Ah, late middle age! Extraordinary! It’s like unending jetlag without all the bother of a transatlantic flight. In the evening, by seven thirty, eight o’clock, my eyes are closing, no twaddle on the TV can engage my mind. I make a hot water bottle and spread out a bed under the skylight windows of the attic, lie down with a crossword puzzle and am past concentrating five clues in.
Then, one in the morning, two, three o’clock, I lie wide awake. I watch the moonlight in the scudding clouds, I listen to the soughing of the wind across the valley, to my husband breathing, softly snoring, turning in his sleep. I feel the comfortable warmth of bedding tucked around me. I think of the day gone and the life I live. Of the foxes playing at dusk in the garden, flowing over the wall in an easy stream of russet, coming for their supper set out on the grass under the washing line, where they know it will be. Of the moss garden at the front of the house, with its violets and primroses and ferns, the pond with its frog and frogspawn, the half-buried rocks, the sleeping Buddha, all of them cushioned and shawled in the slow green mantle of moss. I think of my daughter Fiona in Herne Hill, coming home to us soon – of her laughter and shining red hair, her singing; perceptive, kind.
I think about my mother . . . my sister . . . part of me and distant from me . . . entwined with me and dislocated from me . . . lodged in my heart but entirely strangers as well; rinsing slowly out of my soul, receding.
I think of the people in my life, name them and pray for them in the darkness. The ones struggling with ailments, with bereavements, facing the apprehension of beginnings and the sorrow of endings, worried about money, resigned to what human reality means in their particular set of circumstances. I show them to God, and he sees. And then that sets me wondering, what is God? With his tsunamis and volcanoes, his cephalopods and fish that live inside corals, his eyebrow mites and smoke. Who is this? His thoughts are not my thoughts, that’s for sure. Even so, I bring to him the raggle taggle of troubles I discern in my friends, and I thank him for their brave kindness, their patience, their wisdom and love.
Eventually I get up, quiet as I can so as not to wake anybody, stealing along the shadows of the house. It is awake with me, noticing my passage through, but cold in the grave hour of four o’clock. I wrap myself in a blanket. I think about a cup of tea. I look at skirts on eBay. I muse on the oddity of living and wonder when and how I will die. I open the curtains in the living room because I love the moment when day wrapped in her soft grey robe wanders sleepily into the world to pick out the colours of the dress she will wear this morning.
Happiness saturates me.