All night I toss and turn and wake from dreams about my childhood, dreams that vanish as I wake — possibly because I am not yet ready to receive them. My father angry or silent with his face averted, my father elderly and helpless, my father as a small boy evacuated out of an incendiary Edinburgh during World War II. A lifethat continues in me but so much unspoken, unmended. I feel as if I am finding my way through a dim high-walled labyrinth, trying to write history backwards.
My puppies are going to the vet tobe neutered ( is that the right term?) on Thursday and I hope everything goes well. My beloved housemate is recovering well and very gentle and caring towards me because she remembers her own experience of bereavement, her mother dying, as if it were yesterday. Neighbours pop in and offer to do shopping or bake pies for me.
What I want to do is to keep busy and let the deeper feeings surface over time. I feel a little numb and shocked and sad. No great epiphanies, no dramas, just a glimmerng of light as I keep walking through the labyrinth. In bed with coffee this morning I read an extract from the writer JM Coetzee’s new novel, Summertime, a son looking back on his oblique faiedrelationship with a depressed and inaccessible father. The young man walking through a sea city, the streets and plazas of Cape Town 30 or more years ago, a city of palm trees and flat-roofed houses, running down from the slopes of Table Mountain to the wide blue bay.
And I am also reading the poetry of Kay Ryan whose life partner Carol Adair died in January. The speechlessness of loss. All that cannot be said.
Ryan: ‘It’s what we can’t know that interests us.’
The labyrinth is constructed of memories, a kind of necropolis. The small colonial towns of my childhood in central Africa, towns with large parks and vivid with flamboyant and coral trees. The seaside resorts where our family endured unhappy annual holidays on the Indian Ocean, the glitter of white dunes running between milkwood copses and mangrove swamps. My father fishing out on Tortoise Rock, alone at dawn with tides running high. My imagined glimpses of his Edinburgh in the 1930s. Places and countries that no longer exist. A landscape through which he no longer moves, that red-bearded Scot with his Jekyll and Hyde split, his way with bull terrier dogs, his passion for the ebonywood and teak trees of Africa. His desire to vanish into places where he would not be known, his ways of escape that so often coincide with my own.
And the winding passageways of the labyrinth go on twisting and tunneling into the past. The archeology of sober grief.