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Authors: Rebecca Stott

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BOOK: Ghostwalk
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Twenty-four

F
ifth of November. Remember. Remember.

         

One last look. One last kiss—remember this, she tells herself. Hand cradling his jaw, she takes another. Only five days, she tells herself. Five days beyond texts and mobile phones, disconnected, five days in this house alone—but never alone. A plane, different time zones, an American conference. In the early-afternoon light, she memorises Cameron’s head in profile through the glass of a car door. Then listens to the hum of an engine, the crunch of car wheels on gravel; the sound diminishing to silence—its vanishing point. A crow’s cry fills the absence.

“I’ve printed out the e-mails,” you’d said. “Do you know how many there are now? Thousands. Ten years of e-mails. I’ve put them on two different disks, left them in the drawer in the bedroom. I felt superstitious somehow. You know—transatlantic flights. I just wanted to be sure they were safe, in case anything happened. Look after them.”

“They’re safe,” I’d said. “And thank you. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

I didn’t ask you about Will or whether she had been arrested. I watched the news. Waiting. You had sent round locksmiths to change the locks; you had given me a new key. Several things had come to make a kind of sense. Will had never turned up at The Studio when you were there. She might have done. She never did. She must have been watching too.

The police failed to find the disks when they searched The Studio. The disks are somewhere at the bottom of the river near the house. I like to think of all those thousands of words down there at the bottom of the river, seeping into the water. I have so many fragments still in my memory, but I lose as many every day. Soon they will all have dissolved. What will be left then? “I wish to lie with you without interruption for ever and ever,” you wrote. “Love is blindness, wrap the dark around me…With your Latin and my psychic powers we could do some dark artistry…You must not haunt me all night long…when I think about endings and abandonment I don’t feel that if you turned away from me it would be a casting away…I am abandoning the future for the present…I feel sometimes like I have returned to something that I might never have been to before…I do so love you.”

All those words lying down there, in the water.

You told me there were no other copies and, you know, I think I believe you. The police found no other copy on your computer. So many Achilles’ heels you had, or at least you had by the fall of 2002, flaws in the fabric, dropped stitches. You had grown careless. It was just a question of choosing one starting point and pulling out those first loose threads.

I followed you in my head that afternoon when you left for the airport, trailing you on the road, listening to the news with you on Radio 4. You will be thinking about the war, I thought, the election, thinking about the route, turning on the headlights when the sun sets finally, squinting your eyes against the glare of cars coming through the night towards you. Cambridge to Gatwick. Two hours—your flight was at seven, you’d said, so you’d have to be there by five-thirty at the latest. You’d allowed yourself plenty of time. Didn’t like to rush these things. Should you go? I asked. You had no choice, you said. Emmanuel was stable; he had his people about him. The police had asked all the questions they needed to ask for now. It would be time to think.
Time to think.
You used that phrase for over a decade as a weapon against me, a rapier for my heart.
I need time to think.
You had a way of saying it as if you were capable of making a decision that we both knew you would never make.

I looked in the fridge—only cheese and eggs and some bottles of beer. Don’t forget to eat, you’d said in those last moments of the morning. You’re getting too thin. You slid your hand under my shirt, caressing the skin around my ribs, running your fingers over the muscles of my stomach. I pushed upwards, reaching for your neck, pressing my ribs against your hand; my lips sought out the soft skin at the base of your neck.

Once you rowed for Trinity on the cold river every morning at dawn; now you row in the gym on a machine with your head turned towards a TV screen, watching daytime television with the sound turned off.

I made soup to eat later, when the missing of you stopped being a pain in my loins and belly—a soup made with the mushrooms you had left. Their brown gills closed, they were dry and rubbery to the touch; severed from damp wood, moss, and wet grass. Some had roots still where you had torn them from the soil, clinging to leaf mould. Pores and gills and caps. I peeled and sliced and cleaned. Inside one of the heads, maggots ate away at fanned gills.

Lack of appetite was punctured by ravishment. I ate the soup, which burned my tongue. I put my head down on the desk among all my papers, and, half asleep, imagined myself there with you in Florida, in that conference audience as it would assemble the following day, watching you on a stage with a microphone fixed to the top of a carved podium, a screen behind you on which you had shown your PowerPoint presentation. Statistics and graphs became a series of brain images, which became a single image of a cross-section of brain stem. The
experimentum crucis.
Rat or human? Your triumph—no, sorry, not
your
triumph, of course—the lab’s triumph. Emmanuel Scorsa’s triumph too; he should have been at the U.S. conference with you, but couldn’t be because his brain was wired up to machines in the intensive care unit of Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

This conference was important, I knew, because it was the first time you would unveil the evidence of your hypothesis. If this went well you would be able to apply for more funding, employ more researchers for the lab. You had the first tentative visual evidence that morazapine does indeed burst-fire the locus coeruleus—all set out there in the stained circle of colour projected onto the wall: the brain-slice image, taken in your lab (human or rat?), stored in your computer, and carried to Florida in a jet across the sea.

In my dream I watched you there in that room, using a long stick in semidarkness to point out patterns in the stains, places where the colours bled into each other, red into blue into green. You could read it. I couldn’t. It never made any sense to me. All I could ever see was the shape of the top of a skull covered with blotches of colour, mostly red.
The evidence.
They always looked to me like pictures of stained glass, not brain tissue, stained glass windows in fourteenth-century churches in Venice. They made me think of crumbling walls and painted statues of virgins, of bleeding saints and tiled floors. Stigmata. But they were brain-tissue slices processed by a computer, not stained glass at all.

In my dream the conference audience was hushed, listening intently. They took notes. You stopped talking, eventually, with a final flourish of your stick towards the enormous panel of stained glass, projected like a rose window on the screen behind you. When you stopped there was a moment’s silence, then applause. Louder than usual. You took a sip of water. Sat down. There was the slightest of smiles curling at the corner of your mouth, that mouth I reached for in the night. Then the chairwoman asked you if you would take questions. You nodded consent and shortly afterwards a young woman with Will’s face stands up. She says: “Mr. Brown, might I ask you, would you be so kind as to give us your views on the ethics of using animals in research?” There is a murmur of mild outrage. How did an animal activist breach the security? You look tired. You say: “You will find my views on the ethics of animal research set out in an interview I conducted recently with the editor of
Nature
magazine. It is, I believe, published in the latest edition. I suggest you read that interview.”

“With respect, Mr. Brown,” she continues, “your views on animal research, which I have not had the pleasure to read, have, I believe, an important bearing on this conference. Many people here would very much like to know your views. Might you, do you feel, be able to offer them to us in a summarised form?”

A university security officer in a black uniform, no doubt completely unaware of the complex philosophical and moral issues now beginning to play themselves out in this hotel room, moves discreetly around the back of the conference room towards the standing woman. Under orders.

“This is not the place for such questions,” the chairwoman intervenes. “May I remind you that this is a conference assembled to discuss developments in neuroscience, not animal rights.”

“Madam Chairperson,” Will continues, “it is impossible to consider one set of questions without the other—”

The security guard has reached her. Now he takes her arm. She leaves the room without a struggle, saying only as she retreats, “I repeat, it is impossible to consider one set of questions without the other.”

         

I woke from that dream ten minutes later with a stiff neck, asleep over my books and Elizabeth’s papers. I was not sleeping well; I often fell asleep at my desk. I calculated, watching the time and pretending that I was working. Five o’clock. You’d be at the airport, changing your money from pounds to dollars, checking that you had packed both your phone and plug adaptors. Three pins; two pins. You buy a newspaper and check your luggage. You have manuscripts to read for the journey, you said. When I asked you about the length of the flight you told me it was two manuscripts and an article long. It had to be. You couldn’t give that conference paper on Friday without having read them. Keeping up with your subject. Sailing close to the wind. You always did that. We both did.

You sent me a text from the airport at around five-thirty: “Only five days. I can still feel you.” Smaller and smaller. The last few words. A man disappears to vanishing point. A woman returns to her desk for the fourth time that afternoon. Yes, she can still feel you. She drinks Earl Grey tea and she texts you: “I love you,” she writes. Three words. Then adds four more: “however raw things get.”

I liked to feel you watching me. When I worked in your mother’s garden in those frosty mornings in late October when I couldn’t sleep, I liked to feel your eyes on me from the window, you watching from the warmth of my bed, just woken to the sound of blades cutting. I didn’t look up, but my every movement acknowledged you: clipping the garden to shape; tying tendrils to fences and stone; pruning roses; gathering the last few apples from the tops of the trees and carrying them into the kitchen. And sometimes, before I stepped out into the still dark garden, I liked to stand and watch you sleeping, holding the scythe in my hand.

You hung the prism at the base of the stairs. It will catch the light, you said, and make rainbows. It never did make rainbows, but the shadows darkened and sharpened in the pools of light that day you hung it. No rainbows, just the sharpening of shadows crossing light. Something passing through.

         

“You should get out more,” Kit said every time she rang or when I stopped at the market to watch her moving among swathes of velvet, satin, cashmere, and linen. What did she think? That I stayed in all day, looking at Elizabeth’s papers? Did she think I never left the house? She forgot that I walked to the University Library most days, swam at the Abbey pool twice a week, crossing the bridge over onto the common and continuing straight over to Newmarket Road, where the ferry once crossed. She didn’t know that you came to The Studio most evenings. I couldn’t tell her that. You should know better, she’d say. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. You’ve had your fingers burned often enough. So instead she just told me to get out more: “Staying in with just a bunch of papers and books for company is enough to make anyone demented. You can’t stay in the seventeenth century all the time.”

So eventually I said yes to the party on Guy Fawkes Night, on the day you left for the airport. The host was the mother of one of Maria’s friends, Kit had said, not someone she knew well. Should be interesting, she said. This daughter of a famous poet, I forget which, had a party every year, Kit said, timed to take place just before the bonfire celebrations began on Midsummer Common. A Cambridge party—I yawned, imagining rooms full of the great and the good, and thinking that exhausted as I was, I couldn’t even begin to make conversation, least of all about writing or art or poetry. But I needed distracting, I thought, with you being away and the worry of it. The
Cambridge Evening News
had reported three more attacks on animals in Cambridge in just the last few days: a horse and two more cats—all animals owned by employees of the targeted labs. The police were following up leads on Scorsa’s attack; they had arrested a man seen in the area but had released him without charge. A drunk. He knew nothing. They wouldn’t confirm that they were looking for members of NABED; they had no evidence to go on, except the pattern of seven wounds on Emmanuel’s face, which matched the seven cuts on the mutilated animals. But, they said, they did not consider that fact significant at this stage. No point in me telling them that seven was one of the most powerful numbers in alchemy, that there were seven sacred forms of matter, seven veils of initiation; no point in telling them that in Revelations there had been seven plagues, seven angels, seven churches, seven seals, and seven vials.

BOOK: Ghostwalk
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