This is not what it might look like. We're quiet people. As a general
rule extraordinary things do not happen to us, and we are not the type
to go looking for them. But so much has happened since January, and I
started it. Things began to happen, things I must have brought about
somehow without quite foreseeing where they would lead. So I feel I must
explain, late in the day though it is. I'm going to set out, as
clearly as I can, in the order in which they occurred, the things that
have happened here. And I shall find it difficult because I was brought
up not to draw attention to myself and I've never been considered a
forthcoming person, never being one to splurge out on anything, least of
all great long explanations. Indeed, Mother always described me as
secretive. But that was because, with her, I came to expect my reasons
for things to be not so much misunderstood as overlooked or mislaid, and
so early on I stopped giving them.
Father was usually quiet, too. When I think back to the sounds of the
house in Oakfield Avenue where I grew up, I do not remember voices. I
think we sighed or cleared our throats more often than we spoke words. I
remember mainly the tick of Father's longcase clock in the dining room
we never ate in, and then after the clock had gone, a particular silence
throughout the house that I thought of as a shade of grey. And much
later when I was an adult, still there looking after Mother, the most
regular sound was the microwave. It pinged a dozen times a day. In fact,
until recently, whenever I heard a certain tone of ping, in a shop or
somewhere like that, I would immediately smell boiling milk. But when I
was a child there was just the clock, with silences in between.
Mother had few words herself. She often went about the house as if she
were harbouring unsaid things at great personal cost, with a locked look
on her mouth. That being so, I suppose Father and I felt unable to open
our own mouths very much. What happens to all the things you might say
or want to say, but don't? Well, they don't lie about in your head
indefinitely, waiting to be let out. For a time they may stay there
quite patiently, but then they shuffle off and fade until you can't
locate them any more, and you realise they're not coming back. By then
you're past caring.
So I grew to think of myself as someone not in particular need of words.
I did not acquire the habit of calling them up; not many at a time at
least, not even to myself in my own head. Things in my head had been
very quiet for a long time, before all this.
But I have been wrong about this aspect of myself, as about others. I
find that there are words there after all. Now that I need them, my
words have come crowding back, perhaps because I have a limited time in
which to get them all down (today is the 20th, so only eleven more
days). I am pleased that my hands remember the old touch-typing moves
without seeming to involve me at all. The letters are hitting the paper
in this old typewriter almost as if they were being shot out of my
finger-ends. Which is just as well, because I'm busy enough dealing
with all the clamouring words that are flinging themselves around in my
head, fighting over which gets fired out first. I'm in a hurry to let
them loose. I want to explain, because it is suddenly extremely urgent
and important that, in the end, we are not misunderstood.
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