Children of Darkness and Light
By Nicholas Mosley
You know the story of the children in Yugoslavia who said they had seen the Virgin Mary: she appeared to them on the side of a hill and went on talking to them in the village church in the evenings; the hillside and the church became a shrine. I did a piece on this for the newspaper I was working for at the time — about the susceptibilities and projections of adolescent children, the local political situation from which the authorities might welcome a diversion, church rivalries in which the Franciscans might be using the children in their battle with the state-backed clergy. My editor said `But people don't want this analytical stuff; they want a piece about children who say they've seen the Virgin Mary.'
I said `But people don't believe that, do they?'
`Part of them will want to believe. Part of them will think it's rubbish.'
`So they won't have to think at all.'
So I went and wrote a piece about the wonderment of the children on the side of the hill; the ruthlessness of church and state authorities in their treatment of the children. I managed to make the harassment of the children seem vaguely sexual.
My editor said `You're learning.'
I said `But the interesting thing is what the Virgin Mary seemed to be saying. She said that humans, with their greed and violence, are in danger of destroying themselves: this is the last time she's going to appear to give warning.'
The editor said `You don't believe that, do you?'
`She goes on and on about the need for prayer and fasting. But people have been trying that for centuries, and it doesn't seem to work.' I added `I mean, I think this language is some sort of metaphor.'
The editor gave me a look as if I might not last much longer with his newspaper.
I wrote yet another piece on what I myself felt about the story — in terms of it being a metaphor. I said that the Virgin Mary must know that her instructions weren't working because they had been tried so often and had been ineffective; what she must really want was for us, her children, to recognise this and grow up and start working things out on our own. I added that a metaphor was a way of talking about practical things that could be looked at in no better way.
I had become friendly with a local clergyman who was on the editorial board of an avant-garde religious magazine. I rang him up and said `Why is it that what the Virgin Mary says in these appearances is always so boring?'
He said `Perhaps she wants us to see that it's boring, so we'll begin to work things out for ourselves. But she can't say that, or we wouldn't be working things out for ourselves.'
I said `But that's just what I'm saying!'
He said `Then it seems to be working, doesn't it.'
He got my piece published in his religious magazine. It seemed that no one paid much attention to it.
I had a girlfriend at the time who was called Melissa. Melissa was a student at an art school: I had just started in this my first job with a newspaper. Melissa and I were living together in two rooms in North London. Melissa became pregnant. I said `Now what do we do — a bit of fasting and self-laceration, or do we think for ourselves.'
Melissa said `It's me we're talking about, not the Virgin Mary.'
I thought — What's the difference?
So in this way our son Billy came to be born — with the help, it is true, of what might be called a bit of anxiety and trusting.
I had first seen Melissa at her art school when she had been standing in front of a pedestal on which there was a lump of clay. She was squeezing the clay with her hands; she was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I wanted to take her in my hands and squeeze and mould her. I remembered the idea that when you are doing a piece of sculpture, you are not so much forming an object as discovering what is there.
When our son Billy was born he emerged as if he were a sun rising above hills. Then he was left on the edge of the bed while the nurse and doctor attended to Melissa. I thought — Poor old sun, you don't get much help from us, do you.
I said to Melissa `I suppose now we'd better marry.'
She said `I wondered whether you were going to say that.'
`I didn't want you to think I felt trapped.'
`Don't you feel trapped?'
So Mellisa and I Married: and we lived with our son Billy for what indeed seemed sometimes forever after.
I don't want to write much about the early years of Melissa's and my marriage. A wedding used to be taken as the end of a story: more difficult to see, but more interesting, would be what happens after. During the early years of a marriage often nothing much seems to be happening: roots are being put down; growth or decay goes on underground unseen. With a child or children it is apt to be anyway a bit of a long winter. The compensations are those of being able to be wrapped up close in bed; of holding out hands on either side of a fire. But there is also inescapably the anxiety that it may never be spring again. Marriage, all right, should be a nurturing of roots and seeds; but what of the flowers that one once so boldly or tremblingly displayed — have not they been cut as it were and put in a vase, with not much prospect of new life between this and the bonfire?
Sometimes during these years — I am talking of the seven or eight years after Melissa and I married — I had the image of myself as an old monkey sitting on the stump of a felled tree, but its roots going deep into the earth as if they were an extension of the backbone of the monkey; and there still reaching to primitive needs and desires and wanting to feed from these — poor old monkey! He scratches his head: he had such hopes that he would no longer feel anything of this — that some higher state of consciousness would emerge to flower above his head like one of those chakras that are supposed to arise from meditation —
— But now here he is still plagued like St Anthony in the desert and wanting to scratch much more than his head; in which case whatever seeds might have flowered would be blown away on the wind —
— but seeds have to be scattered of course —
— and does not old ground have to be broken up before new flowers can grow?
Melissa and I sometimes fought. We fought because we each wanted our own ground, we each wanted the other to be out of our own ground, we each wanted the other to be contained and held safely within our ground. Sometimes our needs complemented one another; sometimes they did not.
All this, I mean, seems to be natural to marriage: what else is the point of two people each wanting to invade the other; to complete themselves by possessing the other? Thus indeed there is the impression of earth being broken up: but so that something new may grow?
Often the requirements of our son Billy were the area over which we fought. At other times Billy seemed the obvious justification for our marriage. When it was my turn to watch over Billy or to comfort him at night I would think — I am some Frankenstein's monster with a defective brain which sometimes wants to cast what it might love into a river like the petals of a flower: but since I know this, then might not this be some new growth in a not totally defective brain — do you hear me, Billy!
I sometimes tried to talk to Melissa about this. But Melissa would feel that my efforts at reason, at detachment, were moves by some ape-man to drag her into my cave. I would say — But if you do not like detachment, then you are some ape-woman wanting to prevent us from getting out of our cave.
She would say — And you think that by being clever you can keep us half in and half out of the cave. And now you'll say — Yes I do.
I would say — Yes I do. Then — That's half of it.
— And what's the other half?
— We'll see.
I lost my job on the first newspaper I worked for: I had begun to drink too much; I had such contempt for people who wrote what they thought people wanted to hear rather than search, like a sculptor, for what might be true. And anyway, what was it that people might want to hear? If they wanted dirt, then might it not be about this strange desire that they might like to hear?
I said to Melissa `Now I'm unemployed I can do more of my share in the home.'
Melissa said `God forbid.'
I said `That's what St Paul said when he worked out that in order to have grace, you had to sin.'
She said `You're drinking too much.'
I said `That's true.'
Thus, some time before that at which I will begin my proper story, life had begun to run down. There was some breaking-up of old ground, indeed, but where were the signs of when new life might begin? I wondered — Something is required other than just trying to be clever; one must watch for which way the wind blows?
I was offered a job — more reputable than my last — by the Features Editor of a national newspaper whom I had known briefly at school. I thought — This is luck? I said to Melissa `I think he was a bit in love with me at school.'
She said `I thought you said he had read and admired your work.' I said `that's true.'
I achieved some success in my new job. I was away from home much of the time doing stories in foreign places. I established some corner in the business of writing articles about the connections between what was going on in the world and current ideas in the mind. I enjoyed success. But I was pursued by the question — What was I doing making out that I was reporting objectively on events and ideas when one of the ideas I was writing about was that the observer in some way formed the images that he saw? And had I not had the idea that humans should learn to be responsible — and not only for themselves?
At the time when I begin my proper story Melissa and I were living in a tall thin house in a terrace above the canal in North London. Billy was twelve and went to the local school; Melissa went out to work most days to do designs for ceramics: Billy was quite often looked after by helpers and friends. I had been making efforts to stop drinking but in fact was in danger of falling down on my job --
(Have I succeeded in giving the impression of things both not happening and happening during these years? the sense both of aimlessness and of commitment; of sometimes waste and sometimes the trust that things might after all be growing underground secretly: hope even that perhaps one day there might be a flowering like that Tantric chakra above the head — some state of higher consciousness in which potentialities and hopes might be held in suspense like the condition of Schrodinger's both-alive-and-dead cat; waiting for some act of recognition, some chance event, to resolve the condition this way or that; and then --
— This is alive? that is dead?
Or — Are you joking?)
I was summoned one day by my old schoolfriend, Jack, who had recently been promoted to being Editor of the newspaper, who said --
`Didn't you once do a story on those children in Yugoslavia?'
I said `Oh God, I hoped no one would remember that.'
`Because it was an impossible thing to write about. The children went on saying they talked every evening with the Virgin Mary. They believed this. So what can you say: that you don't?'
Jack said `Did you believe it?'
I said `I didn't and I did. I believed that they believed. What more can you write about that?'
Jack was looking at some press-cuttings on his desk. I sat on a chair facing him. He said `There's a group of schoolchildren in the north, in Cumbria. They're said to have had some message from the Virgin Mary. Except that these children now seem to be saying that this isn't true --'
I said `That might be interesting.'
`Because that's what the Virgin Mary might have told them to say. I mean that's what they might have said the Virgin Mary told them to say. I mean all these things are stories.' I thought I might add — Then they might get on with doing what they wanted on their own.
Jack pushed the press-cuttings across the desk to me. They were from a local newspaper in Cumbria. They told the story of a group of children, aged between seven and thirteen, who had set up in some sort of commune on their own in the hills. They were not being prevented from doing this by their families or the local Social Services. There had been the story that the Virgin Mary had instructed them to do this in a vision; then the leader of the children, a girl called Gaby, had said that she had made this story up. When the reporter had asked her why, she had said — Why do you think? The reporter had been unable to decide what she was or was not making up --
I said `You see --!'
Jack said `What do I see?'
`Nothing.' Then — `They might be able to go their own way.'
There was a photograph of a young girl with a round face and short fair hair. I thought — Such a girl is nowadays an archetype in people's minds: a sort of younger sister of the Virgin Mary.
I said `What was interesting about the children in Yugoslavia was that their visions and messages about destruction and self-destruction happened just in the area where for the last few years people have in fact been tearing themselves to pieces --'
Jack said `And what do you think might be interesting about these children now?'
`If they've gone off on their own, perhaps they want to survive.'
At the end of a second piece in the local newspaper there were scarcely veiled hints that there might be connections between this story and an earlier story of satanic cults involving children and parents and indeed Social Services people in the area. I thought I might say to the local reporter — You're learning!
Jack said `You see the sexual connections? Why aren't the families and the welfare people butting in?'
I said `You mean, the children might have some hold over them?'
Jack said `that's not what I meant --'
I said `Everyone's got this abuse stuff on the brain.'
I had begun to wonder why Jack might be wanting to involve me with this story: it seemed too small a story for me to go on. But Jack knew I had been drinking; I had not done much serious work for some time. Also of course it was true that this might be my sort of story --
I said `You want me to go up there?'
He said `Rather up your street?'
I was thinking — On the other hand, Jack knows that I have recently been having a difficult time with Melissa, and it has sometimes struck me that Jack might be after Melissa --
Jack said `You can take a photographer.'
I said `What photographer?'
I didn't think that Jack knew about Janice. Janice was a girl, woman, girl (what's the difference) that I had been in vague pursuit of for some time. (I will be saying more about this habit of the pursuit of girls.) The fact that Jack had mentioned Janice was evidence, surely, that he might be after Melissa —
I said `Jack, you're entering the destruction or self-destruction business!'
He said `I thought you were suggesting that messages might be about how to survive.'
`You mean, a weekend for two at that four-star hotel in the Lake District, what's its name, the one with the good food?'
`I'm sure Janice would do it.'
There is a pub called The Sailing Junk where people from my newspaper and from others whose offices have moved to the area like to congregate in the evenings — a gathering of the tribes like that of apes round their tree-stumps: a chattering, nudging, scratching, screeching; an exercise-yard for the phantoms that are imprisoned in people's minds. These phantoms are to do with power, prestige, vainglory, money; but above all, for men like myself at least, to do with girls (women, girls — you think words can make a difference?), an archetype of such phantoms being Janice. Janice wore short tight skirts above long legs; Janice was like a bud waiting to burst; Janice had long fair hair like the sticky fronds of plants that attract insects. Janice was setting herself up as a free-lance photographer: she was herself like one of those sleek photographs of models that lodge in people's minds. It was to The Sailing Junk that I would come in the evenings in my pursuit of Janice — like some odd bee with his proboscis or whatever between would-be prehensile legs.
What is there to be said about this enlurement, wonder, curse, that gets itself dolled up in romantic or appalled images? Men are monkeys on their tree-stumps; they have lines going to and from the earth and their guts, minds, balls — all right, if they had not, how would they have taken the trouble for thousands of years to ensure that the race survived? And how can the institution of marriage be expected to make much difference to this? Marriage is a phenomenon of the heart and head and does have much effect on the genetic life of the balls. Janice was a genotype as it were and reached up to the mind by a direct line from the guts. I sometimes tried to talk to Melissa of this: I would say --
— It is not as if anyone wants this sort of curse! Men should be pitied, not blamed, for lustfulness. These phantoms that haunt us are disasters, catastrophes, that go back to Adam and Eve and that tree --
Melissa would say — You see, you blame women!
— I don't, I thank God for them --
— Well please thank God a little more for me.
It sometimes seemed to me that my drinking was in order to get rid of these images — or perhaps to become at home with them. But then what sort of world might it be in which one might be at home both with them, and with Billy and Melissa?
At the back of The Sailing Junk there was a long covered terrace with plate-glass windows that looked out over the river. Here one could watch an occasional barge going past, like a leaf that presaged autumn. At the bar there was the pumping of elbows and chatter like machinery — the racket that had taken over from the age-old traffic of the river. I knew quite a number of the people who came to the pub; but since I had been trying to stop drinking I found it almost impossible to have much contact with them — and they, I suppose for the same reason, seemed to keep clear of me. I thought — One drinks in a desperate effort to be at home with other humans; sober, there is the fearful realisation that there might be just oneself, and the whole.
I sat on a stool on the covered terrace and looked again at the cuttings that Jack had given me. The story about the children stopped, as usual, just when it might have become interesting. It had apparently been the father of Gaby, the leader of the children, who had spread the story about the vision of the Virgin Mary; the hints were that this had been done to cover up dubious relationships between the families and the authorities and the children. I thought I might say to the local reporter — But you do see, don't you, that all such phantasms themselves might be a cover-up —
— A cover-up of what --
— Of learning about any journey, search, that might be being undertaken by the children — or oneself?
I saw that Janice and a man called Malcolm had come into the bar in the main part of the pub. Janice was wearing one of her skirts that was like no more than a bandage round her behind. Malcolm was the Science Correspondent of a rival newspaper; he sometimes wrote stories that were in competition with mine. I might be jealous of Malcolm: however — he might rescue me from Janice?
Each time I saw Janice the old monkey within me began jumping up and down on his stump; scratching at his root that went down into the earth; wanting to pull it up, pull it in, pull it off: or as if it were the bandage that was wound round Janice's behind --
— A wound, a scab, a healing — give it air.
I wandered through to the main part of the pub. I said `Hullo, Janice.'
`Oh hullo --'
`Malcolm, there's a message for you from Scotland, you're wanted there rather urgently, they're having a bit of trouble with the king.'
`Oh hullo, Harry, I see you've been reading some good books lately.'
I said `Janice, I've got a job, if you'd like to come. In Cumbria.'
`Yes I know, I've spoken to Jack.'
`You've spoken to Jack?'
`He rang me.'
I thought — You mean, in that case, Jack really is keen on Melissa? There is indeed a whole tribe of us gibbering on tree-stumps?
Janice said `Malcolm, be a love, and get us a drink.'
I said `I'll do it.'
`No, let Malcolm.'
I was wondering — So what is Janice's relationship with Malcolm? I had not seen them together before. She seemed to be treating him with some disdain: but this might be just familiarity?
Malcolm went off to the bar. I said `I didn't quite know whether to say that in front of Malcolm.'
She said `You think something might go wrong?'
`You'll come on this job?'
Because all this suddenly seemed to be so easy, I began to have doubts. Of course I should worry about Melissa! Had I not said to Jack that this sort of thing was a carry-on towards destruction? How on earth had I worked out that never to risk this sort of thing was also some form of self-destruction --
I said `There are some children who say they've seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. Or this might be a manoeuvre. They've set themselves up as a sort of commune in the hills. I thought it might be of interest, but I didn't know if it would be to you --'
`Of course --'
`Anyway, who cares about the children!'
With Janice's small soft face a few inches from my own it did not seem indeed that anything much mattered except that I should get Janice to a four-star hotel in Cumbria as quickly as possible; and there, in a bedroom overlooking a moon-lit lake, who indeed would care about destruction or self-destruction --
Janice said `But you mean, what about Malcolm?'
I said `You do have to worry about Malcolm?'
`I mean, won't he tell Melissa?'
Then for a moment — as Janice's face resolved itself into something more distinct, more wary — I had the impression that I was to have increasingly in the days that followed: that there might be something going on just outside my range of knowledge, but it was just this, perhaps, that might be the point of our journey.
Malcolm was coming back with the drinks.
Janice said quickly `I'll try to fix it with Melissa.'
I thought — For God's sake, you fix it with Melissa?
Malcolm was setting down the drinks.
He said `You'd better watch out in Cumbria.'
Janice said `Why?'
Malcolm said `Nasty things coming out of the woodwork.'
I was still trying to work out — Malcolm might tell Melissa? Malcolm knew Melissa? --
— Something was coming out of the woodwork?
Janice was saying to me `Did you read Malcolm?'
I said `What?'
Malcolm said `The invasion of the body-snatchers. The end of this planet as we know it.'
I managed to work out that what Malcolm and Janice were talking about was an article that Malcolm had written recently about the dangers of radioactive contamination coming from the nuclear reprocessing plant and power station in Cumbria. There was some evidence that leakages were occurring, that there was a threat to the health of children in the area, that the genetic systems of adults were affected; though of course all this was denied by the authorities --
I said `You think that all that might have something to do with these children?'
Malcolm said `What?'
Malcolm said `Aren't you going to drink up? I didn't know whether or not you were on the wagon.'
`Yes I am.'
`On the jolly old tumbril to Cumbria.'
Janice said `Oh bugger off, Malcolm.'
Malcolm had put a glass of what looked like whisky and soda in front of me. I stared at the glass. The bubbles rose to the surface, burst: they seemed to represent infinite possibilities: one or two might be captured; might contain this or that universe --
Malcolm said `when are you going?'
Janice said `Tomorrow.'
Malcolm raised his glass. He said `Here's looking at you, children.'
I stood up. I raised my glass. I said `Thanks for the drink, Malcolm.'
Janice said `Don't go.'
I said `I'll see you tomorrow.'
I went back to my stool on the terrace with its windows over the river. I took my glass. I had not drunk from it. I thought — You have to admit that drink is stronger than yourself: then if you do perhaps you are freed from it --
— This is what happens with any form of trusting?
There was an old-fashioned sailing-ship going past on the river, its brown sails furled. On it, standing looking out over the rail, were people in what appeared to be fancy dress — men in frilled shirts and knee-breeches, women in dresses with lace collars and long skirts. It was as if they were on some voyage to discover the New World; or more likely re-enacting this for television — the hopes of peace and harmony; the reality of hardship and fighting. I thought — But people choose what they like — what they see on television?
I looked down at the bubbles in my glass. I thought — Come on, I am like a denizen of dry and stony ground; do I not need some breaking up?
The people at the bar were clattering and raising their arms like machinery. I thought — This is the invasion of the body-snatchers: I need some protection. I drank a sip of whisky.
I had gone out to Yugoslavia some years after I had written about the children who said they talked with the Virgin Mary: I was to do a follow-up on the story. In the local village I had found all the razzmatazz of a Catholic shrine — the trinket stalls, the softdrink stands, the groups from America and Germany with their cheer-leader priests and set smiles. And I thought — These people will surely not divert whatever fire and brimstone is due to fall on stony ground! But then I had walked across the fields to a rocky path up the hill to where the children had seen their first vision; and there everything was still and silent, people were kneeling or sitting or treading with bare feet, there was a space where the rocks had been made smooth and gleaming by people's knees and feet. Stuck into cracks and pockets of earth were innumerable small crosses that were, yes, like a crop from seeds — ones that had fallen on stony ground but whose roots had thus dug all the deeper into the earth to produce — what — flowers that might emerge from the top of the head like the sun?
In the pub I had drunk only a sip or two of my whisky. It had seemed — I need to be in partnership with something stronger than myself.
In Yugoslavia I had been one of a small group who had been permitted to interview two of the children who were still in the village and who were still having visions or visitations. These children, a boy and a girl, now fifteen and sixteen, were courteous and attentive; they listened to questioners as if striving to have sympathy: it was as if they were saying — You can think we are suffering from delusions or you can believe us, as you like; what does this matter? everyone will have, has to have, his or her own experience. And this was what I had felt when I had been on the hillside: this was a place to which people came properly to enquire not about the children, but about themselves.
I was sitting on the terrace of the pub. It was growing dark outside. I had drunk no more of my whisky. I pushed it away. I thought — What firmness! or confession of delusion. But I still found, as I so often found at this time, that I was reluctant to go home. There was that cartoon image of one's wife like a gorgon above roof-tops --
— But is not a gorgon in a mirror in which one looks at oneself?
I had got into the habit of travelling to and from work by bus or Underground because I had once been caught for drunken driving and I now drove as little as I could in the town. In the Underground I joined the great army of those who appeared to be defeated — whose hopes had fallen and faded on stony ground. I thought — But my hope has always been to be an agent in occupied territory: this is a metaphor that might be true?
I wondered whether Billy would be asleep when I got home. Sometimes I looked forward to seeing Billy: sometimes Billy got in the way of the ludicrous fights that Melissa and I appeared to have a need for in the evenings. In these Billy was sometimes a peacemaker and sometimes a victim. I thought — And sometimes it is as if Melissa and I should be on our knees on the side of that hill.
I walked to our terrace of neatly refurbished houses. Melissa might be lining up her sights on me from an upstairs window: Melissa might come running into my arms in flight from whatever were her own ghostly pursuers. Such images are in our minds: they get blown there by the wind.
There was no light from our downstairs window: Melissa might have gone to bed; she might be upstairs with Billy. I could explain — I have been working late; don't you know that people in newspaper offices have to work late? Or — Oh all right, it's true that I am reluctant to come home: do you blame me if you are like a gorgon lurking above the roof-tops? Do I blame you? Oh no! Or do I?
There seemed to be no lights on at all in our house. Melissa might be waiting behind the front door with a rolling-pin: if she hit me the seeds of my brain might spill like those of a melon onto the floor — and there grow again from dragons' teeth like angels. And then I could take my oh-so-lonely wife into my arms and hold her tight — so tight that she could not get a knee up into my groin — and we could prance like monkeys round our tree-stumps.
I put my head round the front door. The hallway was dark. I turned on the light. There were what seemed to be two extra uprights by the banisters at the top of the stairs. I realised that these were legs; in a film this would be shot to induce terror — the expectation of someone garrotted and propped at the top of the stairs. I quite often saw things in terms of film-shots at this time: this was a way of recognising some of the rubbish that went on in the mind? I realised that the legs were those of Melissa: how well I knew Melissa's legs! they were shapely and sturdy, indeed not a monkey's legs: thought what would be wrong about a couple of loving old monkeys? The view of her body was cut off by the line of the landing at the top of the stairs; she might be wearing one of her short nightdresses, or nothing. Perhaps I could make out that I had been hit by a bus on the way home: then I could crawl up the last few steps and throw myself at her feet; claw my way up her to reach her waist, breasts, face. Or she could put a foot on me, trample on me, which people are supposed to enjoy in this sort of predicament --
I went on up the stairs. There was Melissa indeed in her short dressing-gown that made her look like a mediaeval archer. I said `Co-ee!' She said nothing.
I reached up and put my arms around her. She was wearing nothing underneath her dressing-gown: there were the miraculous formations and substances that I had long since discovered as it were in her clay. I was still a step underneath her, so she could not get a knee at my groin. I began to think — I might get away with this! But of course, I must have known that this is when one is most exposed. After a time I looked up and saw that Melissa was doing something with the inside of her mouth: she was about to cry? she was fighting to keep back laughter? I wanted to say — Oh Melissa, you are after all the only person I have loved, or will love, you must know! Then she spat in my face.
I got hold of her hands and held them behind her. I said `If you do that again I shall hit you.'
She said `That's what you want to do, isn't it?'
I said `No, that's what you want me to do.'
She seemed to be preparing another gob in her mouth, so I freed one hand and put it over her mouth and said `Shin, you'll wake Billy.' She bit my hand.
I thought — Well now surely my way is clear to go with Janice to Cumbria.
It seemed that I might get a hand between Melissa's legs and lift her off the ground and carry her through to the bedroom; I had seen men in the Middle East do this sort of thing to donkeys. Then I could fall and lie on top of her on the bed. But Melissa and I had in fact never been much good at the rough stuff as a prelude to making love; either it was all too serious, or else we got giggles.
I took my hand away from her mouth and she said `You creepy bastard.'
I said `I'm trying, but I don't seem to be succeeding.'
`Billy's not here.'
`Where is he then?'
`He's with friends.'
`Why do you think?'
`Because his father's such a creepy bastard?'
I thought this quite witty. But Melissa was making writhing movements inside her mouth again.
I said `You're drunk.'
She said `I'm drunk!'
I said `Yes you're drunk.' Such conversations, in this sort of situation, were apt to go on for some time. But it was true that Melissa also had recently been drinking too much, as if not to be outdone by me.
Perhaps because I was holding her so that she could not get at me with her hands, Melissa landed another gob of spittle on my face. This time I hit her. I had intended it to be a slap on the face, but it came out harder than I intended. You imagine you are in control, and then you are not.
I let go of her. She ran towards the bedroom. I thought I should retire downstairs and think about what to do: I could ring up Janice? But it was as if the enraged monkey within me prodded me with a stick and I went after Melissa; she tried to slam the bedroom door and I got a foot in; we remained like this for some time with Melissa heaving and kicking at my leg and me acting as if it were made of wood. I was trying to remember — All right we are not in control; but can we not do something with this knowledge?
I shouted `Stop it!' and pushed the door violently so that Melissa was flung back on the bed. She lay there with her legs apart. I thought — That's better: but I should not just jump on her? I paced up and down like a wrestler on television.
I said `What is all this? I'm sorry I hit you.'
She said `You know what it is.'
`That fucking bitch rang you.'
`What fucking bitch?'
`Janice rang me?'
I thought — But Janice couldn't have rung me!
Or — She said she'd try to fix things with Melissa?
Melissa said `She said you wanted her to go on some trip with you tomorrow.'
I said `It's work. It's a job. It's somewhere in Cumbria. I didn't fix it, Jack fixed it. I expect she was ringing to try to make it all right with you.'
`What do you mean? What was she trying to make all right with me?'
I thought — Now keep my head, and remain calm, and perhaps I can get both Janice and Melissa.
I said `I'm not interested in Janice. It's a sort of illness, being interested in Janice. I think I'm not doing too badly. If I was up to no good, why should she ring you?'
Melissa said `Yes, why should she?' Then --' Does Jack know about you and Janice?'
She said this in a far-away voice, as if she were thinking of something else. I thought — Oh yes, yes, haven't I been thinking, there may be something between you and Jack?
I said `What do you mean, what might Jack know about me and Janice?'
Melissa said `I just wondered.'
She was lying on her elbows on the bed. There did not seem to be any mark where I had hit her. I sat down on the bed beside her. She looked hot and dishevelled. I thought — Indeed, one might take advantage of whatever turns up --
I put out a hand to touch her. I said `Your poor face.'
She said `It's not your fault.'
I thought — What do you mean, it's not my fault?
She said `I just think it's so pathetic that you have to ask my permission to go off with Janice, that's all.'
I made a grab at her, but she seemed to have been expecting this, because she twisted away and made a dash for the bathroom; I was left holding her dressing-gown. There was a glimpse of her for a moment in those miraculous shapes like liquids held in air: then she was in the bathroom with the door being banged and locked behind her. This time I did not go after her. It seemed suddenly — There is a part of her that wants me to go off with Janice.
I thought I should pack a suitcase and set off quickly without further ado. When Melissa and I reached this stage in a battle it was apt to go on all night: and now there was no Billy to pour cold water on us as if we were dogs. My car was parked outside. I could drive all night. I like driving long distances; I could be in Cumbria by morning. And then I could decide what to do about Janice — and indeed like this it would not seem that I had gone off hand-in-hand with Janice --
I got a suitcase down from the top of the bedroom cupboard. I put in pyjamas and socks and a shirt or two: I could buy things I needed from the bathroom later. I thought — So I am, yes, a bit of a creepy bastard --
— But did I really want to go away from Melissa?
— Though it was true that Melissa, if she wished, could have stopped me?
There was no sound from Melissa. Once when she locked herself in the bathroom she had said she was about to take, was already taking, an overdose of pills: it had never become clear how far that had been true. But there would be no point in Melissa taking an overdose if I were not there to be threatened; so for everyone's sake it did seem best if I just got away quietly.
I placed my suitcase beyond the open door on to the landing.
But did I not really love only Melissa?
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