In the past, when Christine and I have argued, I would often throw something. The words now are enough and over the years I have become more and more adept at hurling them and I no longer need something inanimate.
If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d try again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket, something made from china or glass, something that would break, that would smash.
If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try to rip it in two. It can’t be done. In order to destroy a book you need to act methodically, to tear the pages one at a time. I have done this, but only once.
I hadn’t read the book but I remember it was ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoevsky. As I started to rip out the pages, Christine watched but she quickly tired and, exasperated, she went to bed. ‘The Idiot’ is a big book but I persevered until each and every page lay at my feet.
In the heat of the moment a book is decidedly unsatisfactory. A mug, on the other hand, is ideal. A mug will bounce unscathed across a carpeted floor time and again. Six, seven, eight, nine, even ten times, before it will begin to chip and crack and, when it does, when it breaks, something snaps and in the silence we are able to make things right again. To scrub at the coffee stains and sweep up the pieces, although for weeks afterwards, we find bits of the mug lodged here, there and everywhere.
Christine was frightened by my outbursts and believed if I didn’t react in this way that I would lash out and strike her. But it was only when the argument really took root, when it wouldn’t stop, that I would throw and break something. Of course, it wasn’t always a mug but sometimes things that were much more valuable and difficult to replace. Heirlooms, things that had been passed down and things we had bought together and which, over time, would have come to mean so much more.
I won’t bore you with a list but I did once break a clock, a wedding present. I lifted it from the mantle and flung it to the floor. I kicked it, stood and stomped on it. Grinding the glass and the face and the mechanism until all of the tiny parts, the cogs and the washers and the wheels, were embedded in the carpet. Later, we hadn’t any choice but to carefully and painstakingly pick them out.
I am now aware, however, that Christine has begun to replace some of the things I have destroyed from our past.
I wouldn’t even have noticed if it hadn’t been for the book, not even the clock, but there it is up on the mantle, exactly the same although of course it isn’t. I wonder how she did it, how she managed to find it? And I would like to ask but how can I, how can we talk about this?
After finding the book and taking it down from the shelf, I carry it with me and begin to wander through the house, searching the rooms and discovering item after item, things I won’t list, not now, not here. I’ve told you about the book and about the clock and that’s enough. And the mugs of course, although they don’t matter, mugs are inconsequential; you use one only for so long and then replace it.
Eventually I sit and start to read ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a copy of the book I desecrated long ago. It has the same cover, a sky blue border and the same painting on the front. ‘Portrait of Ivan Pochitonov’ by Nikolai Dmitrievich although of course these details I don’t remember.
Christine comes into the room and, noticing the book, she asks quite coolly, ‘Haven’t you read that before?’.
‘I started once but didn’t finish it,’ I reply, ‘and I’ve decided to try again.’