April’s Shower by Chris Green
Hotel California strikes me as an odd little café. Apart from the curious choice of name, it is situated underground and has no windows. Despite its claustrophobic feel, the acoustics seem to belong to a much larger space. The sound fades in and out and bounces off the walls in a weird subterranean echo. I glance around. I do a headcount. There are eighteen people, sitting in small groups around stark tables. They all seem to have an air of detachment about them, as if their minds are somewhere else. They look as if they don’t get out much. Their skin is pale and translucent. They fidget fitfully, their movements like that of marionettes.
I place my order and take a seat. Fly Like An Eagle is playing. It occurs to me you don’t hear seventies music much any more. At some point, the arbiters of taste decided that eighties music was better than seventies music when clearly it wasn’t. Seventies music wins hands down.
My scrambled eggs arrive. They are orange. I am used to scrambled eggs being paler. I consider complaining to the sullen waitress in the white coat, but I take a mouthful of the eggs and they taste good. Perhaps they are from very happy hens. The Year of The Cat is playing now. It has an infectious piano riff. The marionettes at their tables bounce up and down in time to the beat. I notice a steady drip of a wax-like substance from the artificial ceiling. It is red. A mound of it has formed on a cracked white tile of the black and white chequered floor. Drip! Drip! Drip! It is disturbing. Where is it coming from? What is up there?
As if on a given cue, the ghouls suddenly stop eating or drinking. They all stare at me. I feel intimidated by their gaze. I do not like being the centre of attention. I am the retiring sort. I take my plate over to a table in the corner. The Gaggia machine lets out a belch, then the flushing sound drowns out the music, even though this is loud. The barista looks a little like Hannibal Lecter. I am anxious to get out of here. Where is Chantelle? She was supposed to meet me here, wasn’t she? My memory is not so good these days. Perhaps I am supposed to pick her up. I can’t do that. I do not know where she lives.
I am trying to rest, but Night Moves is playing. I can hear it through the walls. I don’t know where it is coming from, but I feel intense discomfort. Sometimes a song can have a particular association and then something happens and that meaning changes. Like the lyrics in Bob Seger’s song. Night Moves used to be my favourite tune, but then…. and ….. well, it’s now. I told them that April was going to die in the shower. I spelt it out, but they didn’t believe me. Sometimes I know that things are going to happen, but I don’t know why. Chantelle has a word for it. It begins with a p. I’m not good at remembering long words. Chantelle says it doesn’t matter, everything will be alright. I wish she were here. Where is she? She must have forgotten that she is meeting me.
Fog is descending. I am going too fast for the road conditions. I take my foot off the accelerator pedal, but it stays down. It seems to be jammed. Going ever faster, the Outlander careers forward, narrowly missing a string of other vehicles. I face a barrage of horns from the oncoming motorists. They must think I am reckless. I am not. I am a careful driver. In twenty-five years on the road, I have never had an accident. I have the brake pedal to the floor. The brakes are howling. The fog is getting thicker. I cannot see ahead at all now. I see April’s face in the rear-view mirror. Suddenly it shatters.
The car horns have stopped. I think I have driven off the road, but it is hard to tell. The accelerator pedal is still jammed. I turn the steering wheel this way and that as I was once taught by my advanced driving instructor, or was it Glassy-Eyed John. I sometimes have trouble with details. Whichever, the manoeuvre has the desired effect. With the Outlander engine revving like a plane during take-off, it ploughs its way through a patch of thick undergrowth before smashing against a sturdy beech tree before coming to rest.
Smoke is coming from under the bonnet. I jump out. I am on the edge of a wood. The fog has lifted, but one nightmare makes way for another. There are bloodstained hands everywhere, dozens of them clutching at tree trunks and clumps of fallen branches. The hands are not connected to arms, they are cut off at the wrist. I am terrified. What is happening? What is this place? The sun is trying to make its way through the haze, and I notice to my horror that I have the bold shadow of a large raptor. A thin green snake settles on my arm, or is it my wing? It coils itself around. A scream pierces the air. I realise it is my scream. A legion of brawny woodsmen emerges from a thicket. They are carrying hammers and sickles, or are they guns and roses? It is hard to tell in the gloom. I feel a sense of deja vu. I have been here before. I have been to places like this many times since April’s brutal ….. since ….. I have been here since…. April’s shower. Where is Chantelle?
The Outlander engine bursts into flames. This allows me the opportunity to put distance between myself and my pursuers. I take a slalom route in the general direction of the sun. I find myself beside a still lake. I have a chance to gather my thoughts. Not they help me very much. What are those brightly coloured birds? They can’t be parrots, can they? Parrots don’t swim. Chantelle is the one who might have explanations for what is going on. She is the Incongruence Investigator. She is supposed to be helping me because of the strange experiences I’ve been having. She says most things are easily explainable. After all, science itself is pretty weird with its uncertainty principles, matter being in two places at once, and the same particles being everywhere at the same time. If you think about it too much, it could drive you mad. You must become accustomed to the unexpected; Chantelle says. Any number of things might be happening simultaneously. Or might not be happening at all. Everything might be imaginary. The scene in the woods back there might be a second unit shoot for a Harry Potter film for all that I know. What is a second unit shoot, I wonder. Who is Harry Potter? I have not seen him around.
‘Do you like my goat?’ the stranger on the park bench says.
It is best to humour men sitting on park benches with invisible goats, so I say, ‘Yes, that is a fine goat you have there. What is she called?’
‘Not a she,’ he says. ‘It’s a he and he’s called Norman. Norman is a good name for a goat, don’t you think?’
‘Norman is a fine name,’ I say. ‘I used to have a stoat called Colin, or was it a badger?’
‘Do you play the French horn?’ he asks.
‘No,’ I tell him.
‘That’s a shame. Norman likes listening to the French horn. What about the cor anglais?’
I wonder if I should find another seat.
‘Are you waiting for Chantelle?’ he asks.
‘Yes, I think so,’ I say. ‘She was supposed to meet me.’
‘I think she’s just gone into that big house over there,’ he says. ‘I expect she will be along in a minute with the meds. Do you find you need yours twice a day too?’
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved