Waiting for Shackleton

Sometimes I cannot distinguish between fiction and reality. No, that is clumsily put, both absorb me equally, taking me over, sucking me in. Stories. All these stories. Stories from the radio and from the books I am reading for my research. What a hotpotch – one day Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, the next E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. I’d never read the latter, just knew of the film. Do you remember how children’s books used to make you feel? I asked him over supper, in-between answering crossword clues and talking about K’s biopsy. I talked of the adventures, the freedom, set against the cosiness, the coming home for tea and the long summers. Yes, he said. As I’ve said I read differently now, but I also succumb more, allowing myself to fall into them, completely. It is a intensely rich experience. Stories making pictures in my head. This time a radio programme about Ernest Shackleton’s banjo. Twenty-two men trapped on the Endurance for months, waiting. Waiting for Shackleton to return. To save them. The banjo entertained them. They sang songs, made up songs, ribald songs. How is it to wait like that? What patience, what fortitude, what trust.

I walked into a brawl. Not a fight exactly but an altercation. I didn’t know what to do. Should I intervene? Three men on the Prom. Big men. Big men shouting, posturing, threatening and shoving. I was walking by and one of them caught my eye in-between the shouting. I thought he was trying to separate the others, prevent a fight, but no he was the aggressor. He stared at me as he jammed the flat of his hands against the man’s chest. But I was walking away, said the man. Then he was on the ground. I kept turning round. He was still on the ground. Still on the ground. I told you, shouted the other. Never, never intervene, he said at breakfast.  

I want to get it all done in one go. I want to get on with it, head down uninterrupted. Hunger wakes him and my plan is scuppered. He is cross and so am I. He nicks his chin shaving again and bleeds and bleeds. It’s the medication. His blood is so thin. He bleeds like a stuck pig. His eye hurts too. Be kind, be compassionate. I’m always a little edgy when we are due to go away. It will be fine. One thing at a time. She was the same, holidays were a campaign. Such work. Bless her. The drudge of it. Just like Bunty Lennox and her sisters – 1950s drudgery. The whole week spent cleaning. Then it starts all over again. Monday wash day. Tuesday the ‘high-dusting’. Wednesday the ‘low dusting’ and so on. It is in my genes and therefore my once a week cleaning never feels enough. Never good enough.

I want to finish all those ‘begun-projects’ in my plan chest. See them through. Face the not-good-enough-ness of them. Like his quilt. Today. Re-start, make it good enough.