‘Are you going to do one?’
‘Who let you in?’
The book has its feet up on my desk; a large pot of coffee is on the coffee table. A fire has also been lit.
‘Can we start again?’ I say. ‘How did you get in?’
‘You think I don’t know where you keep the spare key?’ The book puts down its book and offers me a cup of coffee. ‘So, down to business, I think,’ the book says, rubbing its hands.
‘Look, its nothing personal, but it’s been a fantastically long day. Week in fact. Month, really. So in the nicest possible way, couldn’t you just disappear for a bit, and we could get back to this in the new year?’
‘But that would mean-‘
‘Exactly,’ I say.
The book regards me for a moment, then takes a very long slurp of coffee. ‘Nice fire,’ it says. ‘I do like a fire. I thought you’d be grateful.’
‘I do, I mean, I am. Grateful. It’s kind of you. But I really have not got the time just now.’
‘May I ask what else you were planning on doing?’
‘Things,’ I say. ‘Stuff. Personal things. None-of-your-business things.’
‘Come on. You know you want to.’
‘Want to what?’
‘You know,’ the book says, picking its nose, ‘you are very old for these games. Too old.’ The book regards me for a second. ‘We both know. And we both know you want to do one. You always do one. You know you do. People look forward to it.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ I say.
There is a silence.
‘I’m tired,’ I say. ‘Really tired, OK?’
‘OK, fine,’ the book says.
There is another silence.
‘I could just sit and take notes in the darkness while you muttered with your eyes closed?’ the book says. ‘With a large whisky?’
‘Is that all this is to you?’ I say. ‘Unconscious dredging of material while you ‘make notes’?’
‘Something like that,’ the book says, without flinching. ‘Shall we start? Tell me about January.’
‘Do we have to do it in order?’
‘That’s usually how it works.’
‘I can’t remember. I can never remember January. I can barely remember yesterday.’
‘It was windy.’
‘But what were you reading?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘You know my views on this. I am never writing. Or always. There is only ‘Writing has taken place’. Or ‘Writing has not taken place.’ I’d rather talk about gardening.’
‘But you hate gardening.’
‘My point precisely.’
‘OK, then,’ the book says. ‘April. What about April?’
‘Hanging out with Ann and Dave down in Cornwall. Marvellous. Phil Bowen was there. On great form, actually. Molly, Damian, even Fiona. The whole gang. You would love them. April was great.’
‘If I may permit a question at this point?’ the book says. ‘Do you think of this, this business, primarily as a social thing?’
‘If I may say so, you are starting to make some sense. Yes, I do, as it happens. Think of Dorothy and William Wordsworth. The New York School. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Social universes, all of them. The push and pull of matter interacting. Even Auden had secretaries.’
‘So you don’t believe in ‘The Poet’ in his [sic] garret?’
‘Careful, or you’ll make me laugh.’
The book looks at me, then get up to fiddle with the fire for a moment. I watch it as it dons the gauntlets and opens the wood-burner door. It is so careful in its movements, I find myself thinking. And yet with a grand romanticism of gesture that is not at all precise, so lacking in fear and self-consciousness. I like that in a book, I say to myself.