By Teddy Hempstead
I am standing in the villa of many many past holidays. I have written in this villa, and I have planned extensive green gardening. Prepared for walks on the beach and thought about flying. This is incidental to the now, when I am only standing. The villa is painted and wan. The villa looks out over the sea. In the very furthest room (as the crow flies) from where I am standing is my favourite chair.
The YouTube logo, unpalatable fake neon, a millennial Volkswagen symbol, reflects my (wrenched and wrenching) tear-slicked disgusting snot-caked white pale face. David Bamber is my Cicero, faking an ebullient virtue impossible to attain in this later, lesser century. The roofs next to my window are grey ugly heathen roofs, while the flower-drenched man in my books is palpating with efficacy and nobility. Pro Caelio, so it goes, this is the book Jack wrote in, turn another page, Pro Rabirio Postumo, and why shouldn’t we, but De Optimo Genere Oratorum was always an autobiography. The red logo evokes the flesh, everything is a portent if you want it to be.
I receive news that men are coming here. Coming for me, presumably, definitely. What is going through my head? Likely fear (untranscribed), likely my daughter, who I love, who is dead, who I love, more more more than everything. Probably not memory. Probably definitely. It isn’t the time to think of Caesar, or of Rufus, my worst defence and my most famous one, a defence that will be read for thousands of years forever forever until time doesn’t matter. Here I am in the huge villa. Slaves wash around me like the ocean. Even now, even in this time, I take a book. There is a ship docked in the harbour, only a winding trellised path between me and it. How long does it take to realise you are dead after you die? Do I realise my enormity? Maybe not now, but did I? Or had I locked away posterity, to consider like a tome, a different earthy day, away from here, older than this. Please.
The first time I read Cicero I was on holiday and sweltered down on the beach, the sweat and rhubarb face a barrier to speech, melody, and time. Have you ever entered a timeless place? I fell into the sea like a god, quivered and shook with horror inside the waves, the book drowned, pages flaked away through my hands into the water, and I caught glimpses of the sky through the horrible murk, glimpses of a sky I knew he had seen, the same sky, still here, and I couldn’t move or breathe or speak and I wanted to die, drenched, thinking about his beach and his sky and his woodland pathway. Can you foreshadow history? I feel that I have influenced it, but this is just a feeling, and I know I am a speck, a speck in his eyes, a single hair falling to the ground as he rides with imperium one hot day in 63.
I cannot see the path to the beach but I know it. I can see only the canvas around me, hear the grunting of swift travel. No-one has said anything interesting for quite some time. I have not spoken myself in quite some time. They correlate. I’ve been looking sad for years. I’ve seen the busts, I know the shape of my face is gone. Even the lies of the kind marble betray this obvious truth. In less than a decade they will say I am the greatest orator that has ever lived. Today I am an ocean heading towards an ocean, reading trash under brown taupe. Time passes, not much, not enough.
The first time I saw Latin was on a gravestone with my father, who is or has been imprisoned for an indeterminate time. Outside a hospital, a plaque insisted “Aegroto, dum anima est, spes est”. This is Cicero, as he is everywhere. I have returned to the hospital and been horrified to see so many uncomforted by His words. Every love story is a ghost story, they say. Maybe every life story is a love story. I have not lived a single year since I read him, or even woken a single morning, without desperately wanting to reach and stop that brutal hand, to bring him from his kneel into my arms, to steal him away safely into a different universal place, an immortal safety. But he has done this to himself, already, with his letters, his love of iniquity and vice. If there is a god he was born in 43. Is it pornography, to love the dead? What if you know this is all they wanted, and yet you feel it anyway? I insist this is my natural sleeping position, as I am hammered to a cross.
We have stopped and I will never start again. We have been caught, cut off from the sea. I know what is happening from the commotion. I know where I am and where I am not going. I know what I will not be doing. I still have great triumphant quivering visions of my daughter. Whether we like it or not the personal eradicates the public. Whether you like it or not I am thinking barely anything. My face is wan with anxiety – Plutarch will record and immortalise this, a last full stop embossed on a schizophrenic legacy. It is easy to delay anything inevitable but only second by second, and eventually the ceaseless effort is overwhelming and you let yourself drown. I am ready to put my head out. I have already prepared my last words. Efficient, machine, the pale emperor. I do put my head out. I knew it was green out here. I am in the middle of the path to the beach. Sand and sea air abound. Through the trees blue sun glints, reflecting off the yellow brick road to Macedonia. What is ‘immortal’, then? Is this enough? No descent into dementia, but a furious martyrdom only four hundred metres from sanctuary. Sanctuary from what? Getting old? Getting stupid? Or just the insistence of today? The sky looks exactly the same as it always did. It’s probably time anyway. I have been anxious. I am not sure of my legacy. Fruit tumbling, the sapling bursts of lime – is there a god? Will it hurt?
Teddy Hempstead raises his arms, things glint, I bare my neck and accept the blow, eyes open but looking at the ground, a feeble protest against any hastening acceptance. Strike! and in my dreams I scream, debase myself online in terrible love. Teddy Hempstead strikes me and I am a giant, millennia tall, huge, colossal, big. These ants can’t touch me, never could. I’m alive but it’s fading, I’m alive but it is fading out, Tullia, I can’t, I haven’t finished my book. I gather him in against my chest but he dissipates, a ghost exits the gaping wound in my neck, and I wake up sweating, red again, waves crashing against my face, abominable arms feebly strapped to my fleshy shoulders, stretching out pathetically in the night to their brothers two thousand years ago.