Wednesday, 23 April 2014
The Black Dog Remembers
For the life of me I can’t settle to anything except reading at the moment. And walking Millie; Millie-walking is obligatory, if I had the choice I’d probably shirk that job too. Just look at my ‘writing’ desk (as opposed to my ‘computer’ desk). There are invoices, receipts, official letters remaining unopened after a week, private letters gathering dust, bank statements, yellowing newspaper cuttings, ticket stubs, programmes and even orders of service for two funerals. What is happening to me?
I was always tidy; the need for tidiness was drilled into me from a very early age, like an act of faith, never to be abandoned. “You’ve dropped something, pick it up this minute!” “Have you finished with your book? Put it on the shelf, don’t leave things lying around.” I had few indoor toys but I knew better than to play with more than one at a time. I was a mainly silent child, reading or inventing stories which took place entirely in my head and never ended; neat and tidy, they could be picked up and put down again without leaving a visible trace.
This compulsion for order could have a nightmarish effect. I can’t have been much more than six when I had to go into hospital to have my adenoids removed. This was in the early years after the war, there were few fully functioning hospitals in rural Germany and I had to spend the night on the women’s ward. I was the only child there. Having come round from the anaesthetic I dislodged a piece of paper from my bedside table, which sailed to the floor. I knew I had committed a cardinal sin, I’d made a mess. My thoughts ran along familiar lines: I should not have reached for the paper in the first place and thereby caused it to land on the floor. In the dim light the white square gleamed malevolently. Somehow I had to pick it up. But I had also been told not to get out of bed. My cot had bars and I didn’t dare climb out. The only thing I could do was to stick my arm out and grope. Alas, the harder I tried the more the bars rattled. The sheet of paper stayed just out of reach. Perhaps being poorly and fresh out of the anaesthetic had something to do with it but I remember being terror-stricken.
The woman in the bed next to mine stirred. “What’s the matter,” she asked, “ is something wrong?” How could I tell her that I’d been really naughty? I mumbled no. “Then stay still now,” she said. There was nothing I could do. I lay there, fully expecting to be told off in the morning.
Mum came to fetch me home. “Has she been a good girl?” she asked the woman. “She was a bit restless at first but then she settled down,” the woman answered.
The sheet of paper had gone, a nurse bringing me a drink first thing had bent down and picked it up without a word.