Chapter no 53 – Tricycle

The Midnight Library

As the weeks went by, Nora began to feel something remarkable start to happen.

She began to remember aspects of her life that she had never actually lived.

For instance, one day someone she had never known in her root life – a friend she had apparently known while studying and teaching at the university – phoned her about meeting for lunch. And as the caller ‘Lara’ came up on the phone, a name came to her – ‘Lara Bryan’ – and she pictured her completely, and somehow knew her partner was called Mo, and that they had a baby called Aldous. And then she met her and had all these things confirmed.

is sort-of déjà-vu happened increasingly. Yes, of course there were the occasional slip-ups she made – like ‘forgetting’ Ash had asthma (which he tried to keep under control via running):

‘How long have you had it?’ ‘Since I was seven.’

‘Oh yes, of course. I thought you’d said eczema.’ ‘Nora, are you okay?’

‘Yes. Um, fine. It’s just I had some wine with Lara at lunch and I feel a bit spaced out.’

But slowly, these slip-ups became less frequent. It was as though each day was a piece fitting into a puzzle and, with each piece added, it became easier to know what the absent pieces were going to look like.

Whereas in every other life she had been continually grasping for clues and feeling like she was acting, in this one she increasingly found that the

more she relaxed into it, the more things came to her.

Nora also loved spending time with Molly.

e cosy anarchy of her playing in her bedroom, or the delicate bonding that happened at story time, reading the simple magical brilliance of e Tiger Who Came to Tea, or hanging out in the garden.

‘Watch me, Mummy,’ said Molly, as she pedalled away on her tricycle one Saturday morning. ‘Mummy, look! Are you watching?’

at’s very good, Molly. Good pedalling.’ ‘Mummy, look! Zoomy!’

‘Go, Molly!’

But then the front wheel of the tricycle slipped off the lawn and down into the flowerbed. Molly fell off and knocked her head hard on a small rock. Nora rushed over and picked her up and had a look at her. Molly was clearly hurt, with a scrape on her forehead, the skin grazed and bleeding, but she didn’t want to show it even as her chin wobbled.

‘I’m all right,’ she said slowly, in a voice as fragile as porcelain. ‘I’m all right. I’m all right. I’m all right. I’m all right.’ Each ‘all right’ got progressively closer to tears, then horse-shoed back around to calm again. For all her nocturnal fears about bears, she had a resilience to her that Nora couldn’t help but admire and be inspired by. is little human being had come from her, was in some way a part of her, and if she had hidden strength then maybe Nora did too.

Nora hugged her. ‘It’s all right, baby . . . My brave girl. It’s okay. How does it feel now, darling?’

‘It’s okay. It’s like on holiday.’ ‘On holiday?’

‘Yes, Mummy . . .’ she said, a little upset Nora couldn’t remember. ‘e slide.’

‘Oh yes, of course. e slide. Yes. Silly me. Silly Mummy.’

Nora felt something inside her all at once. A kind of fear, as real as the fear she had felt on the Arctic skerry, face to face with the polar bear.

A fear of what she was feeling. Love.

You could eat in the finest restaurants, you could partake in every sensual pleasure, you could sing on stage in São Paulo to twenty thousand people, you could soak up whole thunderstorms of applause, you could travel to the

ends of the Earth, you could be followed by millions on the internet, you could win Olympic medals, but this was all meaningless without love.

And when she thought of her root life, the fundamental problem with it, the thing that had le her vulnerable, really, was the absence of love. Even her brother hadn’t wanted her in that life. ere had been no one, once Volts had died. She had loved no one, and no one had loved her back. She had been empty, her life had been empty, walking around, faking some kind of human normality like a sentient mannequin of despair. Just the bare bones of getting through.

Yet there, right there in that garden in Cambridge, under that dull grey sky, she felt the power of it, the terrifying power of caring deeply and being cared for deeply. Okay, her parents were still dead in this life but here there was Molly, there was Ash, there was Joe. ere was a net of love to break her fall.

And yet she sensed deep down that it would all come to an end, soon. She sensed that, for all the perfection here, there was something wrong amid the rightness. And the thing that was wrong couldn’t be fixed because the flaw was the rightness itself. Everything was right, and yet she hadn’t earned this. She had joined the movie halfway. She had taken the book from the library, but truthfully, she didn’t own it. She was watching her life as if from behind a window. She was, she began to feel, a fraud. She wanted this to be her life. As in her real life. And it wasn’t and she just wished she could forget that fact. She really did.

‘Mummy, are you crying?’

‘No, Molly, no. I’m fine. Mummy’s fine.’ ‘You look like you are crying.’

‘Let’s just get you cleaned up . . .’

Later that same day, Molly pieced together a jigsaw of jungle animals, Nora sat on the sofa stroking Plato as his warm, weighty head rested on her lap. She stared at the ornate chess set that was sitting there on the mahogany chest.

A thought rose slowly, and she dismissed it. But then it rose again.

As soon as Ash came home, she told him she wanted to see an old friend from Bedford and wouldn’t be back for a few hours.

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