17. desember

"At certain times, for certain periods, David was able to persuade himself that Lucy was still alive -- alive, but elsewhere. Naturally all the Partingtons attempted something of the kind. My mother, too, attempted it. I attempted it. Lucy was serious, resolute, artistic, musical and religious. Even when we were children the message I always took away from Lucy was that she wasn't going to be deflected, she wasn't going to be deterred. Only with difficulty could you imagine her having the inclination to vanish; but it was the work of a moment to imagine her having the will. So she was in a nunnery, somewhere: she was a violinist in Melbourne, a pseudonymous poet in Montreal. Of course, these reveries kept running up against an obstacle: the fact that Lucy was gentle, was kind, was sane. To which the one available rejoinder would be: well, I must have been wrong about that, and I suppose it can deeply surprise you, the people who turn out to be prepared to disseminate hurt. Thus the argument continued (very faintly after a while, and then almost inaudibly, given my distance from the event) for twenty-one years.

It was David who drove Lucy into Cheltenham on 27 December 1973.

And now it was 1997.

-- I could so easily have driven her back. I offered to.

But Lucy had decided to take the bus; and there was no point in arguing with her about a thing like that.

-- If I had insisted ...

-- You could go on for ever, I said, with this chain of ifs ...

David was one of the great requited loves of my childhood. We see each other seldom, now, in our ponderous adult guise, but the connection remains more than cousinly. My brother is of course irreplaceable, and so is my half-brother, Jaime. But for much of my childhood I earnestly wanted David to be my brother, and he wanted it too, and the affinity is still there. When I was writing the novel London Fields I faced the minor task of thinking of a name for the narrator's brother: it took me about a second to come up with 'David'. (The character was Jewish -- and, I now notice, died young.) ...

This meeting with David Partington took place on 31 October 1997: Halloween. Lucy's fate had been public knowledge since March 1994, no, more than public. Along with those of the other victims, Lucy's fate was national knowledge: part of something that all citizens felt themselves duty-bound to have in common. And from that time David would need to nerve himself to open an newspaper. Because it was all ready to begin again: waking in the middle of the night and getting up to sit for hours weeping and swearing. This was his condition on the day after the disappearance. 'Lucy didn't come home last night.' There was nobody in her room and the made bed had not been slept in. There was certainty of disaster. And there was my poor cousin (I hate thinking about this), out in the courtyard, crying and raising his clenched fist and saying, 'If anyone has done anything to her ...'

Weeping and swearing, cursing and sobbing: there ought to be a word for that. In November, 1918, the news of the Armistice inspired Siegfried Sassoon to claim: 'And I was filled with such delight / as imprisoned birds must find in freedom ...' Robert Graves felt differently: 'The news sent me out walking along the dyke above the marshes of Rhuddlan (an ancient battlefield, the Flodden of Wales), cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead.' Cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead: there ought to be a word for that. 'Grieving' won't quite serve. This is something anterior. It is, I think, not a struggle to accept but a struggle to believe.

-- As you drove into town. Do you remember what you talked about?

-- I was trying to justify my current girlfriend, who was -- you know, sexy, but thick. Lucy was being very accomodating. Not at all critical. But I still felt I had to justify myself.

-- Six years after she disappeared -- remember? When we talked about it. You were saying that you wanted to avenge her. With your own hands. Do you still?

-- No. But now or at any other stage I would give up my life so that Lucy could have hers. Because my life is ... and hers ...

-- I understand. But don't be hard on yourself. I think you're a paragon.

-- Me?

Later there was a silence as we followed a line of thought: the same line of thought. On the night of 27 December 1973, Lucy Partington was abducted by one of the most prolific murderers in British history, Frederick West. We knew what had happened to her after death. She was decapitated and dismembered, and her remains were crammed into a shaft between leaking sewage pipes, along with a knife, a rope, a section of masking-tape, and two hairgrips. But the terrible imponderable was what had happened to her when she was still alive. Records showed that just after midnight on the morning of 3 January 1974 West appeared at the casualty department of Gloucester Royal Hospital with a serious laceration to the right hand. 'It seems only too possible that she was kept alive for several days,' writes one commentator. And yet the evidence remains entirely circumstantial. 'It is possible', writes another, 'that West's wound occured as a result of the dismemberment of a corpse, but it is just as possible that it did not, which is the inference I should prefer the family to make.' I said

-- I've read all the books, and there's no ...

David veered back from this, just an inch or two, as if shocked that I had survived exposure to something that for him was so much more thoroughly steeped in revulsion. The books: I was assiduous in hiding them in a cupboard when, a couple of months later, my cousin came to spend the night. Well, the books are what they are, but they had given me something I needed David to hear.

-- I've read all the books, and there's no hard evidence that it wasn't all over there and then at the bus stop.

And I added, hoping to give comfort (but why would this give comfort?), 'Lucy was just very unlucky, David. Your sister was just incredibly unlucky.'

It was Sunday, 10 July 1994, and one of the most beautiful days of this or any other year. A faultless morning, a blue-planet afternoon. I had no idea what a crucially significant -- a transfiguring -- experience lay before me. I was living, or enduring, or just lasting, from moment to moment, and from hour to hour ... Like many people who have not yet turned forty, I used to give the Mid-Life Crisis little credit and no respect: it was the preserve of various dunces and weaklings who, for one reason or the other, were incapable of walking in a straight line. When my crisis was over (and they do end: a crisis can't go on being a crisis), I saw that it was intrinsic and structural. It had to do with things that were already wrong and were not being faced. The Mid-Life Crisis compels corniness and indignity upon you, but that's part of the moment. More materially it puts you on a beachhead of pain that your clich has created. But later you see that there was a realignment taking place, something irresistible and universal, to do with your changing views about death (and you ought to have a crisis about that. It's critical to have a crisis about that). People say that a growing child can successively 'understand' the death of a pet, the death of a grandparent, and even the death of a contemporary. Only in adolescence do we hear the first rumours of our own extinction these rumours remaining vague until the irrefutable confirmation of mid life, when it becomes a full-time job looking the other way. Youth has finally evaporated, and with it all belief in your own impregnability. The knowledge marks you: it makes your hear whiten and wither, it smears the grime into the orbits of your eyes ... That Sunday -- 10 July 1994 -- I was as glued to the present as Captain MacWhirr in Conrad's 'Typhoon', watching the shoes he has flung off 'scurrying from end to end of the cabin, gambolling playfully over each other like puppies', as the dark storm begins to show its might. I expected no saving illumination. But it came.

I had two other reasons to feel unreceptive that day. First, I had, of all things, a toothache: a joke toothache, something you'd see in a tabloid carton set in a dentist's waiting room (I might as well have tied a pillowslip round my head); the bulge on the side of my jaw threatened closure of my right eye. Second, I was having the only regular bad time I ever have with this matter of writing fiction: severe anxiety, rising sometimes to purulent levels, while finishing a long novel ... The toothache had begun on Friday, in Oxford, with a night of sleepless pain at the house of Ian McEwan (another mid-life-crises artist, like all my best friends -- though this was forced upon him), followed by a horrified self-inspection in the bathroom. Over the next day and a half the abscess stopped hurting and concentrated on swelling. It was spectacular, even by prevailing standards (and the whole business with the teeth was at that stage near-terminal, and the next move richly dreaded). Pressing an icetray to my cheek before the mirror, I saw that I had acquired an attribute casually granted to one of my more brutish minor characters: penny-farthing nostrils. The right side of my face was telling the left side what it would look like when it was very fat. No one remarked on it, that weekend. Close family because they understood; others through tact and decorum and gentle myopia, and because reunions are like that, and you take a forgiving view of a half-remembered face distorted by stroke or palsy or some other mudslide caused by time.

In logistical terms the weekend had so far been pretty typical for one in my generic condition. Up to Oxford with the boys on Friday, down to London with the boys on Saturday, up to Oxford with the boys on Sunday (to transfer them to my estranged wife, who lived in London but was staying in Oxford) -- and then onward. As we continued north-west, the three adults in my car, I and my mother and my brother, could now talk (and smoke, and cough) and prepare ourselves for the afternoon. Like well over a hundred other souls we were converging on the Religous Society of Friends Meeting House, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, to attend a memorial gathering for Lucy Katherine Partington, 1952--1973. The funeral itself had been postponed because Lucy's remains were still being held as evidence by the police. We drove on. My mother relied, for her ashtray, on the empty and sealable tin of throat pastilles she carried round with her. She warned her sons that she would not be sitting with them or near them or in their line of sight. This was accepted and understood (for reasons that had better be disclosed elsewhere). All three of us smoking, coughing, thinking, we drove on ... David would later tell me that the moment he heard about the exhumations in Gloucester he knew that Lucy would be among the dead. In early March I had been abroad and knew nothing until I opened a newspaper in the taxi from Heathrow. There was the photograph I had last seen on a missing-persons poster twenty years ago.

In a justly celebrated essay Lucy's elder sister Marian quoted from the diary she kept at the time of the excavations:

'Saturday, March 5 10.15 phone call from the police saying they would like to come over to talk to us (Marian and her mother). They have some 'news' for us. That half-hour of waiting for them to arrive was full of a terrible restlessness and anxiety ... palpitations and nausea. The numbness and muteness of shock began to invade ... Numerous messages on the answering machine on our return. The Pain Vultures sounding as if it's unquestionable we should call them back (TV and tabloids). We don't ... I hardly slept that night. I felt a paralysing feeling of weight, fear and pain in my heart. This is enormous. Shock brings you into the present like giving birth. All your energy goes into focusing of survival. Some people die of it.'

For a while my mind kept conducting involuntary thought-experiments, or feeling-experiments: I would imagine each of my sons finding themselves, as their distant cousin had, in such a violent force field, and I would imagine the moment when they sensed the magnitude of the undifferentiated hatred that was ranged against them. The first time I did this I teetered backwards on my feet, and there was a palpable rush or whoosh, as if I had approached the entrance of a wind tunnel. And this tunnel a mere vent or flap, leading to the room occupied by Lucy's parents and siblings. Again at several removes from them I experienced an apprehension of defeat, of obliterating defeat. The hope that things might have turned out differently could now be seen as the pitifully fragile thing it was, while the braced body began its labour to live with the other outcome.

We were very early. An hour passed before we joined my aunt and my cousins, and all the others, at the meeting place.

Lucy Katherine Partington, 1952--1973.

This was Marigold Palmer-Jones, daughter of Marian.

'Twenty years ago my mum's sister, Lucy, went to visit a friend in Cheltenham. She left the house to catch the bus home and was never seen again. I can remember clearly how my mum told me this. I must have been about four and we were looking at some photograph of her and her family. There was one photograph of four children sitting on a pony. I didn't recognise one of them so I asked her who it was. She said it was her sister but she had disappeared when she was twenty-one. At the time I think I was too young to grasp the idea of her sister just "disappearing". But I remember feeling really confused when I looked at my mum because she was crying and I couldn't understand why ...'

This was Susan Bliss, a childhood friend:

'... Guinea pigs featured largely in our lives in those early years. They had this strange habit of multiplying! We spent hours in various hutches and huts in friendship with our guinea pigs ... We had been nursing a sick guinea pig for some time. I think that it was actually Beryl's guinea pig but as we all shared so much it didn't seem relevant. Eventually the sick guinea pig died and we were three little girls in a hen house saying goodbye to the poor little chap. Lucy and Beryl kissed him goodbye and passed him to me. I was scared to kiss him as he was dead. Lucy was very angry with me. She told me fiercely that just because something dies it didn't mean that you should stop loving it and that everyone deserved to be kissed before going to heaven. Humbly I kissed the guinea pig and today offer the same tribute to my beloved friend.'

This was Mary Smith, a teacher at Pate's Junior School:

'... She wasn't smug; however much she loved books, however brilliantly she did her homework. She was never a pious little goodie-goodie sitting in the corner. She would argue with anybody, but it was always because she wanted to know the truth ... We had, some of you may remember, an annual ritual at Pate's -- called Race week. The school would assemble, neat and tidy and silent, to wave to the Queen Mother as she went by. Well, I remember in the fifth year Lucy rebelled against this. She may have heard the story that the Queen Mother once said to the Town clerk: "What is the name of the school for the deaf and dumb girls who come to wave to me?" Well, Lucy was not very pro-monarchy; she sat in the form room and discussed her anti-monarchy views and the state of the country and the state of the world and what sort of poetry she should study next, and so the time passed ...'

(...)

This was Marion Smith, a childhood friend:

'... When we did the school play The Crucible, I don't know if any of you remember that -- Lucy was Abigail and I was Mary Warren -- and we had to scream. So we had to spend hours rehearsing screaming in a field. Lucy was just wonderful at it and the rest of us just stood around to boggle at it. Next term in the sixth form we did Middlemarch and Lucy was the enthusiast and the scholar ... I was going to read something from Middlemarch and have been going back through it. Poor Dorothea wasn't up to Lucy you know. Dorothea had this long life at the end and she was very nice and people thought she was wonderful and she didn't really affect anyone very much. Even in the short life that Lucy had -- I think as everyone has said here today -- she affected an awful lot of people and goodness knows what she would have done -- You know, Dorothea stand back -- Lucy had it all.'

This was Elizabeth Webster, a teacher at the Arts Centre:

'... She came to see me when she was at Exeter, just before the last year, and I said to her, "now that you are grown up what are you going to do?" and she said, "I don't mind what I do as long as I do it absolutely to the hilt." -- and then I said, "yes that's fine but where are you going?" and she thought awfully hard, then she said, "Towards the light ... Towards the light.""

And this was Marian Partington:

'... Four months after Lucy died I had a dream. And in the dream she came back and I said, "Where have you been?" and she said, "I've been sitting in a water meltdown near Grantham," and she said, "If you sit very still you can hear the sun move." And in the dream I was filled with a great sense of peace ...'

Very soon it was clear to me that something extraordinary was happening. As I wept I glanced at my weeping brother and thought: How badly we need this. How very badly my body needs this, as it needs food and sleep and air. Thoughts and feelings that had been trapped for twenty years were now being released. They were very ready. I have known literary catharsis and dramatic catharsis, and I have mourned and I have been comforted; but I had never experienced misery and inspiration so purely combined. My body consisted only of the heart -- that was my sense of it. Formulaically, perhaps, but without mysticism, I can assert that I felt bathed in her presence (and felt unrecognisably the better for it). This is where we really go when we die: into the hearts of those who remember us. And all our hearts were bursting with her."

-- Fra Martin Amis: "Experience" (2000)

n kommentar

Essay Writing Service

10.01.2011 kl.05:59

You are so right. Im there with you. Your blog is undoubtedly worth a read if anybody comes across it I m lucky I did because now I?ve got a whole new view of this. I didn?t realize that this issue was so important and so universal. You surely put it in perspective for me.

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ingermerete

ingermerete

35, Oslo

Inger Merete Hobbelstad (f. 1980) er kulturjournalist, teateranmelder og filmanmelder i Dagbladet og burde egentlig vre lut lei av skrive etter endt arbeidsdag. Men den gang ei. Jo, og s har jeg mastergrad i Litteraturvitenskap med en oppgave som handlet om Homers "Iliaden". Hvilket jeg altfor sjelden fr sprsml om. Og s ns jeg p imh@dagbladet.no.

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