From a lost notebook. . . at the Cloister’s Cafe


The only other patron was a young man at the far end of the café garden, writing furiously in a notebook, oblivious to everything but the rushing words. She admired his energy, the focus it took, and thought again of the story that had come her way all those years ago.

It would have served no one to tell it. She had always believed this. Early on, she mentioned her reticence to Guy.

True to character, he argued the other side.

“If you don’t write it, perhaps no one ever will. It may be lost, gone, forgotten.”

That had been a lifetime ago. Sitting here now, Winnie watched the scruffy writer turning the pages of his notebook, reading the words of his latest effort and taking arrogant drags of his cigarette. She was irritated by his presence and recogised the sharp splinter of regret.

Her gaze fell on a statuette near her table. Partially hidden among potted palms was the figure of what looked to be a monk carved from granite. His features were half worn away; an entire chunk was missing from the left side of his torso, giving him a stooped, crooked look.

“Something from the dismantled church,” Winnie thought.

Looking around she saw other sculptures hidden among clusters of plants, all of a religious nature. There were gargoyles, falcons and lions, other such lowly creatures resting on the flagstones. Higher up on stone bases were monks and humans in prayer. And turning around Winnie noted that the entire rear of the garden was dominated by a fountain graced by the figure of an angel with outspread wings and arms reaching heavenward. The sounds were lovely and cooling on this hot day and Winnie fell under the enchantment of the stylish young decorators of this trendy café.

What did it matter they were irreverent? She’d make her own sacredness.

Contemplating the twisted monk, she felt comfort in its company and thought more kindly about the re-use of these religious objects.

“For perhaps this monk was tucked away high on a gable or in a dark corner and never seen by appreciating eyes,” she mused. Then more darkly, “And the artist—rather artisan—unknown, unknowable, anonymous; his effort lost to the world.”

It was better, she decided, that there was someone to see his work, to appreciate it, and feel provoked. Otherwise, the rain would fall, the ice freeze, the dust rise and the very atoms of the stone wear away, crumbling into nothingness one by one.

The writer looked up from his writing and stared at her. She sniffed inwardly, sensing something defiant about him, and while she veiled her eyes and her expression, she did not look away. Instead, for his benefit, she looked around the garden with what she hoped seemed like intelligent interest.

He began writing again. Winnie wondered if he felt she intruded. She supposed it was more difficult to write if there was one other person nearby than if the café had been full and noisy.

At the same time, though slightly wounded, she felt this defiance he had towards a perfect stranger, indeed towards an old woman, was probably something useful. She certainly didn’t have it. She had never had it. All her ambitions, her talents remained secondary to that old fashioned idea of reticence and a respect for the people involved in an event, the myriad perspectives each inhabited.

She could never have been a journalist, all the rushing, the platitudes, the tidy arrangements words must take. Her job as a researcher, then as an editor, had been to add depth, to slow down the rushing. And, although Guy thought she had the mind for it, she couldn’t have pursued academia. It was slower, deeper, more detailed work, it’s true, but the air all around academic writing was too thin, she felt. She couldn’t have survived in it.

No, she had wanted something looser, more meandering, something thick and dense and mysterious, the stuff of life. Marguerite’s story, had she written it, might have been that, but for her scruples. Scruples and, she saw now, the overriding passivity that lay beneath each and every important event in Winnie’s life.

She realised she’d always been frozen. Her decisions had never been actions, hardly even reactions, but a kind of senseless drifting, like waves lapping at the shore.

“Sometimes life is something that happens to one.” Had Guy said this?

She couldn’t remember. But that’s what she felt on that hot day in the garden of the Cloisters Café, with its ancient ghosts about, and the young writer scribbling away with such purpose: That life had simply happened to her.

From The Tower of Forgetting.

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