Start with a memory – just pick one. Cast a fishing line out into the blackness of the night and try to catch one of the little silver ripples that jingle like coins against the moon. They’re not organised into a filing cabinet like you think they ought to be. They’re not in size order, or even organised by quality. They’re floating out there like stars in distant constellations, their light bearing only a flicker of a tangential relevance to their neighbours, superimposed an infinity later.
Cast out your line, and reel in the first thing impaled on its hook. You’re nine years old, and you’ve set up a den which you’re calling your “office” on the window sill in your bedroom, behind brightly coloured curtains, where you survey the garden through a toy telescope with your little body pressed against the radiator until it sears, safe and sound.
You don’t linger long on this catch, because holding onto its slippery tail is another memory, of another flimsy den beneath the bed. Old sofa cushions and a silk scarf obscure you from view, and it’s so very impenetrable that it feels almost worth starting a religion over.
Suddenly, the precious tiny safenesses of years gone by are abundant – each one just a flicker of something transient and too fleeting to catch – a secluded spot on the garden wall, obscured by an overgrown Buddleia, but with enough visibility of the surrounding territories that you can see if anyone is coming; a safe space for two behind the miniature railway, where crisp packets and sweet wrappers formed the bedding of the nest; the blanket fort where a years-dimmed torch was the key to an afternoon of literary escapism...
And as the tide of tiny safenesses grows stronger, somehow they fade more quickly than ever. Are you summoning them to be destroyed? Are you remembering them correctly? Were you ever really safe? The fish laugh at you as they turn and squirm back into the moonlit waves, a trick of the light or something more transformative? You’re left with the emptiness after a question escapes your lips, and an endless night of uncertainty.
How to claw back at a fiction of safeness in a world that has been cracked open?