Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
She had tried to return the book. As soon as she realized it had been left behind, she'd picked it up and rushed after its extraordinary owner. But he'd gone. He moved surprisingly swiftly for someone so old. Maybe he really didn't want to be found.
It was a plain, pale-green exercise book, like the one Monica had carried around with her at school, filled with details of homework assignments. Her friends had covered their books with graffiti of hearts, flowers, and the names of their latest crushes, but Monica was not a doodler. She had too much respect for good stationery.
On the front cover were three words, beautifully etched in copperplate script: The Authenticity Project. In smaller writing, in the bottom corner, was the date: October 2018. Perhaps, thought Monica, there would be an address, or at least a name, on the inside so she could return it. Although it was physically unassuming, it had an air of significance about it.
She turned over the front cover. There were only a few paragraphs on the first page.
How well do you know the people who live near you? How well do they know you? Do you even know the names of your neighbors? Would you realize if they were in trouble, or hadn't left their house for days?
Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?
Perhaps nothing. Or maybe telling that story would change your life, or the life of someone you've not yet met.
That's what I want to find out.
There was more on the next page, and Monica was dying to read on, but it was one of the busiest times of the day in the café, and she knew it was crucial not to fall behind schedule. That way madness lay. She tucked the book into the space alongside the till with the spare menus and flyers from various suppliers. She'd read it later, when she could concentrate properly.
* * *
Monica stretched out on the sofa in her apartment above the café, a large glass of sauvignon blanc in one hand and the abandoned exercise book in the other. The questions she'd read that morning had been niggling away at her, demanding answers. She'd spent all day talking to people, serving them coffees and cakes, chatting about the weather and the latest celebrity gossip. But when had she last told anyone anything about herself that really mattered? And what did she actually know about them, with the exception of whether they liked milk in their coffee or sugar with their tea? She opened the book to the second page.
My name is Julian Jessop. I am seventy-nine years old, and I am an artist. For the past fifty-seven years I've lived in Chelsea Studios, on the Fulham Road.
Those are the basic facts, but here is the truth: I AM LONELY.
I often go for days without talking to anyone. Sometimes, when I do have to speak (because someone's called me up about payment protection insurance, for example), I find that my voice comes out in a croak because it's curled up and died in my throat from neglect.
Age has made me invisible. I find this especially hard, because I was always looked at. Everyone knew who I was. I didn't have to introduce myself, I would just stand in a doorway while my name worked its way around the room in a chain of whispers, pursued by a number of surreptitious glances.
I used to love lingering at mirrors, and would walk slowly past shop windows, checking the cut of my jacket or the wave in my hair. Now, if my reflection sneaks up on me, I barely recognize myself. It's ironic that Mary, who would have happily accepted the inevitability of aging, died at the relatively young age of sixty, and yet I'm still here, forced to watch myself gradually crumble away.
As an artist, I watched people. I analyzed their relationships, and I noticed there is always a balance of power. One partner is more loved, and the other more loving. I had to be the most loved. I realize now that I took Mary for granted, with her ordinary, wholesome, pink-cheeked prettiness and her constant thoughtfulness and dependability. I only learned to appreciate her after she was gone.