Saturday 26 June 2021

'The Power of Negation' by Ian O'Brien

He is talking about the power of negation when the call comes. ‘Negation: defining something by what it isn’t, what is absent, what it lacks.’ An extract on the board from Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ that he’s scrawled from memory: No familiar shapes remained… Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields, the word ‘no’ underlined. The knock at the door is light, apologetic. The receptionist waiting, another colleague standing behind, ready to take over. The pupils, allowing the fracture in the lesson to widen, fill it with voices.

The strangeness of the school carpark full and silent, empty cars filling with sun. The world outside ticking over in its rhythm, a woman hanging washing in a garden, a window-cleaner taking down a ladder. The strangeness of the car at this time of day, a sense of the world going on around him at a distance, without him. The motorway at noon, stretches of daylit road, the tarmac exposed to him. Voices on the radio, presenters he doesn’t recognise, the news coming on and again that feeling of the world moving without him. He isn’t frantic, he doesn’t speed.

In the hospital carpark he switches off the engine and again there is that heavy silence. Not sound removed but instead filled somehow, trespassed. He moves through the corridors lightheaded, finds the ward. She is broken in the bed, eyes creased, hands folded. She apologises and he is angry with himself for not saying that it isn’t her fault, for not saying anything. He holds her and she is like glass.

Leaving, he will use the lift and on the floor below a new family will get in with bright balloons.

In the classroom, not realising just how much she is helping him, a girl wipes the whiteboard clean.

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