This is not quite a short story, more of an episode inspired by research, about sunshine, and life and love. I wrote this when I was writing two dissertations: the first on Virginia Woolf and Jessie Dismorr, and women re-writing London’s cityscape, and the second on the influence of Eric Gill on David Jones’ poem The Anathemata (any obscure, embedded references are mostly related to these).
I’m finding it difficult to quieten my mind. I struggle to type and my whole body yearns for sleep, but the past few days of intensely working on my dissertation have wound me up to a heightened study fever. I shut my eyes and feel only guilt that I am not working and then this strange undertone of panic that is larger than all that guilt and runs much deeper. It comes over me now when the world reaches its most beautiful moments; as I close my eyes and tilt my face up to the bright, white, sharp sunlight filtering through the train window. It is some deep wrenching pain about a future loss. Or perhaps it is a past loss. Every time I stop to consider life in its moments of most utter perfection, that fear returns.
Today I had lunch with Will. He was tired from his trip to Berlin and the sun and the beer made him quieter and softer. Then I cycled in the sun to the station, the wind in my hair, white heat pricking the weighted parts of my body.
I listened to the conversation of some Cambridge students on the train, felt oddly involved, but all the while had the luxury of softly looking out of the window. Even Hatfield as we passed looked lovely, and it filled me with an odd joy to know that I recognised it; the strange tower of Tesco rising from the motorway. With the fields and clouds all in sunlight, every new town looked like a place I would like to visit. The sun puts everything in a brighter light, makes every detail perfect, memorable: a stunning shard of experience.
I finally made it to the British Museum. People were littering the grass on Bloomsbury Square and I tried to think of Virginia Woolf, but tired and distractedly. Then I tried to focus upon Jessie Dismorr and her ‘London Notes’ as the columns of the British Museum came in to view. But there were no orange parallelograms of sand, just students and tourists stumbling about those immense structures of stone.
I failed to get in to the Reading Room. It has been closed to the public for three years, they tell me. I didn’t think that I had any hope of wooing the staff with tales of my dissertation and my researching passion, and the airy, expansive white gleam of the foyer offered no access to higher authorities. I sort of idly tripped about the museum instead; attempting to follow in the footsteps of Eric Gill and the mythus of David Jones. I saw the Greek and Roman inscriptions, the Nereid temple, the Cycladic figures. I glanced at some rudimentary bowls without the belief that they would be relevant.
Then Sidney came and saved me from the realisation that I did not have as much to see as I believed. He was reading on a little fold-up chair under the semi-transparency of the glass of the Great Court: he looked like an invigilator and that made me smile. Perhaps I will pass by some exhibitions on my way home, perhaps. Although I have this suspicious feeling that I won’t be feeling any less tired.
We drank two pints each at The Plough and everyone assumed we were a couple. I got a little tipsy and we talked about too much as always. I feel his jealousy and his dismissiveness when we talk about Will. I feel this thing between us which we did not resolve and here it is still. I feel it now, it may be foolish and have been encouraged by drunken conversations, but I feel it. It confuses me, and yet I think we will carry on despite it.
When I said goodbye I hugged Sidney a second time and wished him good luck. What a stupid thing to say. It gives me away.