Why did I want a child? I just did. My cells did. Like the writer Maggie Nelson says, “the muteness of the desire stood in inverse proportion to its size”. For all my concern about bringing another carbon footprint into the world, I couldn’t hush the yearning. It was my sehnsucht, as the Germans would say, my life-longing.
Dear Elsie, I need to tell you why I wanted to live. As 1951 surrenders to the first breath of 1952, these are the only words Albert Burton can summon. He sits hunched at his kitchen table, spelling truths for his wife with a near-invisible hand. How he is able to grip the pen, to touch it to the paper, he does not understand ... Because Albert has been dead for exactly seven days.
At the edge of a ploughed field sits a burned-out Smart car. Its squat dimensions make it appear as if compacted in a Thames Estuary wrecker’s yard, prior to being set alight. The carcinogenic hulk against a pastoral backdrop is a particularly Essexian sight, as is the detritus scattered around it: a chalky, transparent baggie and a discarded Durex packet — Es and sex.