It was a long story, and like most of the stories in the world, never finished. There was an ending - there always is - but the story went on past the ending - it always does.
Pew - why didn't my mother marry my father?
She never had time. he came and went.
Why didn't Babel Dark marry Molly?
He doubted her. You must never doubt the one you love.
But they might not be telling you the truth.
Never mind that. You tell them the truth.
What do you mean?
You can't be another person's honesty, child, but you can be your own.
So what should I say?
When I love someone?
You should say it.
There is is; the light across the water. Your story. Mine. His. It has to be seen to be believed. And it has to be heard. In the endless babble of narrative, in spite of the daily noise, the story waits to be heard.
Some people say that the best stories have no words. They weren't brought up to Lighthousekeeping. It is true that words drops away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. The true things are too big or too small, or in any case always the wrong size to fit the template called language.
I know that. But I know something else too, because I was brought up to Lighthousekeeping. Turn down the daily noise and at first there is the relief of silence. And then, very quietly, as quiet as light, meaning returns. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken.
I copied the stories out as fast as I could, but all I had so far were endless beginnings.
The rest of my life. I have never rested, always run, run so fast that the sun can't make a shadow. Well, here I am - mid-way, lost in a dark wood - this selva oscura, without a torch, a guide, or even a bird.
'Do you know the story of Jekyll and Hyde?'
'Well then - to avoid either extreme, it is necessary to find all the lives in between.'
'What did you do before this?'
'I was married. Then I wasn't married any more. Tipped up, flung out, recognise that?'
'End of story. Gotta start again. Gotta be positive. Gotta move on. Don't look back. No regrets.'
That's how he said it. He said it like a mantra. I wonder how many times a day he had to say it to make it true? It was a poultice over his heart.
I don't know how to poultice my heart.
After the Talking Bird, the nice man at the Tavistock Clinic kept asking me why I stole books and birds, though I had only ever stolen one of each.
I told him it was about meaning, and he suggested, very politely, that might be a kind of psychosis.
'You think that meaning is psychosis?'
'An obsession with meaning, at the expense of the ordinary shape of life, might be understood as psychosis, yes.'
'I do not accept that life has an ordinary shape, or that there is anything ordinary about life at all. We make it ordinary, but it is not.'
He twiddled his pencil. His nails were very clean.
'I am only asking questions.'
'So am I.'
There was a pause.
I said, 'How would you define psychosis?'
He wrote on a piece of paper with his pencil: Psychosis: out of touch with reality.
Since then, I have been trying to find out what reality is, so that I can touch it.'
In the morning I was woken early by the chromatic bell of the Orthodox Church.
I unlatched the shutters. The light was as intense as a love affair. I was blinded, delighted, not just because it was warm and wonderful, but because nature measures nothing. Nobody needs this much sunlight. Nobody needs droughts, volcanoes, monsoons, tornadoes either, but we get them, because our world is as extravagant as a world can be. We are the ones obsessed by measurement. The world just pours it out.
What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don't want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don't want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.
I used to be a hopeless romantic. I am still a hopeless romantic. I used to believe that love was the highest value. I still believe that love is the highest value. I don't expect to be happy. I don't imagine that I will find love, whatever that means, or that if I do find it, it will make me happy. I don't think of love as the answer or the solution. I think of love as a force of nature - as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, as gigantic, as impossible, as scorching as it is warming, as drought-making as it is life-giving. And when it burns out, the planet dies.
My little orbit of life circles love. I daren't get any closer. I'm not a mystic seeking final communion. I don't go out without SPF 15. I protect myself.
But today, when the sun is everywhere, and everything solid is nothing but its own shadow, I know that the real things in life, the things I remember, the things I turn over in my hands, are not houses, bank accounts, prizes or promotions. What I remember is love - all love - love of this dirt road, this sunrise, a day by the river, the stranger I met in a café. Myself, even, which is the hardest thing of all to love, because love and selfishness are not the same thing. It is easy to be selfish. It is hard to love who I am. No wonder I am surprised if you do.
From Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson, first published in 2004 by Fourth Estate
This is a book about love, what it is how it is where it is. She is best at that. As a novel, it's uncomfortable, or unconventional, or both. Like Oranges, which I found a more complete read in its way because it is more coherent and the story itself is less a cipher than this one it, it is philosophical. It is episodic, with the plot-story broken up by an outside sequence of images and with reflective passages. The thing I like about both of them is how honest they feel. One shouldn't usually read the author into a novel, but the direct nature of the first person narrative and the tangible emotions of the speaker almost force you to in this one. Details like the age of Silver, born in 1959 in Winterson's own birth year, invite parallels that are hard to throw off. I'm not looking for a connection with an author through a work, but I love it when I find it, provided it is done well. You are reading a story, and then you are almost reading a letter hidden for you personally among the pages - it's that once-removed connection that I joy on finding in these novels. The feeling of being spoken to, included, important, valued, worth talking to. There is great poetry and great thinking and not insignificant plots and characters behind both Oranges and Lighthousekeeping, and differently behind Sexing the Cherry, which didn't draw me into itself in the same way that the other two did though I think that is to do with its subject matter being removed from my personal habitual preoccupations, but I think that I have identified why I finish them and turn them over to start again - because when someone writes you an honest, clear, direct, heartfelt, emotional letter, when someone opens themselves like that to you and makes you feel like the recipient of a gift of themselves, you start again. I have a series of half-composed replies in my mind. Part of me is tempted to write them, just to see what coalesces from them. Maybe even send one, you never know. Does the honesty in her novels imply that she is receptive to it from others? And what is the worst that could happen? No reply and she assumes I'm a little batty. Which, let's face it, I am, but still. Knowing my luck, she'd think that and then I'd actually meet her... Pipe dreams.