Honing The Rivastones Murmurs

December 2022

Over a year has swept by since my last update and, if I measure time by the story I inhabit, a matter of hours. I previously mentioned working on “Rat Trap”, a short story to be included with Dr Craine’s Body. Quite of its own accord, the short story grew into a vital organ of the novella it was to lie beside, distending and freely bleeding into the narrative. With that flow of literary blood, carrying fresh dilemmas and tensions to explore, the novella broadened into a novel, absorbing “Rat Trap” as a key chapter. Once the terrain of the novel is crept into, things change, with not just the range and contours of Dr Craine’s Body changing, but the sign announcing the in-bloom landscape…

The Bodies of Doctor Craine

There are story-related reasons for this somewhat grander, wide-canvassed title, including, as befitting The Rivastones Murmurs, metaphorical implications which sharpen as the novel unfurls.

Unexpectedly finding a new novel to toil over, I’ve honed my ideas and plans for The Rivastones Murmurs. Switched, cut, deepened, carefully considering how to best render this series. It is important I do this now, while the entries are consciously unfinished, sometimes wholly unedited, the words undisturbed since first tumbling to the page, rather than after locking the stories and burning with regret.

Thoughts of release dates fade as I bend to the novel which emerged over this past year. And it has been a trying year…

A new job to stay afloat while the creative endeavour simmers away in the background, in a bank, an institution renowned for its unfailing generosity to the striving artist.

After a tiring week at the day job, stirring from a rare deep sleep, thanks to earplugs and a sleeping pill, to find the house burgled, the CCTV of a neighbour later revealing with chilling candour that in the dead of night three men crept around downstairs as I slept sound upstairs, snapping open a backdoor lock with career-criminal ease, working their way through the rooms, tossing, turning, opening, gloved hands snatching both junk and valuables, the camera picking up the glints of their flashlights through the windows, and sloshing oil and washing-up detergent on the kitchen tiles before leaving to mask their bootprints. I haven’t quite slept right since. And the abode is an ex-council house in a decaying stretch of town. Desperate times even for qualified nocturnal raiders then.

Being struck by Covid, leaving me bedridden for a fortnight. Then being swamped with long Covid, having to push through a viral mire as stubborn chains, binding both body and mind, dragged at me. Despite riding out the height of the corona-storm unscathed, catching Covid at some point wasn’t unforeseeable.

Then an entirely unexpected health scare, demanding a spell in hospital. A burst of pain, a quick swelling and a loss of mobility along the hand. An urgent medical appointment, the pain now like something chewing away on the hand from the outside while a smaller creature fitfully bites from the inside. The doctor at the clinic grave, uttering “orthopaedics”, making phone calls, “hospital referral”. The nurses at the hospital wincing with concern, conferring, taking blood and X-rays, summoning specialists. The orthopaedist serious, uttering “surgical emergency”, making phone calls, “a risk of…” The root of this torment revealed to be a tendon infection, spreading like an oily blaze, most likely a belated complication of tendon-repair surgery had many years ago in the very areas of the hand that erupted, lost function. Fears voiced of the inferno crawling into the bloodstream, reaching the heart, a fatal conclusion. Prodded, injected, hooked up to IV drips. The visiting surgeons firm, “We’re operating tonight”, making phone calls, “We’re operating in the early hours”, leaving, “We’re operating soon”, returning, “…a shortage of beds.” Underfunded, overstretched. A gnawing wait. And then, in a whirl and a rush, operated on. Awakening from the abyss of anaesthetic slumber, the entire hand burning and bandaged. Hooked up to more IV drips. Fierce painkillers. Prodded and injected. IV drips. Blood drawn and tested. Time passing in a hospital ward with the crawl of a malnourished animal. The pain starting to relent, not the paralysis. The despair of the ward creeping in, surrounded all day by the decaying, the dying, their moans and groans throughout the night, coupled with the screech and clatter and lights of new patients being wheeled in, chasing off sleep. The ward getting too much to bear. The ward exacting a mental toll. Hope dangled down, “We’ll discharge you this evening”, pulled back, “We’ll discharge you tomorrow”, flung away, “We’re not discharging you until we’re certain that…” A hard-won discharge, promises given that medications will be continued, prompt returns made when summoned. The hand still smouldering but the mind more at ease. Fresh air, daylight. Then learning to live one-handed. T… y… p… e…… o… n… e… – … h… a… n… d… e… d. Write, or scribble squiggles, left-handed. Brushing teeth an endeavour. Preparing food needing deliberation, eating and drinking strategy.

My hand continues to recover and gradually, too gradually, regain mobility. Even as I write this, though, the pain nests there, more nibbling than chewing now, with the occasional sharper nip. Pressing on through such tumults, no release dates. But there is a refined release order, to be laid out soon, alongside other developments for The Rivastones Murmurs. For now, prescription-grade painkillers popped, follow-up hospital visits and physiotherapy arranged, I return to the page.

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