The Circulatory System
The heart is actually two pumps, twined together -- one that pumps the blue exhausted blood from the body into the lungs, and one that pumps the fresh red blood from the lungs back into the body. The two have, from a plumbing point of view, little to do with each other: it is simply convenient to run both with the same control apparatus, and to protect both within the same bony cage. The outflow of each will eventually be the inflow of the other, but in a healthy heart the two bloodstreams rush past each other without touching, like trains that are bound in opposite directions, running temporarily on parallel tracks. You can view the whole system as a lopsided figure-eight, with the heart being the crossroads; one loop is the pulmonary circulation, the other the systemic circulation. They meet, but do not mingle, at the heart, where two twined fists of muscle clench together, and relax.
In the dead of winter, I sat in my darkened cubicle, looking at photographs taken by night from London buses. I was transfixed. There were long lines of red light like jet trails, and gleaming reflected surfaces, wet sidewalks, blurs and splashes of light. It was a dark world, and one without faces. But the light. There was always light welling up, light moving and flaring, light flickering and swooping.
We like to tell stories. If I were to give our species a name, it certainly would not be the sapient apes. I might call us the storytelling apes -- or maybe the lying apes. We make up stories constantly, compulsively. So don't believe me when I say that was the beginning of the story. When I say that was the light that grew inside me with the Spring, that eventually grew so bright that I left the barren country of cubicles and touched flesh rather than keyboards. Don't believe me when I say that a small song began in me then. Beginnings, middles, and ends; we make them up with fatal readiness. Don't believe me when I say I fell in love then, and my whole life has grown differently because of it. Such things don't have beginnings. They don't have ends, either.
The sky unravels, a dirty fraying white blanket. It's preparing, they say, a sunny weekend. I hope not -- I don't particularly like the sun, not beating straight down on the world out of a blue sky. I have very fair skin that burns easily. And I don't like being hot and sweaty.
I'm sitting unshaven and unwashed in Tosi's, after a fitful night, feeling cranky and forlorn: the sort of mood in which you invite sympathy and then snap at someone for offering it.
Last night I was reading an old Agatha Christie. It has a marvellous beginning, playing, as she so often so deftly did, on the conventions of the detective story. At first blush it's the standard Arthur Conan Doyle opening: a young woman in mysterious distress comes to the great detective for help. But she's barely started on her story when she stops, staring at Poirot, and says she doesn't want to be rude, but she had thought -- it just won't work, she doesn't want to be rude, but -- he's too old. And she bolts from his office.
I rise slowly through layers of black water, and break the surface, at last, of the lake. I tread water. I can hear the slow drip from invisible stalactites, the faint hoarse breath of the flowing air. Ripples of cold float over my face, smelling of limestone and forgetfulness. The pulse of warmth leaving my torn shoulder. It's enough, breathing the night air -- it's always night here -- and dreaming of a sun, a sun too powerful to endure. Poor Grendel's had an accident.
1. Photograph: Frizzy Logic
2. Agatha Christie: Third Girl
3. John Gardner, Grendel