- Rachel Cusk
- My last highlight
- Number of highlights
Occasionally one of the women shouted a greeting to Gerard and I watched him reply with the enthusiasm that had always been the camouflage for his social mistrust.
We began to walk slowly away from the school and up the gradual incline towards the Tube station. There was something automatic in this choice of direction: I wasn’t intending to get on the Tube and evidently Gerard, with his bicycle, wasn’t either, but the complexity of our encounter, after so long, seemed to have created the tacit agreement that until we were sure of our ground we should remain on neutral territory and navigate by public landmarks.
When you left me,’ he said, ‘what made me sad was the idea that you were giving love to someone else when you could just as easily have given it to me. But for you it made a difference who you loved.’
He was much younger than I had expected him to be, very lean and slight, but when we shook hands his grip was almost violently firm.
I saw thoughts passing through his mind but I didn’t know what they were.
‘I love England,’ he said. ‘I love most the English cakes.’ He grinned. ‘Especially the hijack.’ You mean flapjack, I said. ‘Flapjack!’ he shouted deliriously, throwing back his head. ‘Yes, I love the flapjack!’
I said a lot of people spent their lives trying to make things last as a way of avoiding asking themselves whether those things were what they really wanted.
She was a loud-spoken woman arrayed in a resplendent series of coloured wraps and shawls, who wore a great quantity of jewellery that clanked and rattled when she gesticulated with her arms.
On Friday night I drove west out of London to see my cousin Lawrence, who had recently moved house, having left his wife, Susie, for a woman named Eloise and in the process been forced to relocate from one Wiltshire village to another of similar size and type a few miles away. These events had elicited the outrage and consternation of friends and family alike, but had barely left a mark on the outward appearance of Lawrence’s life, which seemed to go on much as it had before. The new village, Lawrence said, was in fact far more desirable and picturesque than the old one, being closer to the Cotswolds and more unspoiled. Lawrence and Eloise and Eloise’s two children constituted the new household, with Lawrence’s young daughter shuttling back and forth between her parents.
It’s all right, I said. I don’t know if it is or not, he said. There on the phone he began to talk to me about a book he was reading on Carl Jung. My whole life has been a fake, he said. I said there was no reason to believe that that perception wasn’t fake too.
The child laughed wildly, sprawled across the woman’s back with her mouth open and her head thrown back. I could see the white stumps of her small teeth in her pink gums. Then she climbed over the woman’s shoulder and, still hanging from her neck, flung herself heavily into her lap, where she writhed and kicked her legs unconstrainedly. I saw that the woman was either unwilling or unable to take control of the situation and had therefore left herself with no alternative but to act as though it wasn’t happening. ‘Did you drive here from London?’ she asked me, with difficulty, while the child writhed in her lap. It was hard to participate in her pretence, as the child had her arms so tightly around her neck that she was visibly throttling her.
‘I think people are frightened,’ Eloise said. ‘Frightened of their own children.’ If that was true, I said, it was because they saw in their children the register of their own failings and misdemeanours.
There was a cry from the other end of the table. We turned to look and saw that one child after another was rising to its feet beside Angelica, until all of them were standing before their plates, tears pouring down their faces. They stood in a row, their mouths emitting sounds that were indistinguishable as words and instead merged together in a single chorus of protest. The candles flamed around them, streaking them in red and orange light, illuminating their hair and eyes and glinting on their wet cheeks, so that it almost looked as though they were burning. ‘My God,’ Birgid said. For a moment everyone stared, mesmerised, at the row of weeping, incandescent children.