I am lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, detoxing from the day, as I do.
‘You all right?’
I close my eyes and open them again, very slowly. This is not how I planned for things to go.
‘I’m fine,’ I say, still staring at the ceiling.
‘Is that ‘fine to your colleagues fine’, ‘fine to your family fine’, or just fine?’ the book says.
‘I am fine,’ I say. ‘Thank you for asking.’
‘Have you been avoiding me?’
‘Far from it. I’ve been thinking of you night and day.’
‘I’m touched,’ the book says. ‘How are things, you know, going?’
There is a long pause. Outside a blackbird is calling its alarm-song. The room is suddenly dark.
‘I think so, yes,’ I say.
‘What do you mean?’ says the book.
‘It’s Alan Rickman’s line at the end of Truly, Madly, Deeply. He speaks it to his group of ghost friends as they watch Juliet Stephenson leave the house to begin a new life. It’s the moment he knows his work is done. A moment of grief, release, of sadness and completion, all at once.’
‘Which means I think it is done. In the sense that there is no more to be done. Though there will be. But for now, yes, I think so, that is it.’
‘You mean you’ve finished?’
‘For now. Yes.’
‘That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? What are you lying here in the dark for? You should be out celebrating.’
‘This is how I celebrate,’ I say. ‘And anyway, it’s not like that. I am glad yes, but, really, the feeling is closer to relief. With each book it gets harder, not easier. And you, my friend, have been far from easy. But there it is. It is done. To the best of my ability, and yours, for we collaborate, it is now over. Am I happy? Quietly. Relieved? Definitely. But celebratory? Barely. All I know is it is done now, and everything that could have been done has been done. By both of us. And quite soon we will part. So for now let us enjoy this quiet moment of joy before I send you out into the world, before we become strangers to each other. Before we begin again.’
‘Wow,’ the book says. ‘I didn’t know you took it this seriously.’
‘Neither did I,’ I say, closing my eyes, pulling the covers around me.