A long short story from Tim Parks

The day is coming, it is not far off now, when I will be overwhelmed by anguish. This premonition has been with me for some time. What do I mean, overwhelmed by anguish? I am not sure. It is a formula I use to describe what is coming. I expect a moment when a balance will be tipped, when things will no longer proceed as they do now. In my head, that is. It is something I cannot imagine. Perhaps I picture a cat tossed into heavy surf, or a rag convulsed in a jet stream. I cannot really understand how these images relate to myself. Sometimes I see needles pushed into the skin above my knuckles. In response to these impressions I murmur the words, overwhelmed by anguish. I feel sure this moment is coming quite soon.

People speak to me in dreams. I remember scraps of conversation. Something portentous was said: “Your failure is twofold.” I cannot remember who said these words. I cannot remember the conversation. It was a dream. The day is coming, I mutter, when I will be overwhelmed by anguish.

Meantime, I function well enough, perhaps rather better than in the past. People around me do not seem aware of any special unease. They are neither demanding nor sympathetic. This creates a further anxiety: How can you imagine you are so ill, when in fact everything is fine? Or again: how can they imagine everything is fine when you are so ill?

A recurrent nightmare is that I murdered someone. It happened long ago. The incident was forgotten. I have been allowed to live my life as if I were not a murderer. But in the now of the nightmare the brutal truth finally comes to light. There are various scenarios. The victim was a girlfriend. I strangled her. Or it was a stranger I killed with the help of a friend. An anonymous man. We buried him at the side of a road in the country. Or it was a man I was paid to kill, a man in a suit and tie. I stabbed him to death. What remains the same in these nightmares is a mixture of self-regard—that I was brave enough to kill—and horror. The horror is the corpse exhumed and the ugliness of my true self revealed. When I wake, I am frightened, but then a sense of well-being relaxes my limbs: You never killed anyone. You never came close. At another level the panic clings.

My daylight life is a simulacrum. I have started using that word when I think about how I live. What I mean is that it is false. I don’t mean hypocritical. I don’t mean that I am living a lie. We are not talking about a situation I could change. My days are a series of routines which, as it were, proceed without me. I am a ghost who appears, struts around the same haunts, at the same times, in the same clothes, making the same gestures. It’s hard to believe there’s a personality. My wife tells her friends I have become absent-minded. Reality, I have started to think, will be the moment when I am overwhelmed by anguish. In a way, I am looking forward to it.

About a year ago, I began an affair …

Read more in Little Star Weekly, Parks’s long story, “The Day Is Coming” in three parts

Tim Parks recently published his fourteenth novel, Painting Death. He is also the author of a number of nonfiction books and translator of books by Moravia, Calvino, Calasso, Machiavelli, and Leopardi. He writes frequently for the New York Review blog.



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