Woke up early and had a breakfast of grilled bacon and peaches (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) with a mug of strong coffee while reading through the tributes to English playwright Harold Pinter who died yesterday of cancer. When we did modern drama at university, acting out the scenes in a large lecture hall, we would stumble through his taciturn scripts full of pauses and inflected non-responses. Plays of menace and subverted power relations.
Although we studied The Homecoming and The Caretaker in detail, the play that stays with me in most detail was the heartbreaking Mountain Language about Turkish oppression of the Kurds. Speakers robbed of language and the power to communicate.
It took a while for the penny to drop whenever I began reading through a Pinter script, at first puzzling and inaccessible, but then suddenly I would glimpse what was secretly going on somewhere just out of sight of the uttered dialogue and then the pathos would break through: “below the word spoken is the thing known and unspoken.”
So often when I hear speakers in AA meetings telling their stories of what happened to them during the drinking years, the cataloguing of disasters and near-misses and black-outs, I get the same heartwrenching feel for what is not mentioned: the real life that went on elsewhere alongside the alcoholic. The friends who moved away and went on to lead lives apart, the success stories of siblings, the unremarked births of children, the ageing parents down the road, the lovers who got on with finding someone else, the work that stayed unwritten, the dreams that went unfulfilled. All that Rip van Winkle stuff happening in another room.
But here we are, bright-eyed and sober at last and perhaps that is what matters. The reason I had such a substantial breakfast is because we are going off to Stellenbosch today to have lunch with my friend Tricia who is seriously ill with lupus. Another baffling and malevolent disease that can only be controlled and not healed. She is on steroids at the moment as the lupus rages through her joints and soft tissues.
And in honour of my presence, she is about to make gazpacho, which she describes as ‘cold tomato soup’. My feeling is that gazpacho is not for novices and my adorable Tricia is a frighteningly bad cook. She likes to hide slices of kiwi fruit in chicken dishes and serve savoury tart fillings with sweet pastry bases.
But even if I have to spoon my way through cold dishwater flavoured with bits of tomato, it will be a pleasure to be with her again. And we are taking along cold roast chicken and ripe Camembert and Brie cheeses with crispbreads, so there will be something edible on that table.
Her husband is afraid she may be dying and that is the unspoken that will stay with us. She has spent the past 10 months in hospital after the lupus caused her brain to swell and there are other complications. She is severely depressed and frightened, but hates to admit it. So we shall all laugh and sit at table talking about good memmories and the thing known and unspoken will be there between us, but out of sight.