So here’s an extract of the new novel. Out of context maybe but perhaps in context, too. Here’s a section from the third chapter or possibly the fourth. I wrote 50,000 words and then started editing instead of writing. With Duende, there was always a flow and a need and an energy. With Love at the end without dawn, there’s a fear:
Sometimes loneliness leaves you more alone than alone and the hope that a nightingale might sing you into sleep becomes a far-off dream. To be on your own, facing up to demons not of your own making, creates a turmoil so profound that seeking an escape route becomes impossible. There’s no-one there to console you in the middle of the turbulent night.
She imagined the same feeling was at work within the poet’s declamation that ‘I entered where there is no knowledge, and unknowing I remained, all knowledge there transcending.’ Not to know with an awareness of that which can never be known.
To fall in love should feel like this, she thought, as she continued reading lines from the poem by Juan de la Cruz:
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her lover.
The commentary provided her with a fuller understanding.
‘The night is a journey,’ wrote José Cabellero, ‘of losing oneself and letting go. A voyage of discovery with all the pain entailed in every form of intense upheaval. The finite is relinquished for the infinite. The material world is vanquished by the spiritual. The Dark Night of the Soul contains an abundance of Love, a Love so all-encompassing that it penetrates the human soul and precipitates radical transformation.’
Rosa’s skin was tingling. Ice-cold and on fire, she knew this was what it meant to be truly alive. Words, for her, had never been distant objects but tactile entities. Their sound and taste and texture meant each word was distinct from another and even where resemblances occurred, no two words could ever feel the same. Aged four, she’d played around with the word ‘leg’ and decided that its strangeness was too much to bear. Its brevity and harshness didn’t correlate with what it described. Fleshy and flexible, the human leg stretched far beyond the three letters of which it was comprised.
The flesh seemed both acute and irrelevant to Santa Teresa de Ávila, another Spanish Mystic for whom moments of sublime ecstasy were the norm. Sensations were, for her, a point of contact between heaven and earth, merging spirit and matter. Far from being sinful, sexuality was stipulated as the means of experiencing Divine Joy which, as for Juan de la Cruz, enables transformation.
Transformation, thought Rosa. For her, death had been its staple source. She wanted to know what it felt like if life instead was its driving force. She’d been in love but never to the point of losing herself in another. She’d skirted round the edges, daring to dip her toe playfully in the water but never allowing herself to become fully and carelessly submerged.
The next day, she went to Mdina and thought of the Chagall painting as soon as the city came into sight from the bus. She stared at the view from Café Fontanella, the dome of Mosta looming large. As she walked back, she stood for quite a while in the square in front of the cathedral and felt nothing but gratitude that this was the country of her birth.
Its tiny size created its particular and unique appeal. There was nowhere else like it. Nothing, and she really believed it, could ever compare with this. There was a connection between people she’d never experienced elsewhere. There was a refusal to make distinctions on the grounds of age or physical or psychological limitations because there weren’t enough people for discrimination to play a part. Marx’s assertion of ‘each according to his ability, each according to his needs’ seemed, to her, an apt description of how Malta actually worked.
A couple of years ago and things had begun to change. Boatloads of immigrants started to arrive in Malta, precariously braving overcrowded and unsafe boats to flee from whatever form of torture engulfed their own country. Every other day, more boats were rescued from seas which themselves provoked dispute. Spain, Italy and Malta were forever squabbling about who should take responsibility for people swept ashore after days without any food or water.
For Rosa, the sight of black faces amidst a mutant Mediterranean-Arabic population could only be a good thing but she wasn’t surprised by the ensuing racism. She heard it in the shops, sensed it whenever a black person stood in front of her in the supermarket queue, read it in the paper where people with little else to do enjoyed venting their small-minded discontent. The hatred rang loud and clear through the voice of Norman Lowell, an extreme right politician who advocated that all immigrants be returned to Africa on boats so rusty that they would inevitably be destroyed along the way.
When she read his views, she felt embarrassed to share the same heritage. But she was glad that the journalist conducting the interview did so with incredulity. This was not a man who could ever be taken seriously. This was not a man who represented Malta in the way most people saw it. This was not a man whose arguments made any kind of sense.
It was a massive sense of repulsion which overcame her when she learned that Anders Behring Breivik, a deluded and psychotic Norwegian who’d made his murderous plans so long in advance, had visited Malta with some misconstrued notion that the Knights of Malta, so central to Rosa’s culture, shared the same distorted vision as him.
She wished her Dad was there as she read the newspaper article. She wished her Dad was there to help her understand. She wished, as every day she did, her Dad was there for guidance and for comfort.
Breivik. The blue-eyed blonde. The ideal gone so horrifically wrong. The bomb in Oslo was a distraction so he could board a boat, dressed as a policeman, supposedly arriving on the island under the guise of aid. The children ran towards him. Into the arms of safety. Into the arms of their killer. Innocent and gullible. Lambs to the macabre slaughter.
He shot them dead. Without care, concern or guilt. He shot them dead. Again and again, he shot them to ensure they were no longer alive. He shot at children holding on to other children. Without mercy, with no sense of divine retribution, he pumped bullets into children as they lay clinging to their lives.
She wanted to be sick when she discovered there was a connection with Malta. She wanted to vomit so her insides would be turned upside down. She wanted to puke her essential guts up and still the revulsion would not be satisfied. And she thought about the God who must have been watching over this. She thought about God and cursed him into the ground a thousand times.
This man killed children in cold blood, she thought. It was children he shot dead. The fact he’d come to Malta was inconceivable. She wanted to be sick until her nausea turned into some distinct and unique colour. She wanted to vomit until the whole of her insides became something she could never know. Nausea was all she wanted to embrace with every putrid breath of her body.
And Norman Lowell. His response to the massacre of children. In order to distance himself from such a gross act of savagery, Lowell dismissed Breivik as a pussycat Jew. Two Fascists for whom language was a gift that should never have been bestowed on them. She thought of God and cursed his name one million thousand times.
That evening, she made the deliberate decision to attend Mass. The strong scent of incense, the music, the ritual. She inhaled and exhaled throughout the service, her sense of self flowing out and flowing in. Impossible to remain untouched. She accepted the wafer placed beneath her tongue. She accepted the blessing from the priest. She accepted the safety of returning home.