The days are slipping past quickly, it seems. Marta has helped me by finding a man with a van and he'll be here next Monday. A week! And then two days later I'll be there. I spent today driving to Ljubljana in search of a desk, then working. It is the calm before the storm.
In the flashback, just over three years ago, I had made nocturnal contact with Tatiana's email address and sent it off to do its thing in the ether. I went to bed feeling like someone else had done it. I had been so determined not to, had undergone miles of frost-bitten walks, had suffered like someone going cold-turkey. And then, without a moment's hesitation, I simply wrote to her. To HER.
I woke up the next morning afraid of what I might find. I avoided the PC as though last night we had had an argument. I didn't look at it and I didn't want it to look at me.
Would I get a simple no? I doubted it. She's too polite for that. But negative, especially harsh negatives, contain coded information, right? I mean, we are polite to people we don't care about. A “No”, would, in fact, tell me something about how she feels.
Would a I get a simple, “Yes, send me an e-book”? That, I decided, would be the worst reply. Cheerful, unconcerned, forgotten about it perhaps, thanks for reminding me and I'll read it when I have time, have a nice day. How awful would that be?
Would there be no reply at all? What would that mean?
CHECK YOUR GODDAM EMAILS PETER!!!!
I mean, all I'd done was ask if she wanted to read my novel. She had no idea that I'd gone insane and therefore she wouldn't read anything into it. Nothing to be afraid of. Really.
I made coffee and thought of going for a walk. I wished I hadn't sent the email. I wished emails were only one way, like giving money to homeless people, or hitting send was a purely therapeutic exercise with no real consequences. Unfortunately emails get replies and replies can be quite terrifying when the words were typed by someone who had consumed you for a week. When you had thought about nothing else and immersed yourself in Rachmaninoff and Celia Johnson looking sad.
I sat down, brought up the screen, clicked the email window and prepared to die. Bomb disposal experts are less gentle than I was with the mouse. I looked. Dear God, she had actually written back.
Pete, of course I would!!!!!
I even seem to have found where to order from your website. I was just thinking whether I should try to find my kindle (I haven't seen it since we moved here) or give up with kindle and order a paperback when I got your e-mail. Probably paperback is better because I can ask you for an autograph then:)
I was a bit ill after the New Year but almost ok now.
Please take care of yourself. Sleep is important. It sounds so commonplace, sorry:)
Is it possible to wear an email thin by reading it too often? Is it possible to stand up and sit down at the same time? Can typed words really affect a grown man so much? There was relief, euphoria, disbelief, chest pains, something akin to malaria, new cups of coffee before old ones were drunk, the extraordinary feeling that an image in my head was made real by written words, that she wasn't a mental aberration but that girl I remember in the bell tower, now typing in the cold light of sober day. Real. Wonderful. Terrifying.
I replied and the girl of my dreams wasn't just in my dreams but took on form enough to type emails. Those emails were careful and polite and contained the slightest hint of...something. I was careful not to read too much into the...something. The English language is capable of great nuance and is akin to drawing faces. A tiny change can alter the mood, the tone, the expression. She is Russian and I had to remember that. But ignoring the actual words for a moment, I was enthralled by the idea that she had sat down in some unknown room and, however briefly, was thinking about me and putting words to her thoughts and hitting send.
I didn't want her to buy my book, I know that. She shouldn't spend money on this desperate need of mine to see her again. I didn't want to email her a digital version because the next time she had reason to write would be when she'd read it, if indeed she ever did.
We established that she likes turning the pages of a real book. We established that I had a copy, safely hidden away unread and probably covered in flower and doodles and macaroni sculptures in Sabina's kid-filled farmhouse kitchen. We established that I should retrieve the book and would hand it over in person. Spy-like, she chose a cafe in the busiest part of the village where anyone who is awake and mobile would undoubtedly be. The Ronda Bar, next to the checkout of the madly busy Mercator supermarket, was a good choice. If you want to meet someone, you'll find them there. If you want to give the impression that all you are doing is making idle chit-chat, you meet them there. Nothing underhand, immoral, furtive or prone to misunderstanding would happen at the Ronda Bar in the middle of the day. John Le Carre, author of numerous high-quality spy novels and a former spy himself, would have chosen just such a place.
She said no more than, "How about the cafe at Mercator?"
Spy-like? Or was it really just interest in my novel and a chance to get out and drink coffee?
I didn't know, so I read into it what I wanted to read into it. We would be hidden in plain sight. Spy-like.
My book was indeed buried under piles of Sabina-kid and cooking stuff, and I lied pretty unconvincingly that Tatiana wondered about the offer to read it. Sabina, Swedish, permanently busy, energetic and talkative, simply dug out the only copy of my only novel and didn't care one little bit about what I intended doing with it. She chose instead to tell me that her house nearly burn down.
"After we left on New Year's Eve," she said.
What shall I write in my book when I give it to her?
"I woke up, maybe four in the morning..."
Should I write something friendly or romantic?
"And I went to the house to find it on fire!"
Romantic seems like a good idea.
"I called the fire fighters and four engines turned up!"
Although romantic might be a terrible idea. I'd like to have coffee more than once, after all.
"They said if I hadn't woken up and called them when I did there'd be no house left and all the cows would have died."
No, I'll go for romantic. This might be my only chance. I looked around the fire damage and left, already thinking what I'd write in my one and only novel. Geoffrey Chaucer came to mind.
In our brief email exchange, I had mentioned that some things I wrote were a bit..Geoffrey Chaucer.
There is an old English author called Geoffrey Chaucer, sometimes called the father of English literature. Those who study such things refer to "The seven levels of Chaucer." His stories can be read as one thing, but dig deeper and you find something else; a whole new meaning. To write on seven levels is impossible. So far with Tatiana I was managing two.
She already knew I was hinting at something in my polite emails and she liked the idea of writing on more than one level. She had read Chaucer, of course. So I decided to blame any romantic inscription on him, partly in case she hated it, and partly in case someone stumbled upon the book and wondered what it all meant.
I have not used a pen since Jimmy Carter was the US President and on those rare occasions when I have to sign my name I get it wrong. So I practiced. I had only one book and only one page to write on, so it had to go well first time. I still have the practice pages. Eventually, when I was confident that my penmanship didn't look like the EEG of an epileptic I took a deep breath, steadied myself, and wrote an inscription in my book to the girl who had not left my thoughts since the first second of the first day of that year. I was going to see her for the first time since the bell tower at noon the next day.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things