This is from chapter two of Killing Hapless Annie; a section I am editing at the moment. It concerns how reading can ease unhappiness and loneliness: it’s a cornerstone, I think, for many: I know it was for me. x
Annie had overheard mutterings in the kitchen; she heard phrases such as personality disorder, manic depressive and psychosis. She heard the voice of Uncle John, saying of his keening wife,
‘…And mother, I did think when I married her she might have been a sociopath, but she was cheerful enough then.’
Annie thought, ‘What’s a sociopath? It sounds cheerful anyway. Kind of chatty.’
So a curious but normal Christmas break and Annie went back to school with the customary sense of being just a bit separate. To get away from mad women (who lived in depressing slapdash-mortared bungalows, which after all weren’t interesting in a pointy, Gothic sort of way and where there was no hint of left-behind Caribbean heat on the top floor), she furiously and hungrily read and re-read that bit in The Wind in the Willows -it’s at the end of ‘Dulce Domum’ if you care to look – where Rat manages to make a cheering little feast for Mole and the field mice who have come to sing carols at Mole End. For added reassurance, she read ‘The Wild Wood’ , with particular emphasis on the moment when Badger opens his front door and the two animals tumble in out of the snow. There are hams hanging from the ceiling, a big fire, the plates wink in a kindly, anthropomorphic way and when the famished animals are fed and ready for bed, their sheets are coarse but clean and smell of lavender. To Annie, a hybrid of the two chapters connoted Christmas; the word cosy; a wafting amorphous thing which some might have called happiness. And best of all, no baby-in-the-bucket. Here, Hapless Annie could stay away because her host didn’t need improvement and could just slough her off and relax. It’s ok, baby girl. It’s ok. Because in The Wind in the Willows, the creatures veritably fall upon one another in a riot of being pleased to see you, which felt like an unfamiliar construct beyond the books. Well, with the exception of how Hazel made her feel, but Hazel was gone, with the wedding ring – and possibly the dog – to a grave in December Gateshead, leaving a shelf of books in French to Annie. Oh la la! Annie thumbed the books and missed her so much in a world that made fuck-all sense.