Thursday, 29 October 2009
My darling Henry
Today, I feel so terribly tired. They say, don’t they that seventy is the new forty? Today I feel as though the fifties are the new eighties. I look in the mirror, and this slightly cynical patient lizard with its watchful eyes and straw wig looks back at me. ‘Good morning,’ I say; and the lizard mouths the same words back at me.
My darling Henry came home yesterday evening. Things always feel more right in themselves when he is home. There is something uncannily comforting about Henry.
This last month or two he has been back and forth to New York and Washington and Berlin, sorting things out and making the world run properly. I have not the faintest idea, in truth, what this entails; apart from aeroplane flights and well-pressed suits, and a remarkable stamina for board meetings. Part of Henry’s ethical outlook is his belief that one should work for one’s living – actually for real money I mean, not only contributing usefully to the executive processes of charitable foundations and whatnot, though of course Henry does that too. So he spends a great deal of time attending things and making decisions; giving permission for people’s lives and commercial ventures to begin, or end, or change direction. I am not quite sure how many companies Henry owns or directs – a lot I think, but I suppose it might even be none at all; I have not even the most tenuous grasp of these matters. Simply being alive at all and remembering to be polite and figuring out how to get both legs of my stockings on without getting them twisted has always seemed challenge enough for me.
Anyway, dear Henry is home for the weekend, which is simply lovely. I always look forward to him coming back so very, very much; life slips into its socket again if you see what I mean. Even so, it can be a little alarming at seven o’clock in the morning, when I am sitting in bed sipping Earl Grey tea in a tranquil manner, watching a flight of birds through the window, and Henry enquires briskly: ‘So! What’s on the agenda today?’
‘Agenda?’ I quaver weakly. Henry takes in at a glance that there is no future in pursuing this line of enquiry; so he outlines for me the projects he has in mind for his own itinerary – usually enough to fully occupy a short month (February, I suppose).
After a little while his own enthusiasm sort of loops back and re-infects itself, and he goes bounding off to the shower: then bursts in upon Cook to check up on the progress of breakfast. After he has dressed, of course.
And then I don’t really see him any more. From time to time he comes blowing into the drawing room, or wherever I am, in search of important papers, or his spectacles, or needing me to jog his memory – the name of the man who bred our dogs or the disease that Aunt Fenella died of; that sort of thing. Sometimes we take lunch together, though I prefer to have a tray on the sofa; a little smoked salmon and cream cheese on an oatcake while I leaf through this week’s copy of The Lady, looking at the pictures mainly – words are so draining, don’t you think?. Henry usually lunches in the dining room surrounded by horseradish and chutney and Gentleman’s Relish and pickles, eating crunchy things very fast because his mind is already galloping wildly through the late afternoon and he has to catch up.
We often eat fish for dinner. Apart from Sybil, who prepares her own slightly unusual concoctions. I must say, Cook is very patient with us.
There comes a moment when after much wrestling effort, Henry and his day fall apart exhausted: at which point he turns on the television for the news, pours himself a whisky, and falls asleep.
I make my way back to my dear snuggly nest at about ten o’clock. I like to keep the curtains drawn back, so I can see the moon and the stars and the clouds. So beautiful. I lie and watch them, eventually drifting off to sleep. After an hour or so Henry tiptoes in and puts the light on, clatters around a little as quietly as he can, blows his nose and whatnot, finally leaning across to give me a goodnight kiss of great affection before settling down to one of these rather sophisticated political novels: ‘Goodnight my sweet darling,’ he says. I do love Henry.
After a while I usually drift slowly off to sleep again in the lamplight. Henry reads until he is sleepy and then turns off the light. He finds it hard to get comfortable nowadays – it’s middle age you see, it’s not the new twenty-one whatever they may say. So he grunts and rootles around a bit and grapples with his pillows, eventually getting them straight. He begins to drift off to sleep then, but I find one can only have so many goes at it before drifting off to sleep loses its edge. So I watch the moon. After a while (this happens every night, it’s extraordinary, I’m sure a homoeopath would have something to say) Henry suddenly begins to cough. He gropes about for his carafe and knocks his watch onto the floor, and has to put the light on to retrieve it and pour himself a glass of water. This usually does the trick, and he subsides again, re-organises his pillows and starts to drift off to sleep. At this juncture, leg cramps usually strike him, and poor Henry has to jump out of bed and pace around a little, pausing to stand on tiptoe or stretch out one leg from time to time. With a certain amount of determination he is usually able to defeat the cramp, and he snuggles down again and gives me another loving little kiss: ‘Goodnight my dearest,’ he says. Darling Henry. What would I do without him?
He tussles with his pillows for a while and finally gets them straight, turning over with a deep sigh and pulling the duvet around him. In that moment I have to be almost convulsively quick to grab the corner of the quilt before it is whisked away from my side of the bed. I hold onto it firmly then, as I lie watching the clouds drift across the face of the moon.
I listen as Henry’s breathing deepens from its normal tense wakefulness down to relaxation, then into snoring.
The snoring is interesting and varied. Some nights it’s that guttural, semi-gurgling snortle located in the region of the pharynx, or soft palate at least: I believe that must require an open mouth, but one can never absolutely confirm the veracity of this hunch in the dark. Some nights it’s more of a slow, deep, in-drawing snortle alternating with a coy little ‘ptui!’ on the outbreath. I listen, and I watch the moon moving across the sky, and eventually sleep draws me down into the dark blue velvet silence.
And before I know it, the morning has come; the indeterminate beauty of the dawn, and a cup of Earl Grey tea, and a tender little kiss from darling Henry, who wonders what my schedule (!) will be this new day.
My dear, dear Henry. I admire him so, and he is such a marvelous person; so accomplished and important and so devastatingly busy. I wish I could write with more insight and intelligence about the kind of person he is: but at least I have been able to describe the bits I see.