At 03:15 am, the time to 03:16 am stretches out for a millennium. I did not ask to experience this, Mr Einstein, you understand. I did not invite this; I wish I was travelling at the speed of light. Then time snaps back, curving upwards out of control, forming neat little folds hiding all of those future years, compressing them into moments. Hang on a minute, I was rather hoping to enjoy those years, if it is all the same with you. Where have they gone to? Then they flick me in the eye, and it makes me cry. I wish I could cry more, but I think that if I start I will never stop.
03:15 am, and here I go again, on my own, all aboard the SS Nightwatch. ‘What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster?’ He sleeps still, next to me. I can hear his breathing. How can he sleep like that when I am awake, having to captain this ghostly boat. Just look at my crew, I would cross the road to avoid looking them in the eyes if I was back on terra firma.
Still he sleeps, I can count his breathing: where is he travelling tonight? Which land is at the top of his faraway tree? All of these years spent sleeping with someone, never to really know what was in his dreams. ‘Did you dream about me, last night, darling?’ ‘Well, you were in it, yes.’ In the background, I suppose, cooking dinner and pouring the tea. ‘Shall I be mother?’ ‘Oh, yes, please.’
No woman ever stars in her own dreams. They are always focused on other people: ‘my child is in danger, can I reach her in time?’ ‘My husband is needy, can I still be alluring to him?’
And what is he dreaming of, I wonder?
‘Scoring the winning goal?’ ‘Writing the cleverest story?’ ‘Finally getting a place on this committee of professional people.’
He never says. ‘Oh nothing, really.’ Have men got nothing better to do than to dream about nothing at night?
First mate ‘Why-did-i’ looks up from his charts. There is a really big squall blowing up from the past, Cap’n. We need to get the men and the children below decks right now. This is no place for dependents.
‘Marry him?’ Because I loved him; because he asked. Because I couldn’t get. I had to work hard to get him to ask, though. He was so clumsy and nervous, stammering and stuttering through his self-consciousness. I quite liked that, I thought it a good sign. He was malleable; he would listen, he would care for me.
Alas, constant reader.
And children, yes, we wanted a house full of children. They are my garden, my delight, my future. And sex, within marriage, for procreation and for when he is giddy and excited and does not have a headache. Pretty normal, really.
First mate Why-did-i is struggling to bring down the sails, the wind is ripping holes in the canvas. I will need to get out the darning needles tomorrow. Why-did-i cannot do this alone, he cries out in the night for help, and the wind throws his words to the sea. ‘So-how-did-i’ rushes up and together they wrestle the flopping wet canvas onto the deck.
Get to captain this ship? Well, it kind of happened by accident, really. There was a bump in the road, a turning that had to be taken and a moment when a decision was made. Not by me, you understand. Never by me. Yet deep within, in a place that I thought was on my side.
Was it a decision, made with foresight, taking into account the best interests of all of the parties concerned, their welfare, their future prosperity and emotional wellbeing? Were the needs of my children’s children taken into account? Did anybody ask me, what I thought? I don’t recall so; I never saw it in the minutes of the meeting.
Perhaps it was a mistake, a slip up, something in the wrong place at the wrong time. A few nanometres to the left or to the right then something else would have been made, a different decision taken, a different outcome.
Perhaps this is all that life is: layer upon layer of happy and unhappy accidents. No grand purpose, no design, no intelligent designer.
I see that 'Is-that-all-i' has joined the night watch. We have the full crew now. Let’s sail through this storm, its going to be a ripper.
Perhaps they are resting in a lump, still and not moving. Like a baby in a manger. It was a fearful annunciation.
‘Mary, greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’
And a sword will pierce your heart.
One day you are, and the next day you are not. So unreal. Here I am inside, journeying between salvation and damnation, sliding along the edge of hope, whilst pouring pasta into a saucepan, listening to why a teacher was stupid and a friend cruel and why life is soooooooo unfair, because the homework is due in on Monday. Why the meeting ran on because he ‘wouldn’t stop talking and listen to what I wanted to say’.
Cleaning cat sick from the floor and remembering to buy loo roll for upstairs and did I phone mother and what will I say and can she cope and what about dad and all of the people who know and how will i tell him and them and they are all so hungry and the phone rings and yes i am sorry you are not feeling well with a cold and ‘flu is it and of course i will do that shift for you tomorrow and oh the pasta is boiling over and i must go because oh did he well that’s a shame and well, i’m sure it will get better soon and oh, right the pasta is stuck and what do you mean you do not like the bolognaise sauce you liked it last week and no you can’t eat something else and well what time is that meeting due to start no i forgot no of course you must go and no i will stay in and be there for everyone’s
feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding feeding
Feeding. It is feeding on me, growing larger and stronger, seeking to make a hostile takeover of my favourite company.
Give me the sword. Put it to the sword, I do not want to lose all of this; who else will do the feeding?
I wonder if I can rush around my internal house, collecting up all the bits of anger I have dropped onto the floors over the years. If I collect them into a single bag, and then squeeze it smaller and tighter and harder and brighter and thinner to focus it like a laser beam onto it. It, the malignant thing that was once benign. It, the thing that was once me.
Go away. Leave me to my feeding.
The power of the Most High will overshadow you and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Typical really, the men do the deeds and the women count the costs. I wonder if I am pointing my fire power at the right target. Maybe I should besiege the Gates of Heaven?
What I hate about the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever happens to us, no matter how ghastly or painful or unfair or unwarranted, the Christ has suffered more. So there is no point in complaining and the lake of self-pity is put firmly out of bounds. A neat trick, that. So, we just have to put up or shut up, and the response is a deafening silence.
What I love about the Kingdom of Heaven: whatever happens to us, no matter how ghastly or painful or unfair or unwarranted, the Christ has suffered more. So here he is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A neat trick, that. So, we just have to put up or shut up, and the response is a supportive silence.
The devil/god is in the detail. Pick and mix, according to my mood.
It’s late, nearly 3:16 am. Did Mary watch the long walk to his death, his bleeding stumbling, carrying a cross that was far too heavy for him, even for his carpenter’s frame? Did she ask Simon to go and help him? Could she still smooth the way or was she by then a spent force? An empty vessel? A broken reed? A piece of broken pottery? A hag with dried up dugs? Did she see Judas counting the tear-stained silver; did she forgive him? Was he only role-playing as she was? Did she submit to the sword piercing her heart or did she put up a fight?
Was it too much for her to bear? Did she look away, this Queen of Heaven with the saddest of eyes?
Soul or heart or breast? It’s all the same to me. Or is it? Maybe or maybe not. If you bring the sword to my breast, will my heart and my soul be safe? Is it just biological stuff: adipose tissue, lymph and ducts? Or is it part of my essence?
I love my breasts, their curves with their thin pointy round nipples. I love the way they snuggle into tight clothes. I love the way that men like to look at them, even now, after so many years.
‘After the torchlight red on sweaty faces, after the frosty silence in the gardens, after the agony in stony places, the shouting and the crying’.
Dear old Tom Eliot, squeezing himself into constipated consonances in an attempt to strain every drop of his personality from his verses. Yet, there it remains, the unresolved sexual tension. He and his wife, with their ‘book of common prayer’ facade, their Bloomsbury manners and stiff upper lips. It was probably the only part of him that was stiff, whilst furtively lusting after that which was forbidden and illegal. Silly old sod.
The Church Fathers busily divided each part of their personalities into water-tight compartments, separate and inviolate. Then flailing their protesting flesh into submission.
If love is so simple, why make it so forbidden?
And you, Holy Mother, did you see your Son seeking solace in the touches and softness of flesh in his lonely nights in the garden? Did you warn him to stay away from him and from her, just in case the paparazzi gospel writers got wind of the story?
This might be blasphemy, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did. To lie still with someone whose heart beats synchronise with your own: to feel the empathy of acceptance. This is what quickens the Spirit, this is what gives us strength to go into the darkness, into the haunted room, into the empty silence.
"My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Were you there when he said that? Did you cry out and run to try to wrestle the cup from his lips? Did you remember when you cradled his baby head to your nipples?
“Yet not as I will...”
That’s the double bind.
“...but as you will”.
But did he take a risk, a big risk? At the moment when the nails ripped through the flesh, did he play dice: did he risk everything on the turn of a single card? Can he change his mind?
I am hanging by a thread in time, risking everything on a turn of the card. Do you understand that or do you turn away with a shrug? Is the Mother alongside me now, synchronising my heartbeats with her own?
Did you cry, Holy Mother, as you rose to meet the darkness and the sword reached into your heart? Was it all over in an instant, in the cold sweat of a waking nightmare? Or did you linger, with time to wonder and question?
Did you see him again, afterwards? Did he speak with you, did he explain, did he apologise or are you still left wondering, left outside this victory from the depths of defeat? Tell me mother: is it still a Man’s game?