be standing there. The only way I could explain it was to say that I had dissolved or dematerialised or whatever it actually was that I did do - and that I had come back together again on Westminster Bridge.
What was I doing there? The phrase “Earth has not anything to show more fair” popped into my mind by way of an answer. Well, fair enough.
I looked up at Big Ben, which started to chime. Six o’clock on a damp horrible Sunday morning. I looked down at the Thames. A lot of words have been written about the Thames over the years, and I have nothing overly profound to add at this juncture – except that, well, apart from the fact that I had never seen anything that looked less like a river and more like a species of glittering reptile. But leaving that aside, the thing was, you see, whereas up until this moment the Thames had always had its source somewhere off in the Chilterns, or wherever it was, this new reptilean river’s source seemed to be situated inside me.
Then, when I came to think of it, I realised that this applied to everything. I once read this story by that Brazilian writer, Borges. Or is he from Argentina? I can’t remember. Wherever he’s from, it’s an extremely short story, and it is called “Pierre Menard - Author of the Quixote”. At least, I think that’s what it’s called. It’s about this character, Pierre Menard, who rewrites Don Quixote - and although his version is word for word exactly the same as the original, it is however completely different and new, because it is now by him, Pierre Menard, instead of by Cervantes.
I mention this, because I was feeling extremely Pierre Menardish vis-a-vis the entire universe, which, it seemed to me, I had just recreated. It was mine. Mine. All mine. The bridge. The Houses of Parliament. That bench. That tramp. That boat. That policeman. That car.
That policeman! That car! That approaching policeman! That car, which looks incredibly like Joan’s car. Joan always tells me to call it our car, but I always think of it as Joan’s car. And indeed it does belong to her. But what was it doing here, illegally parked on Westminster Bridge? There was no time to dither. I walked round to the car. The door was open. It WAS our car. The key was in the ignition. I looked in the mirror. The policeman was a matter of yards away. I started the car and drove sedately off the bridge.
I was driving past Buckingham Palace and wondering what the Queen, who was in and probably asleep, would think if she knew that I had just recreated her, when it struck me that I was wearing my raincoat. I hadn’t been wearing my raincoat when I was sitting at the kitchen table. I had been wearing my grey flannel trousers, very dirty, an even dirtier pair of tennis shoes, a T-shirt and my pink cashmere pullover, which Joan gave me last Christmas. I was still wearing these items of clothing. But I can’t remember donning my mac. I must have put it on before leaving the house, which I don’t remember either, and climbing into the car and driving to Westminster bridge. So when did I die? I don’t know. This is all extremely confusing.
I pulled up outside the house, parked the car, climbed out, and shuffled my way through the fallen leaves that littered the pavement, in through the gate, and up the steps which lead to the front door. I let myself in with the key, which I was relieved to locate in my raincoat pocket. The hall, common parts, was dark and damp. Sunday papers on the mat. The paper boy had been and gone.
I opened the front door of our actual flat and stepped into the kitchen, hoping for one brief moment that it might by some further miracle be transformed and tidy. It wasn’t. Indeed, through my new-born eyes, it seemed to be much much worse than ever I remember it being before. Maybe I should tidy up?
I dropped the Sunday papers on a chair and nipped through to see how old Joan was doing. Still asleep. I went back to the kitchen.
I decided to do the washing-up. There was the Yquem. I did not tip the rest of the bottle down my throat, then pick up my corkscrew and raid the remaining cellar and drink myself into a stupor. I put it away in the fridge.
Now for the Marigolds. I found the left one, pulled it on, but could not see the right. Looking about the room, I noticed a stack of envelopes on the kitchen table, piled up on top of this book - this one here in which I am now writing this. There was the little plastic envelope, which had contained the Instant Death, which had been no bigger than the full-stop at the end of this sentence●
I sat down and looked at these envelopes. They were pink envelopes. I glanced over at the drawer in the dresser where these envelopes are usually kept. It was pulled open. I went and checked. There were no envelopes in the drawer. I deduced that I must have taken the envelopes out of the drawer. I sat down and inspected them.
Don’t ask me why - but I seem to have written the word Envelope on the front of each envelope and then sealed it. They were all sealed. And each one had the word Envelope on the front, written on the pink in blue ballpoint ink. Envelope. I felt each one of them. I ascertained that I had not put anything in these Envelope envelopes before sealing them.
I counted them. There were thirty-one of them. Joan bought fifty in a sale a few months back. I wondered what to do with them. What I did with them was I found another envelope, a big buff one, and put all the pink Envelope envelopes in this one big envelope, and sealed it, and, after some consideration, wrote Envelope envelopes envelope on the front of it.
Envelope envelopes envelope.
I stared at this for some considerable time. These three words filled me with a huge amount of pleasure.
Envelope envelopes envelope.
Envelope envelopes envelope.
I was on the verge of submitting to total palilalia with regard to envelope, envelope, when I saw a book lying open on the sofa and wondered what it was. It turned out to be Joan’s Oxford Book of English Verse. It was open at page 615, poem 534. “Upon Westminster Bridge” by William Wordsworth: “Earth has not anything to show more fair ....”
Well, there you are. For some reason, I had had recourse to this book - and so on and so forth.
Then I looked at the note which I had left Joan at the end of my last entry here, and I must confess that I could not help feeling glad that I was not lying dead at the kitchen table, and that Joan was not going to wake up and walk in and find me and read the note - and that I had instead come back to life again as myself …….. if that is what happened. Obviously, the first thing to do was to speak to Orson. But how was I going to put it? What exactly was I going to say? Anyway, it was too early to disturb him on a Sunday morning.
I picked up this book and the envelope envelopes envelope - envelope envelope envelope envelope - Stop it! Shut up! Stop it! Envelope! And put them away in my private tuck box down beside the sofa.
Then what did I do? Not the washing-up. Too banal. And suddenly I was tired. I pulled off the left-hand Marigold, tossed it into the sink, went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth. While I was brushing them, I found myself looking at myself in the mirror, and I noticed that I was grinning. In fact, I looked as though I was quite happy, which came as something of a surprise.
I went to bed, slipped in beside Joan. It was another world in there, a small warm animal world. In her sleep, Joan, the small warm animal, snuggled up to me.
It was three in the afternoon when I awoke.
Joan was in the kitchen watching “The Prisoner of Zenda” with Ronald Colman, the good one. I attempted conversation, but she was engrossed and unresponsive.
“Well, I’m going to see Orson,” I said.
I went out the back door, down the steps into the garden, where it was raining, and knocked on Orson’s living-room door. He was also engrossed in “The Prisoner of Zenda”, and he had company: a young man, whose name I think was Steve. Or Phil. I can’t remember. So Orson had pulled last night.
“Take a pew,” said Orson. “This’ll be finished in a bit.”
I sat in a chair and stared blankly at the antics on the screen. I glanced at the occasional table on my right. On it was a sheet of white paper to which were adhered four black and white Polaroid photographs of one of the most enchanting country houses I had ever seen - set on a hill, sloping down to a lake, surrounded by woods. And in the middle of the lake there was an island. The information on this sheet said that it was called Sidewood House.
I sat there, imagining what it would be like if I could live in a house like that. If I was rich, if I owned such a place, I thought, if I called the financial shots, I thought, if Joan was financially dependent on me, I’d soon put a stop to this children and marriage and hunger strike business. Perhaps though, if I owned a house like Sidewood, I would feel very differently about the whole thing. Perhaps I would want to have children. A house like that needs children - about four or five of them. I saw myself and Joan in this house, surrounded by our three boys and two girls. Number one son. Number one daughter. Number two son ……. and the Twins. Not to mention the dogs, the nanny, the gardener and Mrs Whatever, our utterly treasure-like house-keeper.
The film ended, and Orson, male chauvinist pouf that he is, sent Steve or Phil into the kitchen to make some tea.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?” said Orson.
“Whatever turns you on.”
He stood up and wandered into the kitchen.
“Alright?” I heard him saying.
Orson’s guest answered in the affirmative.
“What’s this place?” I asked, referring to the Polaroids of Sidewood House.
“It’s a bit of a drag actually,” said Orson. “I’ve got to go down there tomorrow.”
“For a location?”
“Yeah. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Well, I ....”
“Come on. It would be great if you came.”
“Alright,” I agreed.
Thingy entered with the tea.
“I think I’ll leave you two to it,” I said.
Joan was reading “Joy of Cooking” in the kitchen, when I came home.
“How are you exactly?” I asked.
“I’m perfectly well, thank you,” said Joan. “How are you? You look dreadful.”
“It’s from worrying about you.”
“Huh!” snorted Joan.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“No. Not really.”
“Well, I’m going to read the papers.”
I took the Sunday papers into the bedroom, flopped down on the bed and began to read them. Zonk! The Mogadon press strikes again. In seconds I was fast asleep.
When I awoke, it was dark, and Joan was in the bed beside me - asleep. I extricated myself from her and snuck out here into the kitchen. I heated up some of the left-over stew, put it on a piece of bread, and ate it.
Then I wrote this. Any second now it will be midnight and the end of Envelope Sunday. Envelope envelope Sunday. Envelope envelope envelope Sunday.
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