The sun shines. I wake from no bad dreams. I have hope again.
Then I see something terrible on the news. I press the emergency button on my telephone. (This is in fact the number of my friend on a sheep farm in Wales.)
‘Have you got a moment?’ I yell. I always yell when it is an emergency.
Of course she has a moment.
‘I need to process some unprocessed emotion,’ I bawl.
She is brilliant at this, and she settles in for the duration.
We sort out the rage. She points out, gently and with empathy, that the rage is entirely justified but not entirely useful. (I don’t want to go into it, because I don’t want to wade into the swamp of politics, but let’s just say that there was a political operative flat out lying about life and death shit.) She says that the rage is not doing me or anyone else any good. It’s not going to stop the damn political operative refusing to tell the truth when people’s lives are at stake.
She suggests, in her wisdom, that I feel the rage and honour the rage and mark the rage and then let it go.
‘I’m letting the rage go,’ I holler.
And there it goes, into the morning air.
We laugh and talk for a while longer.
‘Thank you,’ I say.
She says it’s nothing. I know it is everything.
I have my hope back again, so I go down to the field and saddle up my red mare.
I ride the mare, gently, carefully, at our best old lady pace, so we are not risking accident. I pony the little bay mare, who bustles along happily at our side. These thoroughbreds, even these, who spend all their days dreaming beneath their high skies, need exercise. They are bred for running. Their athletes’ bodies need to get out and stretch themselves. So we have a purpose. This feels like something real and true.
The hills are serene and the light is thick and amber and the sun dips and dances out of dramatic clouds. In the far distance are two humans with their dogs. We spot each other and one of the strangers calls out and we all wave our arms in greeting as if we are signalling aeroplanes in to land. The streaming delight of seeing other human beings is overwhelming – on both sides, it seems. Our village is an absolute ghost town now, so even catching a glimpse of humanity feels almost incredible in its wonder.
I do my work and I hold on to the hope. We will all adjust to this, I think; we will prevail. People are very marvellous. And then I make the fatal error of looking at the news. There is a rash of End Of The World As We Know It articles, each one more doomy than the next. I feel terror and despair swamp me. I should ring up my Welsh friend and ask her to process some more unprocessed emotions, but I think she’s really got enough to do. I decide to be idiotically grown up and process them myself.
I call in the Perspective Police, my old, old compadres. I do the living in the moment. Wildly, I count my blessings. (And there are so many, I am almost embarrassed at the number.) I breathe.
I tell myself the terror and the despair are only the product of thoughts. As I did with the rage, I can let the thoughts go.
This is fucking hard.
I sharpen my wits and concentrate.
I am alive and I have a brain to think and fingers to type and I bloody well refuse to give up. If the whole world does change, I can put my head down and find a way to survive in it. And if I can, then everyone can. And perhaps we Britons might draw closer and support each other and lift each other up. Perhaps this seismic shock might let us live a better, kinder, smaller life.
My stepfather rings. He has finally got the hang of his computer, so we rather racily do a video call. It almost breaks my heart to see him, perfectly dressed as always, as if he has just stepped out of Tailor and Cutter, even though he has been confined to barracks for weeks now and has weeks more to go. He is eighty-eight and he is all alone in his tiny house, with only his little dog Edward and photographs of my late mum for company.
‘I am very old,’ he says at one point, ‘but you know I am lucky. I have this nice house. I have a freezer full of food. And I can see you in Scotland!’
He’s worried about not having enough toothpaste. I tell him that I can order him some online and get it sent to his front door, but he refuses. He will sort it out himself, or ask his kind daughter to do it. ‘She loves helping,’ he says. ‘And I don’t want to be burden to you.’ I long to send him toothpaste, but I see his point.
I ask if he has enough shaving cream. (He is always beautifully barbered.)
He perks up. ‘Oh, yes,’ he says. ‘I have that sent from my hairdresser in London. You know the one. What’s it called?’
‘Trumpers?’ I hazard. This is the only old-fashioned gentleman’s barber whose name I know. Trumpers, in Jermyn Street, where Casanovas and con men and crown princes have been having their hair cut and their chins shaved since the old Queen died.
‘That’s it!’ he says in delight.
I laugh and laugh. The world is falling apart around our ears, but my magnificent stepfather is still getting his shaving cream from Trumpers.
Then his tone falls, as he contemplates the future. He worries for the whole country. (He is not at all worried for himself.)
I say that I vividly remember the seventies, when I was a little girl. I remember the three day week and the rubbish piling up in the streets and the IMF coming in to rescue strapped old Blighty and everyone saying we were finished. I remember my dad coming round to play Monopoly by candlelight because there were power cuts all the time.
‘And we recovered from that,’ I say. ‘Britons are amazingly tough and resilient and resourceful. We got through that and perhaps we will get through this, too.’
He pauses. We’ve had heated debates about current events in the past; I wonder if we will have one now. Then he sits back on his elegant blue sofa and puts his head back and the most glorious smile spreads over his face.
‘You’re right,’ he says. ‘That’s right. There are tremendous people in this country. You’ve really cheered me up.’
That’s my job, right there. I feel as if he has given me a medal.
I leave him, because I must catch the last of the light and go down to check on the horses. When I get to the field, the gloaming is a deep, singing indigo, and the crescent moon is up. The thoroughbreds are dozing on their feet, as still as if they are carved out of the evening light. I gentle them and talk to them and make sure they have enough of everything.
I’ve got music playing, and Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol comes on. I stand next to the red mare and she rests her head on my shoulder. I sing to her. ‘If I lay here,’ I sing, ‘would you lay with me, and just forget the world?’ They seem the most apt lyrics for this moment. The mare’s head grows heavy, pressing down on me, as if anchoring me in love. She will stay with me, whatever the world can do.
I thank her, silently, for being herself.
As I turn to leave, at the end of a long, long day, I look up. In the north, above the treeline, something is glimmering in the sky. It is too gaudy to be a star, too big to be a satellite, too still to be an aeroplane. I decide, with iron certainty, that is it the international space station, taking a pass over Scotland. In the silent field, I throw both arms in the air, waving like a cheerleader.
‘Hello,’ I shout. ‘Hello. We are still here!’