Written 23 April, 2020
My dearest dearest friend S works in a hospital in the stricken UK, (till today 18,763 corona virus deaths). She’s an admin person arranging rosters. She isn’t issued the precious protection equipment, but doctors and nurses burst into her office in their hazmat suits to lean into her, sharing their new baby photos. Of course they are! They’ve got lives, their dads are celebrating their 60th, their mums have cooked the best cake ever, their kids are in the school play, they’ve got a handsome new boyfriend. But we’ve gone over it again and again – she’s to stand up every time someone bursts in and like a policewoman, hold up her hand. But learning to do this, every visitor, is as hard as learning to open doors with my foot.
I’ve promised never to interrupt her work. But for days, I’ve been ringing and ringing her at home- her phone’s no longer connected says a pretty voice, as cold as death. “Check the number.” Of course I know her number!
So finally last night, I broke down, panicked, rang her hospital and asked for her. One voice- not her…another voice, not her… Oh, Sarah, you must stay alive, if not for my sake- I’d die with you – then for K’s, for you’ve promised to be her mother when I die. And she so needs a mother. A mother better than me. She needs you. We all need you.
Her darling voice comes as gentle and warm as ever.
“You’re ok then,” I sob.
“Yes,” she says. “Of course!”
After her shift, she writes:
My Dear Sue, Thank you for my lovely surprise at work today – I kept thinking about it off and on during the day – speaking to you sustained me and raised my spirits, that’s for sure!
I also meant to tell you that my phone ran out of credit about 3 weeks ago and I have no way of topping it up, for at least 3 more weeks.
And she sent me a “jolly” photo from her little townhouse garden:
So I breathe again. She’s safe. Stay safe, dearest friend. What meaning there now is, in staying safe.
Today, my little life, much sweeter now we have regular and replenishable food, as long as we can boat through the darkest nights, with logs making the river treacherous, and those pink mermaid sharks. We decide on Homer’s cafe in Brooklyn, where we can boat in daylight to pick up a box. And no delivery men disappearing down the road wiht our box of food.
I have laughed at toilet-roll hoarders, but no, how I understand you. I’m so sorry. I’m just the same about food!
So the veggie garden- 13, yes 13!! spinach plants have come up from the out-of-date Mr Fothergill’s packet of seeds, plus wild buckwheat, Picture This tells me, otherwise known as black bindweed.
I think “Aha! I’ll grow lots of wild buckwheat and grind it into flour”- then I read on Picture This:
“a highly toxic plant…liver damage…consult a doctor promptly”.
I can’t pull out wild buckwheat fast enough. Gg, passing to check the crab pots, laughs at me, spade in one hand, phone in the other.
“It’s dangerous to garden without Picture This,” I explain.
In the afternoon, I at last face the music. The novel I submitted to my publishers was rejected just before the world changed. I asked for the readers’ reports, but couldn’t ‘bear to read them. Today, I did.
I st on C the hero’s peaceful deck. I walk up and down our jetty, everyone’s jetty. I stare at the creek, at the sky. I set a fire of fallen boughs in the 44 gallon drum, and huge flames lick the sky. I weep.
“I found it almost impenetrable”…”no clear direction or plot”.
A long time ago,when I’d been writing “Leaning Towards In Infinity” for four years, I sent it away, and it was rejected. I happened to be in the US as a writer-in-residence at Iowa University. I wept for a week.
Every day I walked past the Theatre Department to give a lecture. One day, I dried my eyes and I went in.
“i’ve written a play about a mathematician”, I said.”Would you be interested?”
They told me to bring it in.
I said I’d need a fortnight to get it right.
Adaption turned out to be much easier than inventing from the start.I delivered it in a fortnight. They set their students to workshopping it. A spotter for New York saw the reading, and it was workshopped there, produced by the late Julia Miles and directed by Alison Summers. Ladies Who Lunch were invited. We needed to raise $500,000 for its production, but only raised half. But in Alison’s marvellous directing, and in the actor’s marvellous work, I saw what I needed to do with the book.
So I’ll adapt it to a play, to see what’s wrong. Alison Summers says she’ll dramaturg again, A friend, knowing none of this, writes out of the blue and tells me to be strong. Being strong, I roll up my sleeves and begin to work.