Magic and Loss


Magic and Loss by Chris Green

Let me introduce myself. I’m Miles London. I am a collector of specialist celebrity memorabilia. Primarily things that have belonged to dead A-List rock stars. I do not go for the obvious trophies like guitars or jackets. Nor do autographed photos interest me. I like items that tell a story. In my collection I have John Lennon’s ouija board, Jimi Hendrix’s kite and Bob Marley’s surfboard.

But as a collector it is important to understand the marketplace and take advantage of it when you can. As long as you don’t let sentiment take over, trading in collectibles can be profitable and certainly beats working for a living. Naturally, I was sad to see it go but Syd Barrett’s bike made a handsome profit for me and the sales of Buddy Holly’s yoga mat and Marc Bolan’s cricket bat for respectable prices meant I was in the black.

When I heard about Lou Reed’s death, I felt profoundly sad. Although I did not know Lou, it felt like I had lost a friend. I had long been a fan. The Velvet Underground and Nico was the only record I can remember us playing at our squat in Queen’s Parade, back in 1971. How old would I have been then? 18? 19? We played the album over and over. It is one of those indefinable masterpieces. Brian Eno is quoted as saying ‘while the album may have sold only ten thousand copies in its early years, everyone who bought one of those ten thousand copies started a band.’

Lou seemed to be immortal, someone who could walk on the wild side, flirt with danger, defy the odds and go on forever. My partner, Josie, who is perhaps not such a devotee, was away at a photo-shoot, so to console myself, I played New York and Magic and Loss in tribute to this legend. I then got on the phone to my contact in New York, Macy Hoff.

What’s the word, Macy?’ I said. I knew Macy would have been expecting my call.

A-yo Milo, I know why you’re calling, Macy said. ‘Listen! Lou’s dog lead and his coffee grinder have gone, but I have something hot. Lou’s set of worry beads.’

I never asked how Macy came by his acquisitions. It was probably better not to know.

Can you email me some photos?’ I said. From experience, I found it helped keep the price down if you showed a little hesitation.

Fo shizzle dude,’ he said. ‘By the way, how did the Warhol Gotham restaurant tab go down?’

Gotham was a trendy place off Fifth Avenue and Macy had sold me Andy’s bill for a list of French dishes and wines with fancy names. The bill had been a four-figure sum even back in the 1980s and I had only paid a three-figure sum for this rarity. Legendary painters are also a fascination of mine and I have one or two bits and pieces of twentieth-century artists memorabilia, including Picasso’s wind chimes and Dali’s dreamcatcher. I told Macy I had framed the Warhol bill and had it hanging on the wall of the red room, next to Jackson Pollock’s driving licence and Mark Rothko’s prescription for tricyclic antidepressants.

I hadn’t had Lou down as a great worrier, perhaps not happy-go-lucky, more of a pragmatist, someone who attacked life’s problems head-on. Macy Hoff’s photos arrived in my inbox and I took a good look. Lou favoured a traditional Greek evil eye Komboloi set of beads. I could tell that Lou had done a lot of worrying. The beads were hand-painted but the pattern was worn down in places which had the effect of making each of the eyes look sunken. Three other attached photos taken over a period of twenty years showed Lou in various poses, with furrowed brow, working the beads. While you can never be one hundred percent sure of authenticating a purchase, by zooming in on Lou’s hands, the beads seemed to match those in the first photo.

I found out you could buy a set of evil eye Komboloi on the internet for as little as £3.99. While I felt that this should have a bearing on what I would offer Macy, these were Lou Reed’s Komboloi we were talking about, the very ones that had helped him to write Dirty Boulevard and The Great American Whale. They had untold psychic value. I discovered that the evil eye was a malevolent look that could cause injury or misfortune for the unsuspecting person at whom it was directed. Belief was strongest in the Mediterranean region. Both Greeks and Turks carried worry beads all the time.

Handling beads did not seem an obvious New York custom. I had only been to New York once, this when I was touring with Trousersnake in the eighties (guitar and keyboards, Max Frontman was the singer you may recall) but I could not remember seeing men with worry beads. I wondered how Lou had come by his. Might they have perhaps been a gift from his friend, Leonard Cohen, who had spent many years on Hydra in the Aegean? I dismissed the thought that Leonard, now in his eightieth year, might be the next to go, although I couldn’t help speculating what might come up for sale when this happened.

The following morning I read through Lou’s obituaries. ‘He was a master,’ David Bowie said, expressing what we all felt. Fittingly Lou died on a Sunday morning like the one described in the opening song on the first Velvet Underground LP, looking at the trees and doing Tai Chi with just his musician hands moving through the air. This gentler side of Lou was at odds with urban myth. One of the most telling tributes came from the author Salman Rushdie who, after Laurie Anderson had put him on the phone to Lou in the eighties, said, ‘It was like having God’s unlisted cell phone number.’ On a religious theme, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi tweeted on behalf of The Vatican, ‘It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you.’ His short message suggested Lou’s appeal was far-reaching.

It is often overlooked that for many years Lou was unacknowledged as a creative talent. The Velvet Underground did not achieve commercial success at the time. For years I was the only person I knew who owned a Velvet Underground album, although it seems everyone jumped on the bandwagon, later on, claiming that they had always followed them. Lou’s great legacy as an artist was nearly lost after he left The Velvet Underground suddenly following an acrimonious dispute with the band in 1970. He spent the first forty eight-hours asleep, plagued by nightmares, as if in post-traumatic stress. That autumn, he became a typist in his father’s accountancy firm, something singularly unimaginable. He planned to make it as a poet but his music career was resurrected by devotees of his ground-breaking songs, potential collaborators like David Bowie.

I called Macy.

I’ll give you £545,’ I said. When bartering, the psychological importance of the opening bid cannot be overestimated. It acts as a mental anchor for the sale price. The key is to start with a precise figure rather than a rounded one. This tends to throw the other party.

There was a pause. Macy was clicking away at his calculator.

That’s Seven-forty,’ he said. Don’t jerk my chain, dude. I couldn’t take less than fifteen oh oh.’

I slowly raised my offer and each time Macy had to calculate it into dollars. The anchor seemed to hold and we settled at £833. I felt pleased with the deal. This was cheap for a major item of celebrity memorabilia. If he had put them on eBay, he might have expected to get twice that.

I began collecting celebrity memorabilia by accident when in 1991 I moved into a house where Steve Marriott had lived. Steve had recently passed away and had left a lot of his knick-knacks lying around. I was staggered at the amounts that a few signed photographs of a dead rock star could sell for or a pair of trousers he had perhaps worn on a TV show. He wasn’t even very famous by this time. His star had faded. He was yesterday’s hero. When Freddie Mercury died later the same year, I was on to the game. Freddie was clearly a big star. I made a tidy sum buying and selling his tennis rackets and feather boas. Gradually I built up my collection of memorabilia to invest in the icons that really interested me. By the time George Harrison died in 2001, I had enough in the kitty to splash out on George’s 1966 A to Z of London.

Let me say a little about our house. Functionalist in style and at odds with its suburban surroundings, it was designed in the 1920s by Sanford Mayo, a disciple of the great Adolf Loos. Each room is a different colour blue, red, yellow, green, white and black. These colours provide the perfect background for exhibits and displays. I have a music studio in a purpose built annex. Although I do not play so much these days, twenty years ago I was with several bands that nearly made it. Royalty cheques still come in from one or two of the minor hits I wrote back then. Some of you might remember Forgotten Who You Were or Nightmares in the Day.

While it would be stretching the imagination to suggest there was a causal connection, Lou’s departure heralded a disturbing series of weird experiences for me. As I sat in my chair in the green room, I developed the sensation that someone was watching me. I felt a shiver creeping up my spine. Josie was still away at a photo-shoot somewhere in France so as far as I knew I was alone in the house. I could see no-one but I could definitely feel a presence. As I went from the green room to the yellow room and from the yellow room to the white room, the eerie sensation of being observed clung to me. The skin on the back of my neck tingled. This prickly somesthesia was most pronounced in the blue room. A winter chill filled the space. It felt as if invisible daggers were punching into the back of my head, in fact not just the back of the head. It felt as though some demon was possessing me. The gaze now was almost physical. The door behind me slammed shut. I thought I could hear cracked laughter from the black room next door. I was terrified. An invisible force pinned me into position against the display cabinet, housing Jim Morrison’s embalmed dragon lizard. I hoped it would turn out to be a dream, but this had all the sharp edges of reality.

When I was about seven, sometimes in winter I would walk home from Martin Appleby’s in the dark. It was about half a mile. Usually my elder brother, Raif would be with me, but on the occasions he wasn’t, I would have to walk home alone. Rudd Naseby, who was in my brother’s class had told me about the bogeyman. The bogeyman came out at night, Rudd said. The bogeyman would follow you home in the dark and when he found a suitable place where no-one was looking, would grab you around the neck and slowly strangle you. One night the streetlights were out and there was no moon or stars. I could hear the regular click-clack of footsteps behind me. They appeared to be getting closer. I broke into a run but the footsteps speeded up too, still getting closer. I was too scared to turn around. I could sense the bogeyman’s piercing gaze. His evil eyes would glow in the dark. I could almost feel his breath on my neck. I would never reach home. I would be there lying dead on the pavement, strangled by the bogeyman. Finally, I plucked up all my courage and stopped in my tracks. I turned around. There was no-one there. Was this the same feeling I had now?

Without warning, the pressure lifted, the room stopped spinning and everything snapped back into place. The light poured reassuringly through the Venetian blinds into the white room and I could hear birdsong from the arbour, that backed onto the green room. It felt as though I had woken from a leisurely siesta. Had I imagined the episode? I walked around the house to see if anything seemed out of place. But, everything seemed as it should be. All the exhibits seemed to be intact. The house seemed particularly tidy. Perhaps this was because Josie was away, there were no random piles of catalogues, unopened mail, and assorted paraphernalia. I tried Josie’s number. I felt that speaking to her might settle me. She would tell me I was being ridiculous, and that everything was all right. She would have a rational explanation for what had happened.

The number you have dialled is currently unavailable, the message said. I thought about phoning her agency but as she was mostly freelance, I did not know which agency to phone. She was doing promotion shots for a new band called Mars A and they were shooting somewhere in France, Provence maybe, or was it Dauphine? I did a search on Mars A, but like a lot of artists these days, the band’s website was short on detail. There were no contact numbers to be found. I sent them an email and kept trying Josie’s number. After the third or fourth attempt, I did not even get the try again later message. The phone was completely dead. I phoned around some of her friends. Ophelia did not know where she was, and I was unable to contact Modeste or Asia. Lesleigh asked me if I’d like to come round. She had just put some lunch on, she said. I declined.

The rest of the day passed with no news about Josie’s whereabouts. She did not phone me and I found myself still unable to contact her. When I took a walk to Waitrose (not exactly the wild side) in the early afternoon to buy some wine, I had the feeling that someone was stalking me, and found myself constantly looking over my shoulder. This feeling was so strong that I instinctively got into character by turning up my collar and putting on my dark glasses (twenty-six dollars in my hand). The checkout girl kept her head down and did not engage me in conversation. As I had not bought any food, perhaps she thought I was a street drinker, or perhaps, as they were expensive bottles, a rich old wino. But, at least, she stopped short of calling the manager.

To stimulate my paranoia, in the early evening, the lights in the house went off unexpectedly. This was a heart-stopping moment. I eventually realised it was a power cut to the whole area. Nevertheless, it left me a little shaky. I made inroads into the second bottle of wine, took several of Josie’s benzodiazepines and went off to bed. I told myself that Josie would be back in the morning and there would be a logical explanation about why her phone was off.

If things went bump in the night, I was blissfully unaware of them. I woke at about five with a thumping head. I got up, found the Paracetamol and checked the phones. There were no messages and Josie’s phone was still dead. I would have looked at Josie’s email and private data but I did not know how to get into her profile. She kept changing her password. Once I had had a shower, I checked my emails but there was no word. Nor was there anything from Macy. I had heard nothing since the money had left my PayPal account. I managed to reach Modeste and Asia on their mobiles, but neither of them even knew Josie was away. They asked me if I was all right and wished me well. Ophelia was unavailable and Lesleigh said she had just opened a bottle of Chablis, did I want to come round? I told her it was a little early for me. I listened to some of Mars A music on YouTube. It was terrible. Why didn’t guitarists learn to play the guitar these days, before they made recordings?

There were more tributes to Lou Reed on Twitter. ‘When Lou said goodbye, his dark eyes seemed to contain an infinite and benevolent sadness,’ Patti Smith said about their recent meeting. ‘Sad to hear about Lou Reed passing. Such a star. RIP Lou, and thanks for giving us Perfect Day for Trainspotting,’ Irvine Welsh said. There were many others, each adding to the sense of loss. I listened to Coney Island Baby and found myself in tears. I brushed the dust off my Epiphone acoustic and gave a heartfelt rendition of Pale Blue Eyes. It felt like I had an audience. I was being watched again. From where I was sitting at my desk in the red room, I was sure someone was just outside the window peering in. I crept over to the curtain and took a look from behind it, but I could see no-one, just the empty street in the distance behind the fence. I got the binoculars out. I could still see no-one, but the sensation of being watched grew stronger. I went from room to room and round the garden and down the street. Wherever I found myself, I felt this silent piercing gaze. By lunchtime, I was panicking. Where on earth was Josie? She would be able to make some sense of it all.

Are you sure you want to report her as a missing person’ Sergeant Lugosi said. ‘Seventy-two hours is not very long.’

I wasn’t sure at all, but I had just wanted to talk to someone about it.

And you did say that she had told you she was going. She might have been delayed. Flights, transfers, all these things are unpredictable.’

But she never turns off her phone. I mean, never!’ I thought of all the times her phone had rung when we’d just started making love.

Mr London. Has your mobile phone never gone offline for some reason? Have you never found yourself in the Middle of Wales without a signal?’

Yes, but…’

Mr London, it may have escaped your notice, but we are very busy in the police without having to chase up every individual whose phone isn’t turned on.’

And I think I’m being stalked,’ I blurted out.

Oh, really, Mr London? And what makes you think that then?’ Sergeant Lugosi said. I had to admit it sounded a little pathetic, a grown man telling a Police Sergeant that someone was following him.

It was only early afternoon, but I thought it might help to call in at The Goat and Bicycle for a pint before going home.

Hiya Milo, long time!,’ Ivo said, from a table by the door.

I tried to ignore him. I had never had much time for Ivo.

How’s Josie?’ he said. ‘I saw her on the High Street yesterday. I waved but I don’t think she saw me.’

That’s impossible,’ I was about to say, but instead, somehow ‘Where was that?’ came out.

She was going into that new phone shop. EE, isn’t it? She was with a tall guy. Looked a bit like you. Thought maybe it was your brother.’

I haven’t got a brother,’ I said. Raif had died in an accident at work several years previously.

Ah, then it probably wasn’t. I’m sure it was Josie though.’

I didn’t like how he leered when he said this.

She had on a red jacket,’ he added. ‘And a short skirt.’

It had crossed my mind more than once over the past few months that Josie might be having an affair. With all the time she spent away, this was certainly a possibility and after all, she was twenty years younger than me and by anyone’s standards, attractive.

I phoned my techie friend, Ram, to ask for advice about computer security and he told me that John the Ripper and Cain and Abel were the password cracker programs that he used and he let me know where I could download them. After several hours of trying, I could still not get into Josie’s profile. Her phone was still dead and none of her friends who had said they would get back to me if they heard anything had done so. Keeping busy seemed to have helped discourage whoever was watching me or I had just become accustomed to the feeling. As soon as it became dark though and I drew the blinds, the pins and needles started up again. It was a different checkout girl at Waitrose, but I was looking over my shoulder all the way there and back. I bought six bottles this time, just in case.

I was so tired, I only needed one of them. I awoke refreshed and ready to get on with business, except there was no business to get on with. Josie’s phone was dead, and all her friends were on voicemail. There were no email updates, just the usual adverts for goods or services, and one from a fellow collector wondering if I might be interested in buying Kurt Cobain’s cigarette lighter. Kurt Cobain memorabilia didn’t interest me. I saw him as a B-Lister. Granted, I had recently purchased Keith Moon’s chainsaw, Brian Jones’s hair-dryer and a jar of Roy Orbison’s tears, but you had to draw the line somewhere.

New York time is five hours behind UK time, but I thought if I left a message on his voicemail, Macy would pick it up when he got up. To my alarm, his phone was dead too. The number you have dialled does not exist, was the reply, yet this was in my phone and had been the number I reached him on two days ago. My own phone rang a few times and each time my heart leapt, but each time it was an unwanted marketing call. Reg, a friend of mine found a way to make money out of these calls. He set up a premium rate number and gave this out every time he had to supply details online, knowing that these numbers would be sold on. Every time he gets an unsolicited call he makes 10p a minute. Sometimes he keeps cold callers talking for ages about their services. Macy finally called late in the evening and told me how I could track the parcel he sent.

I’ve been trying to get hold of you, Macy,’ I said. ‘Your phone’s dead.’

I use disposable cellphones, Milo,’ he said. ‘Burners. Don’t you have them over there yet?’

But the number you gave me worked for weeks,’ I protested.

Sometimes I keep the number, sometimes I don’t. Security issue,’ he said.

Uh-huh,’ I said, adopting a neutral tone.

I’m getting the vibe you didn’t trust me,’ he said. ‘Anyway, the beads are on their way. I’ll let you know if I get anything else. Wonder who’s next to bite the big one, eh.’

We speculated for a while, but my heart was not in it. There was Josie’s absence to worry about. Josie would never go for disposable phones and would probably relinquish her iPhone only at gunpoint. She had left on Saturday morning and I had heard nothing since. It was now Wednesday evening. I called Modeste, Ophelia, and Asia again to check if they had heard anything, but I got the impression from each of them that they were short on sympathy and getting fed up with me phoning. Lesleigh wondered if I might like to come round and watch Friday the 13th with her. She was just about to put the DVD on, she said. I passed on the invitation.

I felt a chilling presence in the room, watching me. I tried to move my head so I could look around but found I could not. My body was completely numb. No matter how hard I tried, I was incapable of moving. The impression that I was being watched intensified. It was very dark. I could not see at all. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out the shape of an eye. An eye suspended in space. It did not seem to be attached to any flesh and blood being. I tried to scream, but I could not open my mouth. I tried to wake up, but I was not asleep. Finally, I was able to move. I got up and ran from the room. I did not look over my shoulder. I felt the gaze from the eye on the back of my neck but I did not dare turn around. I’ve no idea what happened but I found myself cowering on a patch of waste ground by the Jewish cemetery, with Lou Reed’s song Magic and Loss running through my head. A crowd of people had gathered. They seemed to be concerned. I could not explain to them that I was the victim of the evil eye. One of them said an ambulance was on its way. I said I did not need an ambulance and staggered off.

Back home, after trundling through the music press sites on the internet, I found out that Mars A were managed by Seamus Dark. Because Dark was something of a self-publicist, it was relatively easy to find a number for his management company, AfterDark Promotions. I was shunted around or cut off by feckless subordinates before I spoke to Seamus, who it turned out was not Irish.

Sorry about Lisa cutting you off there. She’s a mare, work experience. What can I do for you?’

I mentioned the band.

Oh that’s right, Lisa said you wanted to talk about Mars A. Great band, aren’t they? I did good signing them. Single’s at number 39 in the charts, already.’

I wanted to talk to you about the photo-shoot for their new album cover.’

Already taken care of, my son.’

Yes! Josie London is doing them in France, I understand.’

No mate. Didn’t go for Josie London. Her work is, how can I put it, a little restrained. We was looking for something more radical. We went for Bud Olsen, diamond geezer – and France! No France is too twee. So we went for Hamburg. More edgy. Know what I mean.’

So you wouldn’t know where Josie is?’

What are you, some kind of weirdo?’

Perhaps I was a weirdo.

I put the phone down.

The checkout girl at Waitrose asked me why I was wearing two pairs of sunglasses. Was it that sunny outside? Was I alright? I tried to laugh it off and thanked her for her concern.

They say dreams can be the territory for unwelcome upheaval when you are having a difficult time and can add to your disturbed mindset. The odd thing is, I didn’t have any dreams, just the vague impression through my sleeping hours that someone was with me in the room.

Morning sleepyhead,’ Josie said, snuggling up to me. ‘It was late when I got in, so I didn’t wake you.’

Relief and disbelief jockeyed for prime position.

Where have you been? I’ve been trying to phone you day and night.’ I said.

My phone got swallowed by the airport scanner.’ she laughed. ‘I’ll be looking for you to help me with the insurance forms.’

But you weren’t in France on a photo-shoot with Mars A. I checked. Seamus Dark told me he didn’t take you on. ……. And none of your friends knew where you were.’

Who? What? I don’t know why I tell you anything. You never listen to me properly do you? It was Marseilles, not Mars A. I was shooting for Bande A Part. It’s a French film magazine. I phoned you but you didn’t pick up so I spoke to Lesleigh. Asked her to let you know about the phone and not being able to contact me. Didn’t she say?’

She invited me over to hers quite a lot, but no, she didn’t mention it.’

Anyway. ….. What have you been up to? Have you missed me? …….. Oh my word, I can see that you have. I should go away more often. …… By the way, I found this package in the mailbox ……. In the dark, I thought was it for me so I opened it, but it’s for you. …….. It’s some beads with beady eyes on. Are they worry beads? Is it the evil eye? You don’t believe in that, do you?’

I wondered if I might hang them in the hall alongside Muddy Waters’ mojo. Just in case.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Chocolate is at Six


Chocolate is at Six by Chris Green

The brightly coloured bus was there every morning. Parked in the bus bay by the side of the road, in Bridge Street, Paloma passed it on her way to school. There was nothing to show where the bus might be going and no-one ever seemed to get on, or for that matter get off. Paloma had never seen it arrive and had never seen it leave. All she knew was that it was there in the morning but was always gone by lunchtime.

It was shaped like a school bus, but being rainbow coloured, did not look like any school bus she had ever seen. Her first thought was that it might be a hippy travellers bus. She had seen pictures of multicoloured vehicles parked up at festivals, but somehow these did not look anything like this one. She had seen American school buses in the movies, but they were always painted yellow. She could not put her finger of what it was about it but she was sure that this one was special.

She mentioned the bus to one or two of her classmates, who she knew also walked this way to school, but none of them seemed to have even noticed it.

‘You’re weird sometimes,’ said Bianca.

Yeah, kooky,’ said Chelsea.

‘Did you watch Vampire Diaries last night,’ said Electra, cutting Paloma out of the conversation. ‘It was epic.’

Vampire Diaries! It was all so predictable. Why were all the people in her class so shallow? Why did everyone have to conform? Where was the drive, the individualism, the adventure? For that matter where was the beauty? Why did people need to like such nasty ugly things? There were enough unpleasant things in everyday life without wanting there to be werewolves and vampires. And rap music! When you lived in an English market town why you would want to listen to urban blacks shouting about hos and pimps in the ghetto.

Paloma walked away, dispirited. Sometimes she felt she had no friends. Nobody understood her. No-one at school and she had no-one at home. Her mother spent most of her time staring through the bottom of a bottle, feeling sorry for herself, listening to her Carole King CDs. Surely the neighbours didn’t want to hear Its Too Late Baby Now over and over at 3am. Or her mother crying or shouting. Paloma’s father was long gone. Paloma hadn’t seen him since she was eight. And all her mother’s new friends had upped and left too. Sometimes Paloma herself wanted to run away. This wasn’t much of a life for an almost twelve-year-old. She supposed she should be thankful that her mother had not found the Leonard Cohen album she had hidden. They had had the police round the night she decided to play So Long Marianne at full volume.

Kyle didn’t think Paloma was weird. He came up to her in the playground one morning.

‘I heard you talking about the magic bus,’ he said. ‘I think its awesome.’

‘You’ve noticed it then,’ Paloma said, taken aback. Kyle was in the same class but had never spoken to her before. In fact, Kyle didn’t seem to speak to anyone very much. He didn’t seem to fit in with the crowd either. He was the one that was good at maths. He could recite all the prime numbers up to 7,919, a thousand in all. He had done it in class one day last term. And he was the only one in the class to ever put his hand up in Physics. Paloma was no good at Maths, or Physics, or anything that involved numbers.

‘Yeah, it’s kinda cool isn’t it, Kyle said. ‘What do you say I meet you tomorrow morning on the way to school and we check it out?’

‘Sure,’ said Paloma. They agreed to meet at 8:15 outside the Post Office in Albert Road, a street or two away from where Paloma lived.

‘This is going to sound very strange,’ said Kyle, when they met the next morning, ‘but I don’t think that everyone is able to see the magic bus. None of the people that I’ve mentioned it to can see it. That’s why I was so relieved to hear you talk about it. I thought that I was going mad.’

‘I’ve found the same, but how can they not see it,’ said Paloma.

‘I think you may have to know how to see the magic bus,’ said Kyle. ‘Otherwise, it is just not there if that makes any sense. It’s all to do with wavelengths.’

‘Have you seen anyone get into it or have you seen it come or go?’ asked Paloma.

‘No! That’s the thing I haven’t ever seen it come or go, and I haven’t seen anyone get in or out, and I haven’t seen the driver. But it is always there at 8:15 and it isn’t there at 9:45 because it wasn’t there the day I had a doctor’s appointment for my …. problem.’

‘Let’s just wait and see what happens today,’ said Paloma, when they reached the corner. They could see the bus. It was parked where it was always parked a few inches from the kerb in Bridge Street. ‘We could crouch down behind the bridge so that no-one will see us.’ She was a little apprehensive and wanted to take things slowly.

‘OK,’ said Kyle. ‘Hey! You’re not scared, are you?’

‘No,’ Paloma lied. ‘But then we could see what happens and it doesn’t matter if we are late for school just this once. You could say you had another doctor’s appointment and I could say …. well I could say I had to wait for my uniform to dry or something.’

They waited and waited and no-one got on to the bus and no-one got off. Passers-by on their way to work or to the shops did not cast their glance in its direction. They, like Paloma and Kyle’s classmates, did not seem to register it at all.

‘See what I mean,’ he said turning to Paloma, who momentarily took her gaze away from the bus to acknowledge Kyle. ‘They do not know how to see it.’

In that split second that they had taken their eyes off the bus, it had completely vanished.

Mutual OMGs ensued. Paloma felt faint. She thought that she was going to pass out.

They arranged to meet at the same place the following morning but this time, they would press the button that opened the door and get on the bus.

‘There are three types of irony’ boomed Mr Lefebvre in double English. I would like you to tell me what they are. ‘Dramatic, Situational and Verbal,’ said someone somewhere, perhaps it was in the classroom, but Paloma felt it came from a long way away. ‘Battle of Ardennes, Battle of Mons, Battle of the Somme,’ all dripped from Mr Stanton’s lips in History. Why did they fight the Great war anyway, she wondered.

She hardly slept that night, matters made worse by the fact that her mum seemed now to have discovered a new depressive singer-songwriter, Fiona Apple. She couldn’t imagine the neighbours wanted to listen to Fiona wailing Leave me alone, leave me alone, with her mother singing along, at 3am. Paloma sometimes wished that she had been taken into care when her sister, Alanis was.

In the morning, she found Kyle was waiting by the post office, halfway through a bag of Haribo Starmix. As they moved on, he shared them with her and they talked excitedly about the bus. Kyle told her it was a Blue Bird All American produced by The Blue Bird Corporation in Georgia in the US. This one had been modified he said with blocked out windows, which apart from the rainbow colour was what made it seem strange. This was the A3 series which had been introduced in 1999 and there weren’t many of them in the UK. Paloma nodded. Kyle clearly knew his facts, she thought to herself. Facts and numbers were what he was good at. Perhaps it was a boy thing.

As they got up close to the kaleidoscopic Blue Bird, Paloma noticed that it gave off a faint hum, like that of an electricity substation. Frightened, she stepped back. Buses were not supposed to sound like electricity substations. She thought of the sinister Danger of Death-Keep Out signs that you saw outside them and the barbed wire that often surrounded them.

‘I’m not sure we should go in,’ she said.

Kyle told her not to be afraid. ‘Everything will be cool, trust me,’ he said, and summoning up all his courage pressed the button on the door.

Dimensionally transcendent is an expression which describes a space that is larger on the inside that it is on the outside, like the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or The Phantom Zone Prison in Superman or perhaps most notably the TARDIS in Dr Who. Paloma and Kyle stepped inside the bus, the door closed behind them and they found themselves in such a space, but not only was the space larger, it was like nothing they had ever seen. It was not just three dimensional, it was multidimensional and it stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. It was a circus, a leisure centre, a music festival. It was the science museum, it was the solar system. It was, it seemed, whatever you wanted it to be. It was another world. It was unlimited dream reality, a constantly changing film montage that enveloped you.







They tried to take in the experience in. Paloma felt weightless as if she had been transported to place where there was no gravity. Where were they? What was happening? Was it a room full of mirrors? Paloma discovered if wonder turned to fear, the newly awakened dreams became nightmares. If you became frightened or thought a negative thought, the space generated a nest of giant furry spiders, a den of bats, the walking dead. This was mega scary. Five minutes ago she had been safe in the real world.

She screamed out loud. It echoed around the galactic space.

A voice came out of nowhere. Suddenly she was face to face with the dreamweaver. He didn’t have long grey hair and a beard like the wise wizards of cliché, Merlin, Gandalf or Dumbledore. He didn’t have piercing blue eyes or a long black cloak. He was not a fearsome ninja brandishing a Samurai sword. He was not a Jedi waving a light sabre. He was of slight build and wore a leopard print blazer blazer and a pork pie hat. He had an oval shaped face with low cheekbones and large brown eyes. He looked Japanese, but he might have been from anywhere, Betelgeuse, Tralfamadore. He was softly spoken. He spoke English. Paloma felt suddenly calmed by his presence. He was not at all scary.

‘You’re probably wondering who I am and why you are here,’ he said. ‘My name is Hiroshi and you are Paloma, and your friend here is Kyle. Am I right?’

‘Yes,’ said Paloma, looking round to take in the changing landscape. Her surroundings were much more agreeable now. There were swirling images of animals at the zoo making zoo animal noises, along with holographic versions of herself shopping, dancing, playing softball, and painting, in fact all the things that an almost twelve year old girl might like doing.

‘You are here because you were able to see the bus,’ said Hiroshi. ‘And anyone that is able to see the bus has a particular need to be here. This is the place that you will learn valuable lessons.’

‘You mean like school,’ said Kyle, becoming part of the life sized computer games that were now enveloping him. What manner of multimedia extravaganza was this?

‘You could see it like that, although school doesn’t help you very much if you don’t fit in does it?’

‘I didn’t like it earlier when everything became like a horror film,’ said Paloma. ‘But it all seems fine now.’

‘But you know why it happened,’ don’t you? said Hiroshi. It happened because you were afraid of the unknown. The thought occurred to you, didn’t it, that you were trapped. That you might not be able to get out. Fear is a negative emotion and not helpful to you in life. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Embrace the unfamiliar. Your classmates will pick up on positive outlook and will think more of you. They will look up to you and you will become more popular. But first you have to learn this. You have to have darkness for the dawn to come. One by one you have to conquer your fears. You have made a start by coming in here.’

Kyle wanted to know about the technical aspects of the transcendent dimension. He was interested in the physics and the numbers involved. Maths made things reliable. It gave you order and certainty in an uncertain world.

‘The space is as big or as small as you want it to be. Everything that you see in here is generated by your imagination. Imagination is just as important if not more important than knowledge. Imagination is limitless. I expect that you have been seeing different things from each other since you’ve been in here, right?

Paloma and Kyle looked at one another. Without further consultation, the nodded.

‘Thought realisation is a very good way to help you think positively. If you have positive thoughts, you will feel stronger. If you start to have negative thoughts then you will become frightened and want to run away, like Paloma wanted to back then.’

‘And you are not very popular at school are you, because you are good at Maths. People call you names behind your back, dork and geek, and worse. Pay no attention to those who talk behind your back! It simply means you are two steps ahead.’

‘I still don’t see why only we could see the bus,’ said Paloma. ‘Kyle says it’s to do with wavelengths.’

‘Well it is, and there again, it isn’t,’ said Hiroshi. ‘It might be better to look at it as a measure of curiosity. Because you were the only ones who were curious enough. You have a saying, curiosity killed the cat. That is wish-wash. Curiosity did not kill the cat. Curiosity may have surprised the cat. But ultimately curiosity helped towards the cat’s survival. Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.’

‘When you look at it like that, it does seem like a dumb thing to say,’ said Paloma.

Paloma had the sudden thought that they were going to be late for school. Hiroshi caught it before the thought could generate a room full of spitting cobras.

‘You don’t have to worry about being late. It will still be 8:20 when you leave here. Time does not take place in the magic bus.’

That day in double Chemistry, for the first time ever Paloma put up her hand to answer a question, and she wasn’t even jeered at by the rest of the class. In the playground, Rose asked if she could be her Facebook friend. On the way home from school she went into the second-hand bookshop and bought The Power of Positive Thinking by NLP Hartley, to help reinforce her new studies. The shop owner looked at her strangely and told her she could bring it back if she didn’t like it. That night her mother had less to drink than usual and went to bed early. Paloma lay awake for a while reading about emotional turbulence and self-exploration and wondering when Fiona Apple was going to start up, but she didn’t. It was a quiet night. Paloma got a good night’s sleep for the first time in ages.

She met Kyle outside the post office the next morning. He was halfway through a bag of Galaxy Minstrels. After she had related her successes from the day before, he gave her an update on his. He had finally managed to complete the Marusenko Sphere, which, he explained, was the successor to the Rubik Cube. He had told his parents they needed to resolve their differences and speak to one another. But the best thing was that Hiroshi had told him yesterday that he was not autistic. Autism up until now had been something that was being suggested to account for his character. But his character alone accounted for the way he was. He just happened to be good at Maths and Science – and just happened to be a bit quiet. Hiroshi had also said, the quieter you are, the more you can hear which was comforting.

‘I have always found it hard to make friends but now I have two friends,’ he continued. ‘You and Hiroshi, so it’s going to be OK now after all.’

They finished the Galaxy Minstrels and Paloma, with no hesitation at all this time around, opened the door to the magic bus. Today the colossal space was filled with a Candy Crush film set, a circus tent, a science fair and a Papa Johns pizza restaurant. Lurking in the background were a group of crazed zombies, but they vanished once Hiroshi appeared. Today, Hiroshi was dressed in a Gustav Klimt print jacket and a pleated peaked cap. With a deep Japanese bow, he greeted them. He indicated for them to do the same and stressed the importance of etiquette.

‘Respect is not just an idle word to be used when referring to someone killed in a military conflict, respect for each other forms the very basis of a civilised society.’

Paloma and Kyle nodded. Hopefully, Hiroshi wasn’t going to turn into Mr McMasters, their school’s headmaster. Mr McMasters had been banging on about the great sacrifice that so many had made in the Great War, which was aeons ago. Why were they still celebrating it?

‘Unconditional positive regard,’ Hiroshi continued, ‘is acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. And is essential to healthy human development.’

This sounded to Paloma like another set of long words that grown-ups used to describe something that was in fact quite simple.

‘To live a creative life you must lose your fear of being wrong. Although it is best to begin by being right,’ laughed Hiroshi.

For an hour or two, he demonstrated that the negative could be eliminated by accentuating the positive. You didn’t mess with Mr In Between. It was not circumstances that created your happiness, it was how you viewed them. You had to use thought stopping techniques and find joy in small things. And you had to embrace life and never put things off.

‘Chocolate is at six, six thirty is too late,’ he said by way of an explanation.

This seemed good enough, thought Paloma. It would be something that was easy to remember.

‘I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to go inside,’ he said finally and at 8:20, they left in good spirits. Paloma checked her watch. No time had passed.

The day brought more good fortune. Bianca shared her lunch box with Paloma and Chelsea invited her to her birthday party. When she got home she noticed her mother was actually cooking something for her tea and appeared to be sober. Small steps perhaps, but each one seemed to be in the right direction. Kyle scored a try at rugby, his first ever. No-one called him dork or geek and it might have been his imagination but were his parents having a civilised conversation with each other, if so it would be the first in living memory.

They met at 8:15 the next morning and shared Kyle’s chocolate éclairs on their way along Albert Road and into Victoria Terrace. The sun was shining and it looked like it was going to be a pleasant Spring day. They turned the corner into Bridge Street. To their horror, they could see no bus. They did a double take.

‘Oh my God!’ they issued together.

‘It’s not there.’

‘Where is it?’

‘Perhaps it’s on its way.’

‘Perhaps it is hidden behind something.’

They walked up an down the street, but there was still no bus. They waited nervously by the bridge. Alarm turned slowly to despondency. Ten minutes passed. The bus did not appear. In the sky, grey storm clouds formed. Large spots of rain began to splatter the pavement. They made their way to school through the squally shower and by the time they reached the gates they were soaked through. They found it strange therefore when they arrived at the classroom to find that all their classmates were completely dry. The class broke into unbridled laughter as the two drowned rats dripped around them, before Mr Wright strode in and told them all to sit down and shut up. He did not try to discover what might be the cause of the outburst. With his usual sense of robotic determination, he got on with the task of taking the register.

English with Mr LeFebvre explaining the difference between a metaphor and a simile and French with Miss Smith instructing them when to use the pluperfect tense went by in a bit of a blur. Paloma and Kyle felt dejected. Why did good things never last? Would they see the magic bus again? Questions remained unanswered. At break-time, they convened. They made their way out to the playground. The hubbub around them seemed to belong to another time and place.

They did their best to put a positive spin on things. Did Hiroshi’s absence mean they were ready to strike out on their own, without his wise words to guide them? Might they be ready to take control of their destinies? After all, Kyle was nearly twelve and a half and Paloma would be twelve next week. All they needed was a sign. Something to give them belief. They were still discussing what they should do, when a familiar voice called out to them. There, standing by the school gates dressed in a bright floral Liberty print jacket and a cream Borsalino Panama hat was Hiroshi. He was holding up a large hand written sign. It read ‘YOU CREATE YOUR OWN REALITY.’ He waved the sign around. Paloma and Kyle looked around and saw that no-one else had noticed Hiroshi. Like the bus, he was invisible, if you were not curious. Hiroshi smiled and waved to them, then in a puff of smoke he disappeared. This was a metaphor, wasn’t it?

‘Like a will o’ the wisp,’ said Paloma.

‘That’s a simile,’ said Kyle.

‘Double Maths next,’ said Paloma. ‘My favourite.’

Kyle laughed. ‘Is that verbal irony?’

‘Only time will tell,’ said Paloma.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved