Strange Bodies(64)
Author:Marcel Theroux


    And the dead are dead for good reasons, profound reasons, that we ignore at our peril. There’s a reason why the old father in The Monkey’s Paw turns away his dead son when he comes knocking. The world belongs to the living: to Lucius and Sarah, to Leonora and, though it pains me to say it, to Caspar.

    In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed the clock on this carcass ticking down. The first signs were episodes when I briefly lost all sense of time. These days I can see from my handwriting that my fine motor skills are deteriorating. Working outside in the cold, my hands constantly seize up into claws. One morning, I blacked out in the shower and lost a tooth from the fall.

    I didn’t – I don’t – expect to see the turn of the year.

    Weighing it all up, the complications that would arise from my death, the attention it would focus on these gentle people, I think it would be best for me to leave.





    5





    Three days ago, before dawn, I took the van that was parked on the narrow drive that leads up to the old entrance hall. It sat in the shadow of the untamed trees that make Knowle Court feel so dark and inward-looking. Willow had left the keys in the kitchen. I wrote her a note, but I wasn’t able to tell her anything that I felt could sufficiently explain the betrayal.

    The van filled the B roads with the sound of its hoarse engine and strained to keep pace in the slow lane of the motorway. The steering was a little loose and eerily slow to respond. But you get used to anything.

    Yesterday, I drove up to the Lake District for a valediction.

    Before I abandoned the van, I went to visit the tiny whitewashed cottage where Leonora and Nicholas spent their honeymoon. It’s down two miles of single track on the side of an obscure fell. A wisp of smoke was escaping from the chimney. I remembered the two upstairs rooms and the dark kitchen where they read to each other and played board games. No part of me accepts the rational truth: that I was seeing it for the first time.

    *



    Sitting on the bonnet of the van, I tied rope around my shoes to give me grip on the snow which covered the slopes above the tawny moorland. On the summit of the fell, with the wind in my ears, I flipped Hunter’s klyuchka into the air and watched it flash in the weak midwinter light before splashing into a black hillside tarn. I don’t know if I’m coming back, but he definitely isn’t.

    From the moment I saw them, I had no doubt that his rambling journals were intended to be coded. I searched his room for every scrap of paper I could lay my hands on, determined to destroy them.

    In the lowest drawer of his bedside table, I found his birth certificate, his navy blue US passport and a copy of his will. Underneath them all was a small black velvet bag with a quartz disc in it. Of course, I remember thinking. It’s already done. Hunter was keeping notes to reduce the gap, to make his own resuscitation less jarring. Had he learned about that from Nicky, before he killed him? Did he have Vera standing by in the mental hospital in Chita to finetune the code?

    Hunter’s klyuchka will never reach Baikonur. I made sure of that. I took his and left mine in its place. I put a cuckoo’s egg in the nest of the Common Task.

    Somewhere, perhaps, the other I am is stirring, another Nikolasha blinking into life, harbouring all the old hopes, facing all the zappings, the coercive instructions to adjust him to his new carcass. And maybe for him there’s a way home that never opened up for me. Whatever happens, I’ll make sure he has the advantage of this testimony.

    But for me, it’s almost over.

    Even a mankurt like me is sad to leave this world of dew. Nothing that was done to me makes me believe my sojourn here was abject and meaningless. And I, in a strange body, the fragments of another man’s memories, have so many things to speak of: that seal’s head breaking the waters of the bay, the light on Rossett Gill yesterday morning, mist in ribbons on Tooting Common, the dead weight of one of my children on my shoulder as I carried them sleeping from the car, my father’s dying words to me, as he clutched his own father’s medal, telling me he loved me.

    This stranger inside me is a creature like every other: obsessed with the limits of his existence, haunted by the spectacle of his passage through time, the blossoming and deterioration of his relationships with other creatures, the unutterable sadness of a finite life on a beautiful planet. And as he’s aged, a second world has appeared beside him, compounded of memories and recollected emotion. To this world I will turn in my last days. All my pain and beauty is here.

    Looking around this place – an internet cafe beside a minicab office in a northern city – with its wet lino and jingling doorbell, I find it hard to consent to my departure. There is so much still that is sacred and beautiful: the man in headphones typing to the tsk of its secret rhythms, the woman with her backpack on the floor and her inadvertent smile, so absorbed in their tappings, their promises and farewells, weaving themselves from shreds of something, the words that were made by the dead, fending off the great oblivion; but, yes, goodbye my pretty ones, goodbye.

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