Four o’clock of a Saturday afternoon, and the dog must be walked.
And he knew it.
I was busying myself with changing the bedclothes on our bed when he arrived and sat employing the triangular ears technique. He stared fixedly, employing his doggy mind melding brainwaves to bend my will to his.
It worked. He noted the very moment of resignation and flew into a frenzy of anticipation.
A little dog like that anticipates not only with his mind but physically, with every inch of his wiry little body. It is as if those strong, sturdy muscles remember the last time they were stretched in a full-out run, haring across the forest bracken.
He trembles in delighted anticipation.
There’s a scientific law: the law of conservation of energy. It’s one of my favourites because it describes my dog exactly. It goes like this: energy does not just disappear. So once you have stretched a spring, even though nothing is happening now, the energy is stored in it. It’s called potential energy.
The moment that the spring is released, it turns into something different: kinetic energy. The energy is let go, the spirit freed.
It’s like a roller coaster. It goes up a steep incline: when it reaches the top it balances, the very epitome of potential energy, a plummet waiting to happen.
And then it plunges down the hill, kinetic to its last molecule.
The dog’s the same, though scientists would tut at the metaphor. His muscles are so full of unrealised energy he can barely contain himself. Wickedly, one of my favourite sights is watching Felix trying patiently to attach the lead to a moving target: a revolving dog, simply unable to stay still as he glimpses release.
Stored energy: the very epitome of anticipation.
Could it be, by this definition, that our traditional clocks are powered by anticipation?
Before the advent of quartz watches we used to wind a lot of our watches and clocks. This would power them for some time, because inside the casing was a little store of energy called the mainspring.
It’s a strip of metal coiled in a spiral. A mine of potential energy. By winding the clock you make that spiral ever tighter, full of energy just bursting to be released.
Of course, it should just come undone immediately: but it doesn’t because of an ingenious little thing called a ratchet, a toothed governor which ekes out the energy in the spiral, hour after hour.
Macaulay just anticipates his walks; whereas, pent-up in that mainspring in any silver pocketwatch is the very heart of all possibility: time.
Maybe the clock doesn’t just measure time: maybe it stores up the possibility of hours and days and minutes and seconds in its mainspring. It anticipates time itself.
That delicious storing up of temporal energy: it is something we all love. But we would recognise it as something different: as suspense in a story.
Where shall I go first? To those classic moments in novels which stop time in its tracks so that our hearts might almost follow suit?
To Dickens’ Christmas Carol, as Jacob Marley’s chains can be heard scraping up stairs and remorselessly towards the door behind which Ebenezer Scrooge is still denying he needs to light a candle? Or to a low, demonic laugh which echoes round a great country house, haunting the young bride-to-be of Mr Rochester?
Then again, there’s Henry James’s Turn Of The Screw, whose entire book has one’s synapses crackling with anticipation as uneasy signs materialise and fade away leaving only dread behind.
Surely every good writer has a mainspring. A way of trapping time in a spiral of words.
The energy in their story cannot disappear. The very fabric of the universe forbids it.
No: expertly, they wind the mainspring within their tale, building energy which is taut, anticipatory, which has no way out, only a ratchet- remember that toothed cog? – to imprison it.
And the ratchet, to a writer, is also system for virtuoso release.
Dickens shows Scrooge his own funeral, his body encased in a coffin: Rochester’s wedding becomes a ritual viewing of a monstrous lunatic in an attic; James’s heroine governess tries to fight the spirits around her and concludes with a boy’s lifeless body in her arms.
The energy comes tumbling out, time gushes forth in a great torrent.No measured coil now, but a headlong rush.
As writers we tap into an ancient underground river in the reader’s psyche: the one which actually feels that physical storing up of energy in a story, and its release.
Enough of this. The dog’s muscles are anticipatory, and require a little kinetic release.
Not to speak of his bowels.
Off to the forest.
Written in response to Side View’s theme: Anticipation. If you want to go you have until midnight Sunday: you can find her here