Work. Work. You’ve fallen behind with your work. So you work without stopping. Except for meals. You can’t taste the food, really, because you keep glancing at your watch. Time to get back to work. When you go to bed at night, your eyelids become a screen on which the computer pages of your work are projected. Every time you close your eyes, you see the pages of your work. You dream of running after trains. Of forgetting where you live. Of walking up a mountain, carrying a large rucksack on your back and a heavy supermarket carrier bag in each hand. You wake up feeling exhausted. You decide to stay in bed until just after the news headlines on the radio but fall asleep again for over an hour.
You just want some rest.
You decide to sit down and do some work before breakfast. Just translate one chapter, then you’ll get dressed and have breakfast. It was a short chapter, so you might as well do one more. Get ahead. You get stuck at a word you don’t know. It’s a section of a Mediaeval castle. You can’t find the translation into English in any paper or online dictionary you consult. Forty-five minutes later, you discover that this architectural detail existed only in one region, in 10th Century Rome. No other castle in Italy, let alone Europe has it. So there is no English equivalent for that word. It’s untranslatable. Should you keep it in the Italian original and add a footnote, or paraphrase it? You can’t think straight. You resent the author for using such technical vocabulary. It’s a novel, for crying out loud – how does the use of this complicated word advance the story? You resent the nameless 10th Century Roman architect who built that castle in the first place. You get angry with over a millennium of wind, rain and earthquakes for not destroying that damned castle, and erase all evidence of that particular architectural detail. You start feeling faint and realise it’s after one o’clock and you haven’t had breakfast yet. In fact, you’re still in your pyjamas. You go to the bathroom to wash your face. In the mirror, someone with a sallow face looks back at you. Dark rings under the eyes. Eyes with no light. A tired face. An old face. You look away and comb your hair without looking into the mirror. Who cares how you look, anyway?
After lunch – or was it breakfast? – you decide two more chapters, then you’ll go for a walk. You need some air. You need exercise. Your back feels compacted and rigid, your neck and shoulders as though there’s a metal coat hanger inside. The ‘phone starts ringing. Somebody needs you. Someone close to you. You have to help. You’ve had to help almost every day for weeks now. Not only that but you have to do so joyfully. Isn’t it what we’ve all been taught? That you have to be kind? That there are certain people you automatically, naturally love, and who automatically, naturally love you? And what if it doesn’t come naturally for you to love them, or for them to love you? Still, you have to help. There’s no one else but you who can do it. So you try and help, again. Except that inside, you’re screaming. Screaming until you realise that the screaming has somehow escaped from your secret inside, and is pouring out of your mouth, like poison. Your temples are throbbing and there’s a sharp pain in your head. You’re screaming and crying – and suddenly you vomit. You feel like you’ve smashed things, people, yourself. That’s when the guilt sinks its teeth into you. You hate yourself.
You just want some rest.
By the time you’ve helped whoever needed helping, you realise it’s grown dark outside. You haven’t been out and you haven’t done enough work.
As the days turn into weeks, then months, you start feeling as though you’re not totally, firmly inside your body. You’re there and yet you’re not quite there. The tension that makes your muscles ache confirms that you’re alive and yet you’re somehow not entirely in your body. Your life is not really your life. Your e-mail inbox has many unread e-mails or, worse, e-mails that you’ve opened but don’t actually remember reading. You haven’t seen people, listened to the news, read a newspaper, a book, or your friends’ blogs, watched television for ages. Come to think of it, when was the last time you did anything for yourself? You’re in a bubble of thick, sticky fog. You’re in a cold, damp, smelly dungeon.
You decide to go to evensong at the Cathedral. You know it will soothe you. Forty-five minutes where your mobile can’t ring. Where you can relax. They’re singing Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. You’re about to leave the house when the phone rings. Your help is needed again. It’s too late for evensong now. Evensong. Missing it suddenly acquires a huge importance and you feel unfairly deprived. Frustrated. So frustrated, you lunge at the wall, and slap it hard. You catch the soft part of your wrist against the door frame. That’s how you get a painful bump on your wrist for two weeks after that.
You just want some rest.
An acquaintance calls you and starts telling you his or her problems. You nearly hang up on them. You nearly tell them to go and get lost. You wind up the conversation quickly, abruptly and – you know only too well – rudely. You just can’t bear it. You don’t want to understand anyone anymore.
You just want some rest!
Finally, you press the “send” button and dispatch your completed work. You decide that you can’t want to help anyone for the time being. No. Why lie? The truth is, you don’t want to help anyone. You’re at the end of your tether. It’s your first day of relative freedom but you’ve been indoors for so long, you’re slightly apprehensive about going out. Somehow, you propel yourself to the coffee shop near the market place, and order a cappuccino. You start reading a book. An actual book. One that you want to read. There’s a blind young woman sitting next to you, with a cream-coloured labrador guide dog. You ask the young woman if you can stroke the dog. “Of course,” she says. You pat the dog and he walks up to you and sniffs the air around you. You think he must smell how bad, how weak, how angry and how toxic you are. A dog must be able to detect the black poison, like tar, inside you. That there is no hope for you or in you.
The dog’s dark brown eyes bore into you. They are soft, deep and totally un-judging. He stares so deep into your soul, that for a moment, you lose yourself in his eyes. You feel wrapped in a warm, soft blanket of totally unconditional love. You’re at one with the dog, with the Universe, and with yourself.
You wish you could ask the dog’s forgiveness for all you have done and all you are.
The dog comes close to you, and begins to lick your hand.