ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

"And that," he said, a shade overzealously, "is the disease of the modern age. What was it they used to say? The joy of travelling is in the journeying, not the arriving. Or words to that effect. But nobody, these days, has the patience to journey. Arriving is all that matters."

"But not you?"

"I like to slow things down," he said. "Walk to work, instead of being whisked there in an instant. Cook meals, instead of having them whipped up at a moment's notice by machine."

"I must say," she said, with a breath of laughter in her voice - though not mocking laughter, a gently teasing kind, warmly colouring her words - "I was looking forward to a handmade meal. My mother was a faddist that way. It's all we had as kids. Are they really that much better though? Worth the effort?"

When bony Death has chilled her gentle blood,

And dimmed the brightness other wistful eyes....

"Worse," he replied, ignoring, for the time being, the fugitive strain of thought intruding on his ordered mind. "Foul, sometimes. I'm not a great cook. But the joy is in the cooking. Savouring the delay. Whetting the appetite with luscious smells wafting from the oven, or equally well with lush foreign scenery flashing past the windows of a train or plane or what have you. There's the joy, in knowing you have to wait, can't just snatch it up and gobble it down, can't just be there. Inconvenience food, you might say. Inconvenience travel. It's my antidote to modern life, anyway."

She nodded, muttered a cute humouring response, to show that she understood and yet at the same time simply couldn't, because of so many years of chop-chop, truly agree with him.

... dimmed the brightness....

So that was how it was going to be. Instead of what he had hoped for, another full-on glimpse of that repressed memory, there was this, the workings of his subconscious. Softly softly. Now that he had climbed down from his hobbyhorse and another of those silences had formed between them, he had time to examine those disembodied lines and understand where they came from and why. They were fragments of a poem, one that had touched him deeply during a low point in his life, an emotionally rocky period. He had found solace in them, reading and rereading them to the point where they had been etched on his memory. He thought he had forgotten them, so long had it been since he had last summoned them forth. But how could he forget? They were etched too deeply. Time couldn't weather them.

And with incredible ease - so simple, so painless - it all came back to him, swimming to mind. A college sweetheart. A suicide. The poem - death. He couldn't believe how easy it was, how completely and effortlessly the long-buried memory was disinterred. But why should he be surprised? The mental toils of the last couple of days had been tough. They had prepared him for it. For the shock of it. Paving the way. The title of the poem crept into his mind - When Bony Death - and with a little effort, a bit of mental wrestling, he managed to call up the next two lines:

And changed her glorious beauty into mud

By his old skill in hateful wizardries....

It was Anne-Yvonne who enabled him, finally and completely, to remember. Her smile, her lilting voice, her graceful movements and the sensuous allure of her eyes: he had seen them before, in someone else. They were an echo, one that had taken years rather than seconds to resound. It was so long since he had thought of her, the other girl, his first sweetheart, loved in the heady, hazy, lazy days of university. And then the suicide, and all the blood. Where better to keep a memory like that than in the most inaccessible room in your mind? As Anne-Yvonne spoke to him - he barely heard what she said, just watched her lips, rouged with lipstick and wine - he remembered the next lines of the poem:

When an old lichened marble strives to tell

How sweet a grace, how red a lip was hers....

"Anything the matter?"

"Sorry?" he muttered.

Available for purchase now

Buy the e-book version of Virtually online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk and in North America from Amazon.com.


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