She lived in a city of people who might have been fiction. And so it was probably not a surprise if she thought fiction would tell her who she was. She hoped to be Tintin. Or the girl with a temper at Mallory Towers. It was hard to decide. And then Ballet Shoes came along and she realised, after much agonising, that she didn’t have to decide between Pauline and Petrova (Posy was never a contender) but she could just be both. Some days one and some the other. And once that was clear, there was no stopping her. She was away.
Jane Eyre at thirteen had her little Jane – infatuated with the arrogant – turning rapidly into Mr Rochester at fourteen and certainly crazy in the attic at fifteen. She was horribly confused through a lot of Lawrence. And she was Miss Celie in love with a dangerous Shug Avery in that Alice Walker year. She ricocheted around E.F.Benson’s Tilling – sometimes Mister Georgie and sometimes Quaint Irene Coles. Walking through the gender fluid worlds of Jeanette Winterson, in her twenties, was a glorious adventure. And then it happened.
She was reading a lot of Sara Paretsky. She was the private detective VI Warshawki. She had a gun. She scaled fences and bandaged her own wounds. She ate a frittata and drank a whisky. She had lovers who never lasted and sometimes turned out to be villains. And it struck her that this was silly. She looked at her little pot belly, her comically short legs. And, in that moment, she stopped believing. Soon after that, she stopped reading.
She didn’t miss it. She watched X Factor. ‘It’s my Dream, Simon.’ Other people in a faraway glassy world. She was none of them.
The patchwork of people she had ever been – the colours that clashed – the handsome man lifting his lover from a wrecked plane, the little girl with the monkey and the horse, the young woman in an ice bath in Bethlem Hospital – they gasped for the want of print. They pined for the lack of new companions. They curled up in corners of her head and breathed very shallow. They prayed – even the atheists.
One day she was early for the dentist. It was cold in the November drizzle. She went into the library. She picked up something she’d read at sixteen. And he came running through her frontal lobes, smashing his way – amoral, ready to do anything to ensure his survival. Before the day was out, she was Pinkie on the Palace Pier again.