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I went to collect my birth certificate this morning. I took the car and parked round the back. I did not look at it, till I was back in the car.
Well, what a disappointment! First of all, I thought it was going to be a photocopy of the original document - when what it turned out to be was a “certified copy of an entry of birth”, copied out in the last few days in a wobbly backward-leaning hand. And, surprise surprise, my father is who I always thought he was. As far as this document went, I could see nothing fishy about my birth whatsoever. Of course, I suppose it still is perfectly possible - I mean, this birth certificate doesn’t prove anything. It is possible that the mystery surrounding my birth is a mystery to my father as well. I began to wonder how my mother would react if I asked her whether my father really is my father, or whether it’s some other fucker.
Then I thought to myself: Well, Ralph, is it LIKELY that there should be a mystery surrounding your birth? I mean, over and above the mystery that surrounds everybody’s birth? Is it likely?
The fact of the matter is that I am a very normal boring person, and that’s all there is to it. Ralph! What are you saying? You are by far and away the most fascinatingly interesting person you’ve ever come across.
On the way home, I happened to pass an empty parking meter. This was near Charing Cross Road. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a browse in some of the bookshops there. Which is how I came to buy a copy of The Diary of Bobby Sands in Collet’s.
I had a bit of time left on the meter, so I popped into a pub, ordered a large scotch and sat down with a view to reading it. But then I got paranoid about somebody seeing me reading it, taking me for an IRA loony and having me arrested. So I picked up my scotch and was about to down it in one, when I suddenly thought: what the hell am I doing? I’m an alcoholic. But then I thought, maybe now that I’ve died and come back to life as myself, I’m not an alcoholic any more. Maybe the slate has been wiped clean. I can start anew. On the other hand, I didn’t want to risk it, so I put the glass down, untouched, and left the pub and came back here..
Joan was not in. I read the little book in the kitchen. It was written over the first seventeen days of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. In those seventeen days he lost sixteen pounds. The diary starts with the words: “I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.”
It ends with the words: “If they aren’t able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won’t break you. They won’t break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show.
“It is then we’ll see the rising of the moon.”
Another trembling world. The rising of the moon. The man was a fucking poet. Oh boy. Six weeks and six days later he was dead.
Joan staggered in with Orson. He had driven her up to the Heath, so she could take a walk in the air. She was pooped out and went to lie down. I left Orson in the kitchen and followed her into the bedroom with the little book.
“I think you should read this,” I said.
She took it from me, looked at it, at me, did not say a word, and flopped down on the bed.
I went back to Orson.
“This can’t go on,” he said.
“She hasn’t even been to see a doctor.”
“She won’t go.”
“Well then you should go.”
“She told me she’d cut me out of the will if I interfered in any way.”
“So what? You won’t be so blasé about all this, when she dies.”
“She’s not going to die.”
“She is, if you don’t make up your mind.”
“Look. I don’t see it,” I cried. “How can anyone want to marry someone who disagrees with them on so crucial an issue as getting married at all in the first place?”
We neither of us said anything for some time. Orson broke the silence.
“Oh, by the way, I have a message from your new admirer.”
“Who’s that?” He couldn’t possibly mean Alison, could he?
“The delectable Miss Jackson, my dear. She said to give you her best regards.”
“Huh. Are you going to do it there?”
“No. The director loved it. The agency loved it. We managed to agree on a price, and then in passing I mentioned that we would be taking down her hut, but not to worry, we’d put it back just as we found it, so she wouldn’t be able to tell the diff - and she wasn’t having it.”
I must say that secretly I was rather pleased about this. I did not like the thought of Orson and his mob despoiling the place.
If this was a novel by James Hadley Chase, instead of my life, I would return to Sidewood, to seduce and marry Miss Jackson. Then I would hire Joan as my secretary, subsequently bump Miss Jackson off, probably by drowning her in the lake and making it look like an accident. I would then have the house and Joan and I could settle down and live happily ever after. Mind you, J.H.C. wouldn’t let me live happily ever after. It would all go wrong at the last moment. There would be a fly in the ointment. In fact, a good rule for survival in la vie, whenever you are faced with a tricky situation, is to think of what a James Hadley Chase hero would do in the circumstances, and then do the exact opposite.
Before Orson sloped off to do whatever it was he was going to do, I asked him if he was busy tonight. He wasn’t.
“Look,” I said, “I have to go out. You wouldn’t mind popping up and keeping an eye on Joan, would you?”
He said he would and went. I was sitting there looking over at Alison’s building, when Joan walked in with the Bobby Sands diary in her hand, with tears streaming down her face.
“Oh Ralph,” she sobbed, “it’s so sad.”
I went and put my arms round her and gave her a damn good hug. Then I sat her down at the table.
After a while I said: “And is that what you want to happen to you?”
“It’s not a question of what I want.”
“Jesus Christ, Joan, I thought that if you read that you’d realise just how ridiculous all this is. I mean, what the fuck have you got to go on hunger strike for?”
“There’s no need to shout.”
“I’m sorry. But, really, you just want to have your cake and eat it.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just want to extract all the mileage you would have got by killing yourself, without actually doing it.”
“Huh. You’re one to talk.”
“That’s completely different,” I said.
She gave me a withering look.
“Listen to me, Joan, I can understand. I’m not saying I think he was right, I’m not saying I don’t think he was totally wrong, but I can understand why Bobby Sands went on hunger strike. I mean, obviously he genuinely believed that he was an oppressed person giving his life in the cause of liberty. But if you give your life, what’s it for? What’s it for!”
“Love,” she said, and gave me the sweetest smile.
Oh God, she’s really enjoying herself.
“You’re just like him,” I said, pointing at the Sands book. “You’re on a different planet.”
She looked at me for a long time, shrugged, and tottered back into the bedroom.
Joan just came back into the kitchen now, saw me writing this here.
“What are you writing?”
I put my arm over the page and said: “Nothing.”
“I see,” said Joan. Then she went back to the sink, poured herself a glass of water.
“Oh, by the way,” I said, casually. “I’m going out in a bit.”
“Well, I’m going back to bed,” said Joan – and that’s what she did.
Then, all of a sudden ………. No, dammit. It’s gone.
I don’t know. You go through life in a kind of haze. Then there are tiny moments when it all flickers into startling clarity and you suddenly see what it all means. Oh! THAT’s what life is all about! It’s so simple! Of course!
But then, incredibly, you forget, whatever it was you saw that made it all so clear, that gave you a positive reason for hanging around until tomorrow - and the fog redescends.
All of a sudden, it’s absolutely freezing in here. I can see my breath.
It’s an evil miasma.
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