At 7.26am, the telephone goes. I struggle to consciousness. ‘Are the horses out?’ I mutter.
It is either that or someone has died.
My brother’s voice comes down the line, thin and high, from Bali, where he lives.
‘Hold on,’ I say. ‘I’m on the scratchy phone. I’ll pick up the good one.’
I go downstairs and settle myself on the sofa and watch the morning sun rise.
The brother is having a bit of a crisis. We are all having a crisis, because we are all going to die, and only two monks and the dogs in the street know what to do about that.
‘But you have your horse,’ he cries.
‘I do admit she is my perfect Zen mistress,’ I say, watching the yellow sun muddle in through the slats of the blinds. ‘Without her, I should probably run mad.’
‘All those hippies,’ he said (he is a bit of a hippy himself) ‘I see them, sticking their left toe in their right ear, trying to quiet the fear.’
‘They should get a horse,’ I say staunchly.
‘I’m not sure that everyone does with a horse what you do,’ he says, very dry.
We laugh for quite a long time.
He reads me Clive James’ poem about his daughter’s maple tree, and the gently falling rain. It is about those things. It has a faint air of ee cummings about it. (Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.) It is really about death.
‘Facing the void,’ says my brother. ‘That’s what it is all about. If only everyone could face the void, then they’d stop being so cross.’
I think about the poem. I shout, suddenly, down the long transcontinental line: ‘LOVE AND TREES.’
‘Yes,’ says my brother, slightly less doleful.
‘That’s what Clive James has come to. Love and trees,’ I say. I laugh and laugh and laugh, from sheer pleasure. Me and Clive and the beloved brother in Bali; we shall face the void with love and trees.
‘I do find the void frightening,’ I say.
‘And yet,’ says the brother, ‘we are just going back to where we came from. We were nothing and we go back to nothing.’
‘I thought of Dad last night,’ I say. ‘I wondered where he went. I mean: where has he gone?’
‘He came here,’ says the brother. ‘I got drunk on gin and told all his old jokes. I haven’t told those jokes for twenty years.’
‘Ah,’ I say, oddly relieved. ‘That’s where he went.’
We talk a bit more about death and love and the void. By this time, we are slightly hilarious, and the thing no longer seems so frightening. We are ironical about the void, and make jokes at its expense.
‘I love you,’ says the brother.
‘I love you,’ I say. ‘This is one of the best conversations I ever had.’
‘I did want you to know,’ says the brother. ‘In case I am run over tomorrow.’
‘Mind those buses,’ I say. ‘I’d rather you weren’t run over just yet.’
One of our grandmother’s oldest friends was actually run over by a bus. He had spent his entire life looking into the void, with an exhausted, comical melancholy. He was the saddest and funniest man I ever knew. He wrote one perfect book, under an assumed name, and then gave up.
‘Love you,’ the brother and I yell at each other.
Love won, today. Love beat the void. And now I’m going to ride my mare.