Things that Zig-Zag into the Distance

At ten past three, I go about the house turning on all the table lamps. The one in the hall, the two in the lounge. I tell myself it’s because I don’t like the shadowy feel of the place, white cloud looming at every window, but really I hope their glow might fill the emptiness.

I last heard from you at eleven. You were sitting in the airport in Düsseldorf, waiting for a plane to Malta, and then to Libya. I count the hours in my head and figure you’re in the air now. Somewhere over the Med.

The job came up quite suddenly. It was only yesterday morning you got the call. I can’t shake the feeling that this is my penance. I was a moody cow all weekend. I kept it up for three days before confessing, late on Sunday evening, that my writing wasn’t going well. ‘I’m thinking about giving up,’ I said. ‘What’s the point if it makes me unhappy?’ You looked at me a moment, and I’m sure you were thinking that things would be so much easier if this were true, but when you blinked, whatever future you’d been imagining vanished. ‘I reckon you’ll always need something to brood about,’ you said.

Sometimes I think you’re so full of love that I can only do us justice if I’m my best self all the time. I’ve spent the day feeling contrite, thinking over and over how much I love you and wondering if it’s a type of abuse – my being unhappy and making you feel it’s your fault.

Yesterday, coming back from dropping you at the airport in Inverness, I put the car radio on and turned the volume up, carefully arranged my jacket and bag over the vacant passenger seat. I had a headache – a knot between my eyes and the top of my nose, like my sinuses were blocked, and I felt that the knot was you, and that I was destined to carry you there for days. The radio lost its reception just after Altnaharra, which was around the same time I started crying. Nine years and I still cry every time you have to leave. I pulled over by a loch; I don’t know which one because I’m rubbish at remembering, and you weren’t there to tell me.

It was already getting dark. No, not dark, lighter, the horizon bleaching to nothing and that morning’s rain shining in rivulets down the tar and chip road. I looked at the loch through my tears, and it seemed to me then to have this huge stillness – long and wide and so deep that everything around me – the endless heather, all the reeds, and the seedling conifers, the road, and every one of the passing-place signs that zig-zag into the distance, and all the hills – might tumble into it and be lost forever. In a way, that the loch could contain all that, and hold it muffled below its surface, felt right and just and maybe even inevitable, and perhaps it might take me too, perhaps the cold water creeping through the door seals would be just the thing to jolt me from these thoughts of you.


I turn all the lights on now, including the bathroom and bedroom, but it doesn’t help. The teaspoon clinks round my cup, and when I drop the bag into the bin, it thumps on to the other rubbish there and the swing lid thwacks back and forth; even the steps I take between sink and kettle are surprisingly heavy. The dog lies in the corner and I know I’m forcing him to listen to all this, to all this silence, and that he misses you too.

By the way, I should tell you that he chewed the trim on your new rubber boots after you left. It was your smell I guess that drove him to it, an unanswerable need to be closer to you. I know that feeling.

Sitting here in the quiet, I decide something. If my moods ever get too much, if I’m pushing you away, I’ll go back to that loch, the one with the boathouse, back to its stillness – I’ll drive there with the contents of my desk drawers spilling over the seats (remember, I told you, it’s so deep it’ll hold everything), and I’ll stand and I’ll toss in my journals and my carefully labelled hardback notebooks.

As I’m thinking this, the feeling becomes irresistible, and I get out a pad to jot it all down – the lamps, and the loch, and the silence and you; I think about how I’ll tell it in the second-person present tense, and how I’ll structure it, and the fact is that my hand across the page is unstoppable, and I hope you won’t mind. I really hope you won’t mind.