Just back from the airport where we dropped off my drunken friend en route to the funeral of a young niece killed in a head-on collision. A strong and changeable wind blowing and planes taxiing out onto the runway with a loud roaring of engines. She had a head-splitting hangover and could barely light a cigarette, deathly pale and jaundiced, wearing a jaunty red plaid jacket that made matters worse. I gave her some orange juice, some organic cloudy apple juice and some cheese crackers to take along. She lookd at them with grim distaste but when the plane hits the turbulence over those towering Cape mountain ranges she will need something in her stomach to make the retching bearable. The sunlight hard as knives and she looked grey and pasty, a condition I remember oh so well. As she hugged me goodbye very gingerly, holding her dark glasses in place, she said in a wistful voice: ‘I hope my sister remembers to serve wine with lunch.’ I burst out laughing. Our dogged determination to perpetuate the suffering. I used to feel grateful for blinding hangovers because they took my mind off the prospect of plane crashes and I did not mind the thought of imminent death so much.
Came back to see that a biography of the great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor has been published, the first since O’Connor’s death 44 years ago. She was perhaps the most brilliant, acerbic and mystical writer of the 20th century, certainly the most disconcerting to read. She did her own take on the Gothic of the Deep South and the stories are timeless. I hope the biographer Brad Gooch can cope with Aquinas and Duns Scotus and has empathy for the eccentric.
Such a busy day, conference papers to edit, a short story to revise, bushels of celery to blanch and freeze, soup needed for the soup kitchen which means dragging 10-litre pots around and chopping large quantities of onions amidst tears and sneezes. My new barely sober friend from the distant village talked and talked yesterday with heartbreaking lack of insight and pathetic longing to have it all come right as if by magic. We made a beginning and she ate a month’s supply of shortbread and then a tub of chocolate ice cream. She is terrified of dogs, so I put my puppies outside in the back garden where they dug up a pretty little cherry-red salvia. My new friend is also frightened of owls, trees struck by lightning, women in felt hats, Ford trucks, low-slung bridges, films about birds, satanic cell phone music, sheep seen in fields at night, drowned clumps of reeds in farm dams, cirrhus cloud formations at sunset and the noises her fridge makes at night. She would make a good writer of Southern Gothic fiction if she was a writer rather than suffering the free-floating phobis and paranoia of severe alcoholism. I recall how I would shudder inwardly to see the flowing water far below as I crossed bridges, how I feared a certain hour of the afternoon. The world seemed malevolent and dangerous, filled with threatening symbols and hauntings.
When I sobered up the fears went away and I hope that will be true for her as well. I shall call my new friend Hulga after the innocent farm girl in one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories in which disabled Hulga is seduced by a Bible salesman who then steals her wooden leg. The title of these stories and novels are pure poetry: Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, A Good Man is Hard to Find.