Aegean Blues

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Aegean Blues by Chris Green

The man and the woman arrive at the resort late in the evening. They are the only ones aboard the transfer coach to be dropped off here. Most of the others are headed south to the beach-party resort. Having made something of a detour, it is with an air of indignation that the driver deposits their cases by the side of the road a little distance from the apartment block.

A gaunt woman in a blue overall appears out of the gloom to lead them to their accommodation. The man and the woman would like to ask questions but the woman in the blue overall has the harassed look of someone at the end of a long shift. She hurries them past a swimming pool and along a murky corridor. She opens the door to apartment number nine and, without ceremony, disappears.

Aegean Blue is a small two-storey block with just thirty two apartments. In the words of the brochure, a tranquil setting, for those seeking a quiet holiday. Number nine is on the ground floor. They switch on the light and notice that it is smaller than they expected. There are no features to remark on. No attractive little alcoves. No seascapes or pictures of sunsets on the wall. A large wardrobe takes up most of the room and the twin beds are a long way apart. Neither of them makes any reference to the shortcomings of the accommodation. It is as if by not showing disappointment, they might not, after all, be disappointed.

It’s so hot,’ the woman says. Thirty three degrees the captain told them shortly before they touched down.

And the shutters are closed,’ the man says. Despite the delayed flight, the mix-up over the cases, the insufferable hard-house music on the coach, and now the smell of pine disinfectant in the room, he is still is hoping they will make out.

After a walk in the moonlight along the road that hugs the beach, past apartment blocks that, if they were finished, would look out onto the sea, they manage to find a bar that doesn’t advertise Greek Dancing. After a bite to eat and a bottle of the local wine, the woman feels more relaxed.

It’s quiet. All you can hear are the waves,’ she says. ‘We’re going to like it here.’

The man agrees. He feels their block is far enough from the plate-smashing quarter of the resort. He is relieved. He remembers that when they booked the holiday on a stressful Saturday in March, he had chosen to ignore the fact that the Bouzouki Musician of the Year qualifiers were being held in a nearby resort.

Arm in arm, they arrive back at the apartment. It seems airier and more welcoming with the shutters open. And it offers a lovely view of an olive grove with a church on a hill visible in the distance.

The woman hangs up her skirts and tops on the wire hangers in the wardrobe and lines up her cosmetics in the bathroom. The man pushes his case under the bed. They are just getting undressed when they hear the menacing drone of a mosquito in the room. The woman locates the mosquito repellent and starts to spray the room.

I think I may have got it,’ she says.

The man pours them a refreshing glass of the aniseed liqueur they bought at the airport. They sip their drinks and begin to settle. They lie down on the bed and look at one another lovingly.

It’s so nice to actually be here,’ the woman says.

Our first real holiday together,’ the man says.

There is a sudden searing rasp from upstairs, followed by another. Wooden furniture being pushed repeatedly across a tiled floor perhaps. As the disturbance continues, the man and the woman speculate that beds, the table and chairs, the dressing table, the wardrobe, and perhaps a flotation tank are being rearranged. The rep on the coach mentioned that a majority of the arrivals to the island were on Friday night and the early hours of Saturday morning. And, after all, they themselves moved their own twin beds together straight away. At least, the continuous scraping sounds drown out the clatter of the primitive plumbing, the nocturnal network of barking dogs and the dance music from the club. But it is hardly conducive to tender lovemaking.

The next day, despite their tiredness, the man and the woman are out and about visiting the sights on the island that the guidebook recommends and do not spend much time in the apartment. But that night, the screeches and scrapes from upstairs are even louder and more persistent than the first night. Previous explanations seem redundant.

As they lay awake, they compare the cacophony to a large sea mammal giving birth, amateur violinists tuning up and an angry elephant.

As the night wears on their humour diminishes.

They begin to blame each other for choosing the holiday.

If you hadn’t been so concerned with price we could have taken a villa,’ the woman says.

If you had listened to what I found on the Internet, we would have gone to the west of the island,’ the man says.

The disturbances upstairs continue.

And you didn’t pack my meditation CD.’

Would you like to listen to some jazz on my iPod?’

And we’ve run out of mosquito spray.’

Would you like another glass of ouzo?’

At 4 am, after several unsuccessful attempts to heal the rift, the man feels he can take no more. He calls the travel company’s twenty four hour helpline, only to be told by someone from the Indian subcontinent that office hours are 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. ‘Please be leaving a message after the tone,’ the voice says. A complaint the following morning to Lefteris, who despite his resemblance to a beach bum, appears to be the proprietor, reveals only that he understands little English. The resort rep, Dale, who they finally track down the next day at Athena Quad Bike Hire, is no more helpful. He says he has had no other complaints. He seems more concerned with helping the girl in the day-glo bikini, who wants to know which nightclub is the best to meet fit fellas.

Despite trying wax earplugs rather than the foam ones, the man and the woman have another sleepless night. Too tired to venture out the next day, they decide to take it easy on the sun loungers by the pool. Most of the guests have gone out for the day on the travel company’s glass-bottomed boat trip. In the bar, Lefteris, with his crusty locks and grubby red Che Guevara t-shirt drinks a beer and watches the football, Brazil versus Argentina. He has his feet on the bar and seems to be doing his best to ignore his customers. Not that there are many, just the older couple from Gateshead, or perhaps it is Newcastle, who are staying in the next apartment. The man asks the man from Gateshead or Newcastle if they have been kept awake by the nightly clamour.

Ah divvnae heaah owt, Ye knaa wa ah mean leik. It wez kwiet las neet, wez it ne, pet?’

Given the language barrier, the man decides not to pursue the matter. He manages to attract Lefteris’s attention during a commercial break.

Many goals Brazil, good football,’ Lefteris says.

The man agrees and reels off the names of some players.

Yes,’ Lefteris says, ‘good goals’

The man takes two chilled beers back to the poolside, where the woman has removed her bra and is tanning her back.

We could have an early lunch at Aphrodite’s, and then a siesta,’ the man suggests.

Sounds good,’ the woman says. ‘Could you rub some more suntan lotion on to my shoulders?’

The morning passes quietly. Occasionally the bronzed body builders that live on the sunbeds at the other end of the pool change position. The gay couple saunter past in new hats. The pair with the piercings and the tattoos nurse their sunburn under a parasol, and one or two of the other guests come or go.

Are you hungry yet?’ the man asks.

I think I could be persuaded,’ the woman says. ‘Rub some factor fifteen on the backs of my legs, would you?’

After calamares, dolmades and Greek salad with a chilled bottle of rosé, the man and the woman return to Aegean Blue.

The apartment is quiet. Very quiet. Not a murmur from the plumbing and even the fridge seems more subdued.

The man sees a window of opportunity and seizes it. The woman is pleased that he has and responds favourably. She says she has been waiting for him to make the move since they arrived. Their sighs and moans build gradually into a crescendo. They climax together in a frenzy of thunderous passion. Afterwards, they lay together in one another’s arms.

The brief silence is shattered by a forceful thumping like a hip-hop bass-line. It takes the man and the woman a few seconds to realise that someone is knocking at the door.

Keep the bloody noise down in there, will you!’ an angry voice shouts. ‘We’re trying to get some sleep upstairs.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

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Call Me Lottie!

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Call Me Lottie – by Chris Green

LOTTIE

‘Pale blinds, drawn all day, I’m afraid,’ says Landon Truitt. ‘Upstairs and down.’

‘I remember getting those blinds fitted,’ I say. ‘Local chap. He called himself The Blind Man, which at the time I thought was amusing.’

‘The Blind Man. Good name. Very droll, Mrs Crenshaw.’

‘Lottie. You can call me Lottie,’ I say. ‘Please. You can’t imagine how much I hate the name Crenshaw.

Landon Truitt has dropped by to update me on his progress. He is a private detective of sorts. I found his card on the notice board at Waitrose. It read, Landon Truitt – Private Detective Of SortsAll Types of Investigation Undertaken, Honest and Trustworthy. I have hired him to find out what’s happening with my soon to be ex-husband, Dwayne. No-one has actually seen Dwayne in the flesh since I left him last August. He doesn’t appear to have left the house in Bougainvillea Heights. He does not answer the door to me and he appears to have changed all the locks. He was behaving oddly for a while before I left him but I put this down to business pressure. Then of course there were the experimental drugs he was taking for his rare blood disease. Dwayne has always been a bit of an enigma.

‘In all the time I’ve been watching, I haven’t seen him once, Mrs Crenshaw …… uh, Lottie. Not so much as a glimpse of him.’

‘Have there been any comings and goings?’

‘Oh yes …… Lottie. There were, let me see ……. eighteen visitors yesterday. I’ve got photos of some of the visitors and I’ve written down descriptions of the others.’

‘That’s the odd thing,’ I say. ‘Others have told me the same. People seem to keep calling round to the house, but Dwayne never appears.’

‘I thought I recognised one of them,’ says Truitt. ‘Charlie Gore. I was in uh, …. I knew Charlie years ago.’

‘Charlie Gore. Charlie Gore. No. Don’t know him. Let me see the photos, would you?’

Landon Truitt hands me the contact sheets he has printed off. I don’t recognise any of the visitors from the shots, although the figure in the brightly coloured boiler suit does look vaguely familiar. On second thoughts, probably not. I wouldn’t know anyone who would dress in an orange boiler suit, would I?

‘They’re not very clear, are they, Truitt?’ I say, holding one of the contact sheets up to the light.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Crenshaw …… uh, Lottie, but I had to move the car. A candy car was cruising up and down. I thought it best to park a bit further away from the house. But then the digital zoom on my phone was playing up a bit.’

‘Is that one wearing a space suit?’

‘I believe so Mrs Crenshaw. Your husband appears to be a strange man, if you don’t mind me saying so. A bit loony tunes, is he?’

‘Lottie, please. Yes. You could definitely say that Dwayne Crenshaw is a very strange man.’

‘I get the feeling that you are hiding something from me. Would it help, do, you think, if you told me a little more about him? This seems a bit different to my usual cases.’

I am not sure how much I should tell Landon Truitt. For that matter I’m not sure how much I actually know about Dwayne. We were never lovey-dovey close. It was more a marriage of convenience. My family had lost its fortune in what became known as Black Wednesday and Dwayne Crenshaw’s star seemed to be in the ascendency at the time. Dwayne for his part seemed to be attracted to my …… full figure. To please him, when he was entertaining clients, I wore dresses that showed this off.

‘What kind of cases do you usually handle, Truitt?’ I say, to dodge the subject.

‘All kinds. I do surveillance work,’ he says. ‘But this is usually connected with suspected infidelity or something like that. Would I be right in thinking that this is not why I’m keeping an eye on your husband’s house. A plush house like this in the suburbs must be worth megabucks. Is he a pop star or something, perhaps? If he is, I haven’t heard of him.’

I feel that there might be some mileage in pursuing this line. ‘You’ve not heard of Dwayne Crenshaw?’ I say. ‘Where have you been living?’

LANDON

Had it not been my first case in weeks, well apart from some identity checks and a search for Mrs Floyd’s missing cat, Dillinger, I would have told Lottie Crenshaw to sling her hook. Attractive she might be, but that is no excuse for rudeness. ‘Was she going to get a proper service?’ she asked, ‘was I a professional?’ What a cheek! The woman is clearly loaded. You can tell that a mile off by the designer clothes she wears, taupe skirt suits and crocodile pumps. I’m surprised she knew how to find my gaff above the garage in Corporation Street. She certainly turned some heads when she arrived in her little Lotus.

It was clear she was hiring me because my rates are cheap. I charge £25 an hour plus expenses. Much cheaper than she would get elsewhere. Even then she wanted to negotiate the price. I shouldn’t have been so flippant with my business card. Perhaps it was also a mistake to put the card in Waitrose. Would Tesco would have been a better bet? Reverse psychology and all that. Maybe I should have picked another line of work. I could easily have gone back to internet security, well hacking, when I was released in January.

Lottie Crenshaw doesn’t realise how difficult surveillance is in a quiet suburban area. She thinks its like it is on the TV, where the detective and his oppo sit posing in their Raybans in a comfortable car, listening to Chet Baker, with tea and sandwiches brought along by a girl from the agency. Admittedly shades are pretty much compulsory for a private eye, but at the same time it’s really hard not to look conspicuous. I had to keep moving the car to avoid suspicion. I saw my old mate, Charlie from Pentonville. What was the old reprobate doing round here? Not the kind of location you would expect to find him. Unless ….. I kept my head down. I think I know where to find Charlie should I ever need him.

There have been a handful of people visiting her husband. Well, quite a lot, actually, but you can’t just get out of the car and say ‘Excuse me guv, but do you mind if I take your photo. Hold still will you?’ And Lottie has the nerve to criticise my pictures. I expect she has an all singing all dancing Canon Eos or something like that. Since the altercation with Mrs Nelson’s enraged husband last month when I was trying to get his picture, all I have is my smartphone. The thing is, I’m not even sure what I am supposed to be looking for. Lottie Crenshaw’s instructions were vague. She just told me to watch the house and report back. Now she tells me her husband is some kind of nut. Shouldn’t she be paying me more for the added risk?

‘I did wonder if Dwayne Crenshaw might be a bit of an oddball, Mrs C,’ I say, looking at the contact sheet of photos that I managed to print before the printer gave up on me. ‘I think that’s a man in a spacesuit going into the house in this photo.’

‘Yes. It could well be a spaceman’ she says. ‘It does look as if the blurry figure in your picture might be wearing a spacesuit. Dwayne is a little, what do you call it? Leftfield? It could be for a photoshoot. Dwayne was a ….. pop star. Big in the eighties.’

‘I guess if he were making a video or something, that might explain the spaceman’

‘And the man in the orange boiler suit.’

‘What about Charlie though?’

‘You keep on about Charlie. Who is Charlie?’

‘Charlie is a fixer. A clean up man.’

‘Oh! I see. I think. ……. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of my husband though.’

‘Can’t say I have, Lottie. I don’t listen to a lot of music though.’

‘You must have heard ‘Life On Jupiter. That was massive.’

‘No. I don’t think I have heard that one,’ I say, trying to assess if she is having me on. I mean, Life on Jupiter, what a stupid title, even for the nineteen eighties. ‘How does it go?’

Looking at her reaction, I can tell that I’ve embarrassed her. She isn’t going to sing it. I don’t want to dig myself into too deep a hole here. After all peanuts it might be, but I do want to get paid. I am at the limit of my overdraft and I have bills upon bills. Not to mention the maintenance payments. I can’t see Anna being understanding about a cessation of those. Not that I ever get to see the children these days.

‘I could do some rooting around on the internet, Lottie,’ I say, in an attempt to win her back round. ‘It’s amazing what you can find out if you know where to look.’

‘And you know where to look, do you?’ she says.

‘Yes ma’am,’ I say. ‘I was in the security services back in the day.’

LOTTIE

Deep down there might be something endearing about Landon Truitt or I wouldn’t have hired him. Not only is he resourceful but he also seems honest and trustworthy. In today’s world these are rare qualities in a man. I wish I could say I was honest and trustworthy. They do say that opposites attract. What am I thinking? I’m not attracted to him in the slightest. Not in the slightest. How could I be? He’s a back street private detective. There’s just an overlap in our lives’ narratives. That’s all.

I imagine he will be a little puzzled that he can’t find any reference to Dwayne’s pop career on the internet. But there again, this might motivate him to look a bit harder, dig a bit deeper into his treasure trove of secret web sites to find traces of him. This way he may find something useful. He might actually discover what my husband has been up to recently. After all I’m paying him good money to come up with information. Good money to him anyway. He’s broke. I can tell. He has a hangdog look about him. Along with the doe-eyed look of infatuation. But he still has to earn his £100 a day.

Maybe I should have mentioned my financial position before, or perhaps you’ve guessed. I’m a little strapped for cash at the moment. I had to sell a diamond ring last week to pay the rent on the flat in Compton Mews. The big worry for me is that Dwayne might spend all his money before our divorce comes through. The Aston Martin that is parked round the side of the house can’t have been cheap. There’s also the danger that when his judgement is impaired by the psychoactive properties of his life saving drugs, he might lose it in a dodgy deal. He has made his money doing dodgy deals, buying and selling dodgy businesses. By definition wheeling and dealing in this way is a risky enterprise. He’s certain to fall foul of the law one of these days. To live outside the law you must be honest and no-one could ever accuse Dwayne Crenshaw of being honest.

‘All businesses are untrustworthy,’ Dwayne was fond of saying. ‘What’s the difference between selling established ones and selling less established ones or even bogus ones? Nothing. No-one is up front these days. They all make up the figures. Where do you think we would be if people suddenly started telling the truth?’

This may well be, but I have to look after my settlement. I’m hoping that this will be a high six figure sum. My solicitor, Guy Bloke of Chesterton, Pringle and Bloke is optimistic of a good result, but he’s probably saying that because I am paying him a lot of money. When it comes down to it he can only do so much to plead my case, and the other side are likely to bring up a number of indiscretions that I haven’t told Guy Bloke about.

LANDON

‘I stand corrected, Mrs C …. Lottie. You were right. Dwayne Crenshaw was huge, worldwide. Or at least his alter ego Dean Cosmos was. Thirty one consecutive top ten hits in the UK, and six number ones on the Billboard chart. Life On Jupiter was a minor hit compared to Sex Machine or Descent Into Madness. Not to mention Dean’s collaboration with the legendary George Toot. I can’t imagine how I overlooked him. Well, actually I can. You didn’t tell me that Dwayne changed his name, did you?’

Lottie, looks a little confused. Or she pretends to look confused. I never know what to believe with her. I’d probably go so far as to say that women are a mystery to me. I will never be able to understand the perverse logic of their thought processes. How their expressions never give away what they might be thinking. Or their actions. I can’t help but think about the time I took Anna to the Horse and Jockey for our anniversary. She spent hours getting ready, and then in the middle of dinner she told me she was planning to leave me. Any man who claims he can see through a woman is probably missing a lot.

‘Did you manage to find what Dwayne Crenshaw has been up to recently?’ Lottie asks.

‘Aha!’ I say. ‘All the sites seem to suggest that Dean Cosmos …… alias Dwayne Crenshaw is living in New York with his new wife, Tara. She is seventeen, according to the whatsheuptonow.com site. He’s working on a new album and is planning a comeback tour later in the year.

‘Really?’

‘Yes, Lottie. Do you think the person living in the house in Bougainvillea Heights that I’m watching may not be your husband. Could he be an impostor? ……. Or is there something you are not telling me?’

LOTTIE

How on earth did he manage to come up with all that wish-wash about Dwayne Crenshaw being Dean Cosmos? Has he been researching on uncyclopedia.com or something? ……. Wait a minute. I see what’s going on. Having discovered that I was spinning him a yarn, he is now trying to get one over on me. I may have underestimated Landon Truitt. He might be smarter than he looks. Not that he looks too bad now that he’s smartened up a bit. But still.

‘OK. You’ve called my bluff on that one,’ I say. ‘What did you really find out?’

‘It may seem odd, Lottie, what with Dwayne Crenshaw being such an unusual name, but there are literally hundreds of Dwayne Crenshaws and each one of them seems to live a complicated life.’

‘I would have imagined there would be only one or two in the world.’

‘So would I. There are sixty four in the UK alone. However, the good news is that I’ve managed to isolate our Dwayne Crenshaw.’

‘And ….’

‘He sold the house in Bougainvillea Heights six weeks ago to a film company. Funnily enough the film company he sold it to is owned by Dean Cosmos.’

‘Bloody hell! You are kidding, right?’

‘Not this time. Truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it?’

LANDON

We are in Lottie’s plush apartment in Compton Mews to discuss my findings on the case. She says she doesn’t have any tea. She has poured me a gin and tonic instead. Gingerly, I fill her in on the house sale.

‘Dean Cosmos?’ she says. ‘Good Lord!’

I come out with ‘Truth is stranger than fiction,’ or some such platitude to try to minimise the impact.

There is a momentary silence. I wait nervously for her reaction. Lottie gets up and walks around the room.

‘Six months ago, you say?’

‘That’s right.’

There is a more prolonged silence. I take a gulp at my G and T, wondering whether I should elaborate. Lottie continues to pace up and down. I imagine that I might now be off the case. I’ve had cases like this before. Too many of them. Cases where I haven’t come up with the desired result and haven’t been paid. Not to be paid is the last thing I need right now. And I can hardly send Nolan Rocco or Charlie Gore round to sort Lottie out. While I haven’t up to now intimated that I have a cash flow issue, I suggest politely that she might want to settle the account early. Get it out of the way, as it were. Get it off her chest. Perhaps she takes this too literally.

‘I was wondering if we couldn’t negotiate that,’ she says, unbuttoning her blouse.

Lottie is certainly an attractive woman. I have been struggling with this feeling all along, but surely there is professional etiquette to be considered. Isn’t there? …… Oh well, perhaps not. It seems we are quickly able to overcome this particular obstacle.

To my surprise there is little embarrassment afterwards. It seems like it is the most natural thing in the world for Lottie and I to be sipping a post coital cocktail with a fancy name and talking about how we can market my investigative skills to make some real money. If I am to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed she feels I need to make some changes. Get some new cards made up for a start.

‘Ditch honest and trustworthy,’ she says. ‘Sentimental advertising regarding scruples gets you nowhere in the twenty first century. You don’t want to be chasing around after Mrs Dillinger’s cat forever, do you?’

‘What about deceitful and arrogant?’ I suggest.

‘Ha ha. Let’s see,’ she says. Licensed and Bonded inspires confidence and implies a level of trust.

Landon Truitt, Private Detective, Licensed and Bonded

Get rid of Private Detective. Private Investigator, Licensed and Bonded is better or perhaps Private Investigations Agency. Clients like to feel that there is a team working for them.

‘Landon Truitt Private Investigations Agency.’

‘Perhaps change Landon Truitt. How about Simon Alexander or Jonathan Steel?

‘I don’t know …..

‘That’s settled then, but first things first. Dwayne Crenshaw. What are we going to do about Dwayne Crenshaw?

‘Find him would be a good start.’

‘You’ll be able to do that, won’t you? Now that you have a little incentive.’

‘I can’t see a problem there. I’ll get on to it right away.’

‘Well. …… Perhaps you might leave it for a few minutes, don’t you think?’

LOTTIE

Men are simplistic creatures. God may have given them both a penis and a brain, but sadly only enough blood supply to use one at a time. They might as well just have an on off button. And, they are so incredibly self absorbed they never realise that they are being manipulated. However that said, Landon shapes up better than most. He is a sweetie. He understands that something has to be done about my husband. He thinks his friend Charlie might be able to persuade Dwayne that it is in his best interests to offer me a generous settlement. I think Landon and I are going to get along just fine.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Cover photo: Fabian Perez

 

Trust

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Trust by Chris Green

Following the split with his long-term partner, Darci, Nick Easter feels at a loose end. He cannot face the idea of singles nights and has heard nothing but horror stories about dating agencies. He does not want to go down to The Gordon Bennett to be asked ‘where’s Darci’, or be encouraged to ‘have another’ to drown his sorrows at The Cock and Bull. He wants to avoid anyone putting a sympathetic arm around his shoulder and coming out with clichés like ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’. Worse still, he can imagine Dirk Acker or Ugg White asking if they can have the all clear to ask Darci out. After all, she is an attractive woman. He is also determined not to go to pieces and take to the bottle as he did when he split up with Roz. He thinks it best to avoid The Gordon Bennett and The Cock and Bull and other places of temptation altogether. He decides instead to join The National Trust.

When Nick receives his pack through the post he discovers that The National Trust offers more than visits to stately homes and landscaped parks and gardens, the Trust runs a smorgasbord of organised activities as well. You can go horse riding, cycling, canoeing, running, geocaching whatever this is, stargazing and even surfing. Because of his inexperience and his general fitness level, Nick feels that he might be best starting off with some organised walks. November is too late for the rutting stag walk, and the red squirrel walk is too far away, but still there are a selection of interesting looking options within an hour or two’s drive.

Not wanting to look out of place on his first walk. he buys Berghaus Explorer walking boots, a range of waterproof jackets, and two trekking poles from GO Outdoors. So that he will come across as a seasoned National Trust member, he also orders a rucksack, a walking stick, binoculars, a torch, an umbrella, hand-warmers, a multi-tool, and a selection of hats for all weathers from the NT catalogue. His fellow walkers will all have these. All that is left is to get a good selection of OS maps and to make them look a little weathered.

Nick feels that the May Hill Countryside Walk at just seven miles will be a good introduction. Suitably attired, he strides out from May Hill common on the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border on a cold Saturday morning. By keeping close to the National Trust guide and listening carefully he hopes to be able to pick up some of the language that walkers use. There are about forty people on the walk, most of them couples. Even those who are not paired up seem to be on familiar terms with each other. He feels a little sad that he is alone. He wishes he had a partner.

He had hoped that he and Darci might get married, but each time he had suggested it, she had been dismissive. He hadn’t actually got down on one knee and proposed or anything like this, but it was clear from her attitude that she was more of a free spirit than he was. As he is trekking through the woodland, he replays a typical conversation in his head.

‘Just think. We could be like this every day, if we got married,’ he had said.

‘We would be under each others feet all the time,’ she had said. ‘We see plenty of each other.’

‘But if it were a sunny day on a weekend, we could just get up and go,’ he had said.

‘But I may not want to,’ she had said. ‘It’s important to each have our own interests. We need to be able to do things separately.’

‘But I don’t want to do things without you,’ he had said.

‘Well I do like doing things without you,’ she had said.

‘And if we got married there would only be one set of expenses,’ he had said.

They had this conversation or an approximation of it at regular intervals. The last time he had tacked on to the end.

‘And of course, there’s the tax relief.’

This had been the final straw for Darci. She felt that reducing her status to that of an Inland Revenue Tax Code was insulting. How could he say he loved her. There again he hadn’t said he loved her – ever. This as another issue. In retrospect, Nick could see where she was coming from. He did seem to have a remarkable talent for saying the wrong things, and for not saying the right things. He thinks he now realises that men and women have different ways of looking at things.

After a mile or so, Nick notices that one of the group seems to be lagging behind slightly. She is one of the younger of the walkers. She is probably in her mid-thirties and when she flicks her hair back off her face is quite attractive. She is on the tall side of average and her slim fitting jeans show off her shapely legs well. But shouldn’t she probably be wearing a thicker jacket for trekking at this time of year, especially in the woods where the sun never shines, and sturdier footwear? Pumps are no good. He holds back, waiting for her to draw level. He has the feeling that he recognises her from somewhere and then it hits him.

You’re from the health food store,’ he says. ‘The one in Ledbury.’

That’s right,’ she says. ‘Organics. When you were crumpling up your map back there, I thought perhaps I’d seen you before.’

Savannah, isn’t it?’

Very good memory you have.’

‘I’m Nick, Nick Easter.’

‘Hi, Nick. Good to meet you. Thank you for hanging back.’

‘That’s OK. I could see you were struggling a little. That was quite a steep climb back there.’

‘I know I’m a bit of a slowcoach,’ she says. ‘Tom and Sarah, my friends up ahead there come on these adventures every week, but I’m quite new to it.’

Nick feels comforted by this but does not admit that he too is new to it. This would take away his advantage.

As the main party forge ahead, Nick and Savannah discover that they have a mutual interest in cricket, and although Savannah doesn’t know the name of the England captain, they chat merrily about the sound of leather on willow on a sunny Sunday afternoon, regretting that it is now November.

Over bowls of spiced parsnip soup in the café, Nick is introduced to Tom and Sarah. Tom holds forth about walking in the Lake District, and how a digital SLR camera is better for panoramic shots than an automatic while Sarah texts all her family and friends on her iphone. Eventually, Tom and Sarah go off to buy some cards in the souvenir shop. Nick takes the opportunity to ask Savannah if she will meet him next week for the Woodchester Park Woodland Walk.

‘It says in the Trust Handbook that it is a scenic walk around five lakes,’ he says. ‘But it does include some steep gradients.’

Savannah is not sure about the gradients.

‘There is the option of a five mile walk, if you prefer,’ he says.

She does prefer.

‘Perhaps we could take a picnic,’ says Nick.

Savannah brightens at the mention of this. Nick makes a note to buy a picnic blanket from the Trust shop before he leaves.

All week Nick looks forward to seeing Savannah on Saturday, keeping a keen eye on the five day weather forecast. It looks as if they might be lucky. The high winds are scheduled to finish on Friday afternoon and the torrential rain is not forecast until Sunday. From Wednesday onwards, he packs and repacks his rucksack. By Friday evening, it is bursting at the seams and he hasn’t even put the picnic blanket in yet. He takes out the lighter of the two extra jackets and repositions the umbrella and the waterproof over-trousers. He probably won’t need the polar torch so he packs an extra fleece instead in case Savannah gets cold. And an extra pair of thick socks. He decides finally he will have to pack the picnic separately, so he takes a late night trip to Blacks to buy a shoulder bag.

He takes the laptop to bed and reads up on Woodchester Park so he has facts at his fingertips for the walk. Woodchester House, the great gothic mansion around which the park is built, has featured twice in Most Haunted Live and again on Ghost Hunters International. It was also the setting for the BBC production of Dracula. There are horseshoe bats in the park, along with sparrow hawks, green woodpecker and tawny owl. While they are walking through the woods they must also keep an eye out for sedge, Solomon’s seal and stinking hellebore among the flora, although he imagines that late November may not be the best time to spot these.

Nick waits for thirty minutes in the NT car park. The guide goes on ahead with the group but there is no sign of Savannah. Just as he is about to call it a day, Savannah drives up in her blue Fiat 500. She steps out and apologises for being late.

‘ I had a job finding the place,’ she says. ‘I’m not very good with maps.’

‘That’s OK,’ he says. ‘I’ve only just got here myself. I think the others might have gone on ahead. But don’t worry, I’ve got a map.’

He waits for her to open the boot of her car and take out her rucksack and walking boots and perhaps a waterproof jacket to go over her thin fleece, but she does not. All she has with her is a flimsy hemp tote bag.

‘Come on then,’ she says. ‘Shall we get started? We might be able to catch them up.’

‘Are you going to be all right in Converse trainers?’ he asks.

‘I’ll keep to the dry bits,’ she says.

Nick doesn’t say that he does not think there will be too many dry bits.

They set off in the direction that Nick saw the walkers take. They climb steeply through thick woodland. Nick becomes nervous about the lack of grip of Savannah’s canvas shoes on the wet leaves. After a few skids, she slips and falls. He helps her up. This is the first bodily contact that they have had. Nick feels excited by it. He is not sure how Savannah feels, but she did not appear to resist.

As they near the top Nick begins to find the weight of his rucksack a struggle. They reach a clearing and stop to look down at the lake. It begins to drizzle. The picnic blanket seems a little superfluous now. They exchange glances and press on. Neither of them wants to be the first to suggest they turn back. On the path down to the boathouse Nick maintains over and over that this rain was not forecast. They could shelter in the boathouse, but having consulted his sodden Best One Hundred Wildlife Walks Nick says it is accessible only by boat. Eventually the driving rain that sets in forces them to return to the car park. The trekking umbrella offers little protection and they get soaked.

Having dried off a bit with the bank of beach towels Nick has brought, they share the picnic in the intimacy of his car.

‘These four bean salad wraps are delicious,’ says Savannah. ‘Did you make them yourself?’

Nick is pleased he took the cellophane wrappers off and repacked them in paper bags. ‘Sorry they are a bit squashed,’ he says. ‘It must have happened when the shoulder bag fell onto the rocks at the bottom of the hill back there.’

‘And this mango and pineapple smoothie is divine. It’s much nicer than the ones we sell in Organics.’

They move off the subject of food and Nick asks politely after Tom and Sarah. Savannah explains that she does not see a lot of them, they tend to go further afield, Offa’s Dyke, The Peak District and the Lakes. They had just taken her under her wing after she had split with Conor. Nick’s heart leaps. He has not wanted to broach the subject of her relationship status directly, in case it might be in a relationship or its complicated. When Savannah offers him her phone number, he feels that he is in with a chance.

Tyler Armstrong, the lothario in the office tells him that it is not good form to appear too keen, so Nick leaves it until Tuesday to phone. But he phones on Wednesday, Thursday and twice on Friday. He discovers that Savannah has a busy schedule of hair washing, cat grooming and getting milk in before the shop closes. She always seems to be in the middle of something. He arranges to pick her up on Saturday to take her to Croome Park. It is a much shorter walk, he says, and they can have a lunch at Croome Court restaurant afterwards. He drops in a bio about Capability Brown, but she has not heard of him. She hadn’t realised that gardeners could be the stuff of legend.

If he and Savannah are going to have a relationship, he must take account of what she wants. He must not make the mistake he made with Roz. He tries to remember their conversation. It must be ten years ago now that she had dumped him.

‘When are you going to get in into your thick head that I don’t want to go and watch Bristol City play football every week,’ Roz had said.

‘Well I suppose we could go to watch Bristol Rovers,’ he had said. ‘Or Swindon Town.’

This had been the final straw for Roz. Nick had by and large avoided the mistake with Darci. He had not taken her to football games. They had gone to watch Gloucester play rugby instead, but even here, he found that Darci did not always want to go. He resolves to be more considerate with Savannah. He will take her to farmer’s markets and craft fairs and perhaps they can take up ballroom dancing or yoga. He won’t even invite her to his old school reunions and definitely won’t take her along to Hornby, Mills and Nash dinners. Quantity surveyors can be so dull when they have get togethers.

On their way to Croome, Nick pulls into Go Outdoors and he buys Savannah a pair of tan Helly Hansen Forester walking boots to go with the pink North Face insulated jacket and the Jack Wills woolly hat, he bought her off Amazon. He is going to leave the rucksack until next week. He doesn’t want to load her down too much. He doesn’t mind doing the carrying for the time being. Feeling that he is just trying to buy his way into her pants, Savannah resists the purchase a little, but Nick insists.

‘You must have the proper gear for walking,’ he says. ‘You will find it so much easier. Why don’t you keep them on, then your feet will be used to them by the time we get to Croome.’ With this he gets the Saturday shop assistant, who looks about fourteen, to put her trainers in a bag. During the rest of the journey to Croome, she speculates meanwhile what it might be like letting Nick into her pants; although he is a bit controlling, he does have an athletic build. From a certain angle, his profile reminds her of Hugh Jackman.

The weather holds up nicely as Nick and Savannah make their way leisurely around the lake. This is as good as it gets in early December. From his bevy of guide books, Nick feeds her historical information about the Earls of Coventry, Neo-Palladian architecture, landscape gardens and the temples and pavilions in the park like a seasoned tour guide. They stop to feed the swans with wholemeal bread that Nick has brought.

‘Did you know that swans mate for life?’ he says. It is an innocent reflection.

‘Not at all like humans then’, she says, with more of an edge. ‘How many people do you know that have been together for more than five years?’

‘Certainly not my family,’ he says. ‘What about you? You must know some. What about Tom and Sarah?’

‘Tom and Sarah are probably the only ones that I can think of. All my other friends are in and out of relationships every couple of months. I never know who to address Christmas cards to.’

Nick was hoping that this was not the case. He was hoping that Savannah represented a world of normal people with stable relationships. It would be a shame though to take it to heart and spoil a lovely day. He will just have to try a little harder than others have.’

After a late afternoon lunch at Croome Court, and a couple of halves at The Crown Inn at Shuthonger they go back to Nick’s and warm themselves up before an open fire that Nick has prepared. They make cautious small talk over the new James Blunt album, before shedding their clothes and getting comfortable for the night. He has bought condoms and she has brought a toothbrush. She doesn’t leave until noon the next day.

Despite the euphoria of the weekend, with the festive season looming, Nick feels a creeping despondency. It is supposed to be a time of happiness, but he finds the emotions thrown up by Christmas disturbing and bewildering. Perhaps it goes back to his childhood. Most of all he does not want to spend Christmas with either arm of his family. He is also desperate not to spend Christmas alone, nothing could be worse. Lots of differing perspectives compete for space in his head. If he is honest he would like to spend Christmas with Savannah, but it is early days. He hardly knows her. After all, they have only slept together once and you can’t tell all that much from the first time. What is she really like? What do you look for in a partner, someone who is like you, someone who is different, someone like you but different, someone who is different but like you, someone to make up for your shortcomings, anyone at all to stop you from feeling lonely? How closely does the person you end up choosing match what you are looking for anyway?

Out of the blue Darci phones. She wants to know what he is doing for Christmas. Perhaps she is feeling the same way. Perhaps she does not want to spend it alone and maybe she does not want to spend it with her family as she and Nick have split up. They have spent the last five Christmases with Darci’s family. He tells her he does not know yet but he has had an invitation. She says she does not know yet, but has had an invitation. Amongst barbed pleasantries, they both fish around for information but the conversation ends with both of them none the wiser.

Nick instantly worries that Conor might be doing similar checking up with Savannah. While Savannah has not talked a lot about Conor, from what he has picked up they were together for a long time. Savannah has said that sometimes she has to work late at Organics and that Nick doesn’t need to phone her every night, but now he feels he needs to speak to her more than ever. He is not due to see her until Saturday when they are going to explore Dirham Park and it is only Tuesday. He phones. She does not answer. When she doesn’t answer on Wednesday or Thursday either, his sense of optimism tries to tell him it could just be that Savannah’s hair might be particularly tangled this week, the cat may have chewing gum in its fur or the shop may have sold out of milk and she has had to drive to the supermarket, but his sense of pessimism tells him she could be in the throes of ecstasy beneath a panting Conor.

What forms the basis of trust, Nick wonders? Can you trust someone that you have just met? Can you trust someone if you have been with them a long time? Maybe you trust someone you have just met because you haven’t been with them a long time. What are you trusting them with? What exactly constitutes breaking trust? There are probably no meaningful statistics about faithfulness in relationships, but over time, few survive intact. The modern world puts so many things in the way of fidelity.

It is Friday night and Nick has given up on reaching Savannah. He has been trying all evening but her phone goes on to voicemail. He is about to go to bed when his phone rings. It is Savannah.

‘Sorry to call so late,’ she says. ‘You’ve probably been ringing me haven’t you. My phone says I have a lot of missed calls.’

‘I tried once or twice earlier,’ says Nick. He does not say that for the last hour or so he has been a small step away from coming round to make sure that Conor’s car was not there, not that he would know what Conor’s car looked like.

‘Sorry, I didn’t hear the phone, says Savannah. ‘It was in the inside pocket of my new insulated jacket. Look, I know we are seeing each other tomorrow but I just wanted to ask what you are doing for Christmas.’

‘I’ve got no plans,’ says Nick. ‘But I was hoping I might be able to spend it with you.’

‘I’ve got a week off and I thought we might go to Santiago de Compestela,’ says Savannah.

‘Santiago de Compestela,’ Nick repeats.

‘Yes,’ says Savannah. ‘It’s in Spain.’

‘You mean the pilgrimage walk, but I’m not a Catholic.’

‘Neither am I, but Trip Advisor says that you don’t have to be. It says it’s for those who want to get away from the Disney Christmas.’

‘Isn’t it about five hundred miles long?’

‘Yes, but we could just do a bit of it and save the rest for later,’ says Savannah. ‘I’ve even ordered a Survivor rucksack on Amazon. What do you think?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Tara’s World

tarasworld3

Tara’s World by Chris Green

Tara was finding it difficult to remember things. Friends of hers, in their fifties and sixties, suggested that her memory was unlikely to get any better. As you grew older those peripheral places where the past was stored were harder to find, they said. They told her how they constantly forgot important dates and events and often asked for the same information over and over. Increasingly they needed to rely on the internet and other memory aids to remind them of things they thought they knew.

‘A diary is essential,’ said Naomi, who was 58. ‘How else would I know where I have been, or who I have seen?’ Tara did not see Naomi as someone who led a particularly chaotic life. Taking the dog to the vet was a bit of an outing.

‘You can use a diary to express your feelings,’ said Emily, who was 61. ‘You can really let off steam when you put your mind to it, and I find this helps a lot.’ Married, as Emily was, to Colin, Tara could see that she might sometimes need this outlet.

‘A’ve kept a diary since Ah was a wee lassie. an’ noo a’ve got no-ain tae gab tae at nicht, Ah fin’ mah diary’s a stoatin comfort,’ said Fiona, who was 64 and recently widowed. Murdo had died last year as a result of a hunting accident in the Highlands, or was it a rare blood disease.

Tara, who was still only 48, began to put aside five or ten minutes each night before she went to sleep to record the day’s events and to put down her thoughts. She became quite disciplined about this ritual. She quickly found that writing a diary simplified her life. No matter how late she went to bed, she would put pen to paper.

Memory is a fickle apparatus, its performance imprecise and unpredictable. Tara could remember some things from long ago clear as a bell and she was able to reconstruct large sections of her life around a particular episode from way back, but when she tried to remember what happened last week or earlier that day, she drew a complete blank. Sometimes the reverse was true. This was particularly frustrating. She would lie awake at night trying to piece together what happened in the Summer of 1984 or the Spring of 1997. Or what she had done in the months between splitting up with Hugh and meeting Grant. She would get so far and then draw a blank. She could feel a pulsing ache from the feverish activity taking place in far reaches of the hippocampus as the fruitless search for information progressed. As well as gaps in her recollections, Tara was also faced with the bewilderment brought on by false memory. Where did random rogue recollections come from? There appeared to be no way of checking the accuracy of her account of anything that happened long ago. She wished that she had started keeping a diary sooner.

It was June 6th, a Friday. Tara had had quite a full-on day. It had started well with the news that Alice and Alex were going to make her a grandmother, but had gone downhill with the shunt in the Lexus at lunchtime, and got worse when she found out her car insurance had lapsed. Why hadn’t she had a reminder? Perhaps she had had a reminder. Why hadn’t she put the renewal date in her diary? The office in the afternoon had been a nightmare. Her computer picked up a virus and the photocopier broke. Dinner with Denzel at the Dog and Duck had been a disaster. Denzel drank far too much and had embarrassed her in front of clients. The phonecall from Phil at eleven asking her to work in the morning was all she needed.

To put down her reflections on the day, she took out her diary, which she kept in a drawer in her bedside cabinet. To her almighty astonishment, she found that the page for June 6th had already been filled in – in her neat handwriting, as had the pages for June 7th, June 8th and June 9th, in fact, every day up until July 5th. She read the day’s entry in horror. It gave an accurate description of her day, complete with an up to date appraisal on how she was feeling towards Denzel. Those were the exact words she had used, when he had asked her to run him home.

Charlotte, Tara’s friend from the amateur swimming club, was not pleased to get the call. She had been in the throes of passion with her new man, Piers, at the time, and had only answered on the premise that any call after midnight must be important. It was a few minutes before she put Tara’s call into this category, but Tara had been a friend for years and she could tell that she was distraught. Pleas for her to calm down only brought on another outburst.

‘What does it say for tomorrow?’ Charlotte asked finally. ‘I mean today.’

Tara read out the diary entry for June 7th.

‘Simple! Don’t go to work in the morning, then the diary entry will be proved wrong,’ said Charlotte.

‘I think I do have to go to work. Important deadlines, and all that. June as you know is always a busy time at East Asian Travel.’

‘Then you must make sure that you do not go to town in the afternoon and then the rest cannot happen,’ Charlotte said. ‘You don’t have to buy the surrealist painting of the naked saxophone player with the New York skyline by the unknown Spanish artist.’

‘I suppose not, but it’s one of a pair along with a blind trumpet player looking out to sea that I’ve already got. The pictures are quite amazing.’

‘Tara!’

‘OK. You’re right, Charlotte. I won’t go, and I won’t buy the agave plant from Treehugger Nurseries. I won’t even pick up the Lexus from the panel beaters.’

‘And you don’t really need to get a wetsuit from Albatros Diving, do you? So that’s your diary day cancelled out.’

After a night of tossing and turning, and a dream about drowning in a rip tide off the Bay of Biscay, Tara made it into work. Her in-tray reflected the busyness of the summer season. She was faced with a long list of people to phone about their travel plans, and hundreds of tickets and letters to be sent out. Why couldn’t East Asian Travel operate over the Internet like everyone else?

Phil, normally so aloof, was being exceptionally helpful and had even brought in some cakes.

‘I’ll give you a lift in to pick up your car, my sweet,’ he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. Was he flirting with her? No, it turned out. He was just softening her up to work Sunday. She did not find this out until after they had picked up the wetsuit. bought the painting, been to the garden centre and she had helped choose a birthday present for Phil’s wife.

If Tara had remembered her diary entry for the day, depending on viewpoint, she would have seen that she was going into work, or according to what was written, had been in to work, on the Sunday. She would also have anticipated, or recalled, Denzel’s unwelcome call in the afternoon. And what was she doing at Frankie and Benny’s with Toni? She never went out on a Sunday evening and she hated pizza.

Following this, Tara decided to read the entries carefully for the whole period that was filled out. She tried to commit the events of each day to memory. But, over the next few days, no matter how hard she tried to contradict her proscribed schedule, circumstance conspired against her and she ended up doing exactly what was written in her journal. Even the most unlikely episodes took place. How could you predict that a TV celebrity was going to die in a balloon accident? And what were the chances of meeting your primary school teacher who you hadn’t seen for forty years in the traffic free area outside Monsoon?

‘I can’t see what the problem is,’ said Naomi. ‘It takes the hard work out of keeping a diary if it’s already filled in.’ Naomi hated surprises and liked everything to be just so.

‘It makes it seem like fate,’ said Emily. ‘I met a clairvoyant the other day. She does readings over the phone. Colin says its a load of old crap but I believe things happen for a reason.’ In Emily’s world, everything from tarot to tea cup readings could help to simplify life’s great mysteries.

Fiona was more sympathetic. ‘Ah can ken wa yoo’re scared. ,’ she said. ‘Ah woods be terrified. quantum leaps ur somethin’ ye expect tae bide in science fection where they belang.’

Much of Tara’s diary-week was predictable, inasmuch as it consisted of things she usually did, like go swimming after work on Tuesday, or go to her evening art class on Wednesday. She did not know why she put it down. About half of what she wrote was meaningless. Did it matter that she had cooked a casserole or had an erotic dream? Or that the cat had been in a fight or the parlour maple was flowering. After all, it flowered every June at about this time. Because it was written in the diary, she made a special effort not to call Eric, the cooker repair man in to replace the faulty oven fan, but he called round anyway on the off-chance that she might need a domestic appliance repair done. However, some of what she had apparently written for the week was unusual. She had the same dream that she had recorded in the diary of her travelling, as a man, on a bus in Barcelona, listening to The Cinematic Orchestra on a music player with oversized headphones, while the Christmas dinner was cooking. She was looking out for the railway station where she had to catch the 5:25 train to take her back to the place where she caught the bus. She calculated she would just about make it on time. The family, not her family but a family put together from unconnected people remembered from childhood, were waiting in the Las Ramblas apartment and when she arrived back the pheasant roast would be ready to serve. Not the kind of dream you would expect to have twice.

The Mariachi band marching past her house playing Bésame Mucho every morning was a bit random too, and the dead owl on the doormat definitely unexpected. And what were the chances of finding yourself in a lift with the author, Frank Biro? For the whole week, the mundane and the exceptional matched exactly what was recorded in the diary. It seemed her free will was gradually being broken. By Friday, she was in panic mode.

‘Confusion of this nature is commonly caused by overwork,’ said Dr. Chandrasekar, the young locum who was filling in for her regular GP, Dr. Sadness. ‘What is your job?’

Tara told him she was in the travel business.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘This is one of the worst jobs for work related stress and anxiety. And of course, it’s worse in the summer months, am I right?’

Tara thought that perhaps he was stating the obvious, but agreed.

‘Do you drink alcohol regularly?’ he asked. ‘Alcohol as you probably know can make one delusional.’

Tara confessed that she had popped an extra bottle or two into the supermarket trolley in the past few days, to help cope with the trauma, but as a rule, she didn’t overindulge.

‘How many units a week on average would you say?’

There was a time for honesty, but this wasn’t it, she felt. ‘About eight or nine,’ she said.

‘No recreational drug use, I take it.’

‘Absolutely none, not for many years.’

‘I think what I’ll do is write you out a prescription for some tablets. Now you take six a day and in a few days, I think you should start to feel less anxious.’

‘Risperdal!’ said Charlotte. ‘He gave you Risperdal! That’s what they give to people with schizophrenia. Six a day! Definitely not, Tara.’ She listed the side effects. They included hypersalivation, insomnia, mood disorders and suicidal tendencies.

‘So what do you suggest?’ said Tara.

‘I’ve started seeing a Sand Tray therapist,’ said Charlotte.

‘What on earth?’

‘She gets me to alter the positions of miniature objects which represent people and events. She says that will help me make the same changes in real life.’

‘And has it helped?’

‘Well its early days, but I do enjoy playing in the sandpit.’

Tara went instead to Aurora, a non-directive psychotherapist she found in Circles of Light. Sessions consisted of Aurora listening to a free-flowing narrative of Tara’s inner world while she clicked a set of coral worry beads.

‘I am in a large institution, a sort of self-contained metropolis, and I am being initiated into an elaborate catalogue of rules and regulations and procedures that apply there,’ said Tara. ‘Leader issues me with instructions for classes I have to attend. When I have finished one, he tells me I have to attend the next one which will start at 10pm and then the next one at midnight and then one at 2am and so on. I accidentally miss one and am reprimanded. He tells me I will have to go to extra classes as a result. The procedures are very rigorous. I have to walk this way or that way along corridors and up staircases by following arrows. I have to take particular colour coded emblems that I have been issued with along to each class. It has to be the correct colour, and I do not know how to choose. No one has told me and I keep making mistakes. I have to keep a record of my progress. In my small room, I spend hours filling out a spreadsheet, which in turn makes me late for my next class. Other people I meet seem to accept the regime as normal.

‘And how do you feel about it?’ asked Aurora.

”I feel trapped of course, as if I am imprisoned. I want to get out,’ said Tara.

‘Go on,’ said Aurora.

‘I am walking through one of the large covered spaces and I see a sturdy figure swimming with powerful strokes through a central channel, helped by the flow of a fast flowing stream. I try to point this out to one of the acolytes and he says there is no stream, it is a gravel path. I mention it to Leader, and he is pleased that I have told him. It means that someone is trying to escape and now he will be able to stop them. As a result, my status within the institution seems to change. I no longer have to go to classes. I am now in a massive glass atrium. I am sitting on the grass along with some others, eating doughnuts, with a texture like styrofoam. The atmosphere here seems much more relaxed. I notice there are tall glass sliding doors at the front of the atrium. I see people on the outside going about their daily life. They appear sketchy, like figures in an architect’s drawing. Someone in a harlequin suit says to me that it is an illusion, fate has no outside. You are always inside. I do not want to believe him, and I make for the doors, which slide open, but close just as I am about to reach them. I try this several times but there is no way out….. Then I wake up.’

‘I will see you again next Tuesday,’ said Aurora. ‘We can talk more about it then.’

Phil felt Tara might be able to distract herself by working longer hours while Denzel suggested she ought to stop being so selfish and think about others for a change. Tara wondered if it might not be better to just go with the flow and see what happened. After all, according to the diary nothing fatal was about to happen before July 5th. She decided that she would not deliberately try to follow what was written, but neither would she try and avoid it.

This scheme worked well for a few days. Everything went according to plan. What was written in her diary and what happened each day continued to match, but on Thursday she noticed an anomaly. She had gone to see True Story at The Plaza and not Never Lose Focus at the Savoy. When she looked through the diary entry again, the original entry had changed, which would mean that in her absence the diary was rewriting itself. It had changed, hadn’t it? Tara could not be sure of anything anymore. Her memory, even over a few days, or hours, was not to be relied upon. This was the reason she had started writing her diary in the first place.

The cheque from the insurance company didn’t arrive on Friday and she didn’t win the ebay auction for the Gaggia Espresso machine. It seemed that her real life and the diary account were getting out of sync. When she checked later, however, there was no record of the cheque or the coffee machine on the page for Friday. She was certain there had been. And it was not the hottest day of the year on the Saturday as reported; in fact, it was cold wet and windy. On checking, she found this entry too had changed. On Monday she noticed that there had been an omission in the diary account. Surely she would have recorded something as important as winning tickets for Ladies Singles Final Day at Wimbledon.

‘You’re not really sure, are you?’ said Naomi. ‘I told you this would happen to you.’

‘ Join the club! I can’t remember what happened yesterday,’ said Emily.

‘It’s an early sign ay Alzheimers,’ said Fiona. ‘Age creeps up oan ye, ye ken.’

‘You’ll have to start making copies of your diary,’ said Naomi.

‘I don’t think Colin approves but I know someone who does remote viewing,’ said Emily.

‘Ye coods keep th’ diary oan line,’ said Fiona. ‘An’ save it tae google clood.’

On Monday evening, Tara scanned the remaining the remaining eighteen completed pages on to her PC. She felt pleased with her resolution and that night slept without the usual apnoea or bad dreams. The next morning before work, when she checked, she found that the diary had an updated entry ‘scanned the remaining eighteen completed pages of the diary’. Her meticulous script (the rounded s, the well-formed c, the curls on the a, the lazy elongated n) was unmistakable. The scanned version, to her alarm, also had the same entry. Summer it might have been, but Tara felt a January chill run through her. She was spooked.

Her apprehension was about to get worse. Tara had not given much consideration to why the diary entries finished on July 5th. When one possible explanation did occur to her, it hit her like a bombshell. It came as the result of a dream in which she was driving fast towards a level crossing. It was a crossing that she was familiar with, in fact, she drove through it most days. Without the warning of the red flashing lights, the gates ahead of her closed. Realising the stopping distance at the speed she was travelling would not bring her to a halt, she tried to turn away from the crossing into a road to the right, but the car’s steering was not functioning, and when she tried to apply the brakes, she found the vehicle only had bicycle brakes. The car pushed through the gates and came to a halt in the middle of the tracks. Large black steam locomotives pulling freight headed towards her from both directions. They were approaching at breakneck speed. She had no time to get out of their path. She was going to die. On waking, it occurred to her that the out of control car signified that she had no control over her life. This was perhaps why her diary finished on July 5th. There being no record of July 6th, she was overtaken by a powerful foreboding was going to die the following day.

She examined the diary once more. The dream was now recorded in detail in both the diary and the scanned document. She unplugged the scanner and took it up to the attic. She shut down the computer. Files could not be updated and no new files could be created if it was not switched on. She turned her attention to the diary. She contemplated destroying it. She decided that this might not be the best solution, but from now on she would keep it with her at all times. She read each page again carefully, looking for clues. There was no mention of a degenerative illness or a scenario that would put her life in peril anywhere. She paid particular interest to the page for Thursday, July 5th. What was written here now became of great importance to her. She felt she had to avoid the sequence of events on this day at all costs.

For the next two weeks she did not let the diary out of her sight except when she was asleep, and then, although it was uncomfortable, she had it strapped to her waist under her nightdress. Except for a few omissions and oversights her day to day experience and the account in the diary matched each other. The same things happened at work and she went to the same activities that the diary said she would. The Mariachi band now played El Jarabe Tapatio each morning and she had lunch at the new Albanian restaurant that no-one had heard of. She even had the same unexpected phonecall from Denzel in the middle of the night. While the synchronicity was still spooky, she was relieved that nothing untoward seemed to now be happening. She appeared to have established an equilibrium. She was even wondering whether she now had to avoid the events of July 5th.

On Friday, July 4th in the early evening, Tara was taking a shower after a hot sticky day at the office. Before stepping into the shower, she had left the diary face down on the top of the laundry basket, but when she stepped out, it was gone. There had been a few seconds that she had her eyes closed while she rinsed her hair, but no one could have got into the bathroom and taken it. The door was bolted and she had not even drawn the shower curtain. Caught between panic and desperation, she emptied the linen basket and threw discarded clothes and bath towels this way and that, but there was no sign of the diary, and yes, the door was still locked. She was absolutely certain that she had put the diary face down on the top of the basket, hadn’t she? Once she had given up the search and composed herself, she booted up the PC to check the diary files. These too had disappeared.

That night, in her brief spell of sleep, she dreamt that she was on holiday in a foggy former Eastern bloc country. It was the last day of her holiday and her flight was due to leave in two hours. She had not packed, and her belongings were scattered everywhere. They had a charred look about them as if they had been in a fire. She could not remember who she was with. Her travelling companion’s identity kept changing. Alice was with her now and she produced a large shiny old fashioned black pram with lots of chrome fitments. She wanted to take it on the plane. Tara wondered how such a large item would fit into the luggage. It did not look as if it would fold away. Next, she was driving to an old church, which had recently been restored. Suddenly the sun visor in front of her dropped down. Somehow, it covered the whole of the windscreen. She could not see where she was going. She could not take her foot off the accelerator. She could hear the loud hum of the traffic ahead. She realised she was heading towards a busy main road. She woke with the sheets bathed in sweat.

Despite her shattered mental state, she made it into work. To her surprise, the day started well with the news that Alice was, in fact, expecting twins, but went downhill with a knock in the Audi at lunchtime, and got worse when she found she had not transferred her insurance from the previous vehicle. The office in the afternoon was a nightmare. Her computer monitor showed the blue screen of death and the fax machine broke. Her dinner date with Danny at Denny’s Diner was a disaster. Danny did not drink, and after a bottle of wine, Tara ended up embarrassing herself with her outpouring of emotion. The phonecall from Phil at eleven, telling her that East Asian Travel was to cease trading and that she was out of a job, was all she needed.

Before remembering that it had disappeared, she instinctively reached into the drawer of her bedside cabinet for her diary to record the events of the day. But, there the diary was, in the usual place beside the night creams and lotions. She opened it up where it was bookmarked, only to find blank pages. Why, she wondered, had she not written in it for nearly a month.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Benito and Tiffany

benitoandtiffany

Benito and Tiffany by Chris Green

Tiffany Golden possesses a rare talent. She knows that things are going to happen before they do. As a result of her premonitory powers, Tiffany’s life has been alternately comforting or frightening, depending on what is scheduled to happen. Unfortunately knowing that something is going to occur does not give Tiffany powers to prevent the eventuality. Try as she might to take steps to avoid something unpleasant, she has not found a means to do so. She has however developed her persuasive powers to prevent too much disappointment or distress. Sometimes destiny needs a helping hand.

Tiffany Golden is not a clairvoyant or fortune teller. She cannot tell which horse is going to win the Derby, or if there is going to be an earthquake. She only knows what is going to happen in relation to her. If she were to put a bet on a horse, she would know if she was going to pick up money later on, and if the earthquake was going to affect her daily life, then she would know about it, otherwise she has the same faculties as those without the gift.

Today, the first Friday in April, her day will be alternately tiresome and exciting. Tiresome that she knows she is going to be waiting twenty minutes in the tailback on the Buena Vista bypass, exciting that she knows she is going to meet Benito Van Horn in the tropical fish department of the pet superstore on the retail park at three o’clock, even though she never goes there and has no interest in tropical fish. She knows with equal certainty that, although he is a complete stranger, with just a fleeting glance in her direction, Benito will make her heart skip a beat. In short she knows that Benito Van Horn will sweep her off her feet.

Benito Van Horn does not possess such a talent. Dashing and debonair he might be in his dark blue suit, but he comes across as preoccupied. He has been told he can be unaccommodating and unresponsive. Casual and dispassionate are also terms that have been thrown at him. In the studio where he works as a producer, musicians that he is recording say that he is oblivious to how they would like to play. He takes the edge out of their music. Whatever they play he makes it sound like the famously bland band, Keane.

Benito is often not aware that something has happened even after it has. It was not until his decree absolute arrived on the mat that he realised his wife, Ursula had started divorce proceedings. He had thought that she was on holiday with her friend, Sharita. Try as he might Benito has found himself unable to redress his shortcomings. An army of life coaches, psychologists and consultants have become exasperated at his inability to change. They all say his aloofness is astonishing. If only they had the time, he could be a textbook study for a new condition.

It is three o’clock now on the first Friday in April and Benito Van Horn has absolutely no idea that he is glancing in Tiffany Golden’s direction, let alone that his glance is making a lasting impression on her. In fact, so unobservant is he that he has not even grasped that he is in the tropical fish department in the pet superstore. He has only stepped in there to buy a house rabbit for his sister in law, Mercedes, who will be nineteen on Sunday.

Tiffany Golden leaves the pet superstore with a warm glow, brought about by Benito’s loving gaze. She understands that he has been too shy to approach her, but she knows this is not going to matter. She sits in her yellow Mini Cooper with the black stripes and waits for Benito to leave and get in his own car. She knows this is a black Toyota Auris with a 64 plate. She knows that she is going to follow him home, even though she already knows where he lives. She knows that within a week she is going to be spending nights there.

Benito’s awareness of fate is non existent. When, having stalked him for days, Tiffany calls round to his house, he still does not recognise her.

‘Are you the Avon lady?’ he asks. ‘I’m afraid that Ursula has gone away.’

He is surprised by the kiss. It is not the type of apologetic peck on the cheek you might expect from someone selling beauty products door to door, who has accidentally called at the wrong house. It is a passionate take your breath away all out assault on his face. It is the type of kiss you might expect from an aroused lover. It is the type of kiss that in a raunchy film might serve as a prelude to the participants ripping off each others’ clothes. Having established that she is not the Avon lady and finding that things are happening down below, Benito responds with wild abandon. He is not at all sure what is happening or if what is happening is happening to him. But despite this uncertainty, in no time at all they are upstairs, and are indeed ripping off one another’s clothes. A little later, after a bout of bountiful coupling, he asks her name.

‘Tiffany Golden,’ she says.

‘Well, Tiffany Golden,’ says Benito Van Horn. ‘That was ….. unexpected. I don’t know what came over me. I’m not usually so …… forward,’

‘I do hope that isn’t so,’ says Tiffany. ‘I was hoping we might do it again soon.’

‘I think that it was possibly the most unusual …. experience of my life,’ says Benito.

‘I knew that this was going to happen, so there was no point in fighting it,’ says Tiffany Golden.

‘I couldn’t help but notice that you weren’t fighting it,’ says Benito. ‘I’m Benito Van Horn by the way,’

‘I know,’ says Tiffany.’

‘You do?’

‘I think I probably know everything about you.’

It is the third Thursday in May. Tiffany Golden is now living with Benito Van Horn. As long as she takes the lead, she gets what she wants. She is happy with this arrangement. She has shown photos of Benito to her friends and her colleagues at the advertising agency, and they all think that he is a dreamboat. It is disconcerting that Benito doesn’t always notice that she is there, but there are small signs that he might be changing. Once or twice lately he has greeted her with kisses when she has got back from work. As she drives home from the office along the Santa Rosa Boulevard, she wonders if today is going to be one of those days. This is an odd sensation for Tiffany because she feels she should know definitely one way or the other. Perhaps Benito will not even be home. Maybe he will be mixing muzak at the studio, or perhaps it is his sister in law, Portia’s birthday and he has had to take an animal round. Tiffany is not accustomed to such uncertainty. She is sure though that it will pass.

Benito has noticed that there are more house plants to water and the washing machine is nearly always on. The kitchen is filling up with cookery books and kitchen utensils that he does not know the names of. The red wine has been replaced with white. Pink paperbacks with titles in handwritten script and cover illustrations of smiling young women in white chiffon are appearing on the bookshelf. There is no longer room in the wardrobe for all of his dark blue suits. There is a chess game going on with the bottles in the bathroom. He has noticed that Tiffany is around the place more than she used to be, in fact nearly all the time. Did she ask if she could move in? Did he say she could? Should he ask her if she asked him when she gets home from work?

Benito finds it a little worrying that Tiffany tends to be right all of the time, but on balance, he enjoys her company. Tiffany wears raunchier lingerie that Ursula did, laughs heartily at his badly told jokes, and is unexpectedly good at solving those tricky popular culture allusion clues to finish the Guardian cryptic crossword on a Saturday. And he likes the way she sometimes surprises him in the shower. He wonders if he ought to clear some of his old equipment out of the garage to make room for Tiffany’s Pro Trainer All In One Gym and maybe paint over the grey in the spare room with a brighter colour. Blue perhaps.

Benito starts to prepare the ingredients for an omelette. He will remember to put the peppers and mushrooms in this time. The one last Thursday was a little bland without them.

‘Anyone home,’ choruses Tiffany. She knows that Benito is home because the Toyota is parked in its usual way across both parking spaces on the drive. The music that is playing, while it still has a discernible melody, has traces of dubstep and acid jazz. It is a departure from the bland overproduced middle of the road music she is used to him playing while she is out of the house. ‘I like the music. What is it?’

‘Oh, that’s one I made earlier, says Benito. ‘While you were at the hairdressers.’

‘I haven’t been to the hairdressers. I’ve been working,’ says Tiffany.

‘Oh, that’s right,’ says Benito. ‘While you were at the travel agents.’

‘Ad agency,’ says Tiffany. ‘I work at AdAge. Its an ad agency. Remember, you picked me up from there. You remarked on what a clever play on words it was.’ She is secretly pleased that although one or two things seem to have changed lately, Benito still retains hints of his heedlessness. Detachment is part of his charm.

‘I’m just making us an omelette,’ he says. Afterwards I thought we might go out to the greyhound racing. You keep telling me how much you like dogs.’

‘Did I say that?’ she says. Watching a bunch of skinny mutts chasing an electric rabbit round a gravel track has not been not on her radar. She was budgeting for a quiet night in with a bottle of Prosecco and a scented bath. Then perhaps Benito could give her a massage with the new oils she had bought. She hopes she is not witnessing a change in the dynamic of their relationship. With the dimming of her prescience, is Benito attempting to take over the decision making?

It is second Saturday in July. Tiffany Golden comes home from the hairdressers to the sound of Sufi music. Are there whirling dervishes in the front room, she wonders. Each day this week she has come home to increasingly unusual music. Each time she has asked Benito what it is, it has been ‘something that he mixed that day’. On Monday it was garage punk, on Tuesday it was psytrance. On Wednesday it was psychedelic rock, on Thursday it was trip hop.

‘What is it today?’ asked Tiffany yesterday.

‘Steampunk animé with a touch of drum and bass,’ said Benito.

‘The melody has all but disappeared,’ said Tiffany.

Benito Van Horn, Tiffany realises, is changing. He doesn’t even wear his dark blue suit any more and he hardly ever shaves. And why does he wear sunglasses around the house? While she understands that two people in a relationship tend to mould each other to some degree, she is not sure that the changes are going in the right direction. She remembers making a casual comment a while back that they probably didn’t get out enough but Benito seems insensitive to her interests. Over the past week, she has been treated to a twenty twenty cricket match, a rugby sevens tournament, an orienteering workshop and a strip show. Although Benito claims they had discussions regarding plans for these evenings out, she has no recollections of these.

Accustomed to knowing in advance what is going to happen, each day now she is racked with anxiety about what is going to take place. Surely not another night at the dog track, or a rock climbing weekend. There were times in the past when she felt the burden of knowing what was going to happen was an irritation. It weighed heavily on her shoulders, but this was compensated by its comforts. Why is it she is no longer able to call the shots? Has she lost the gift of prescience completely?

Benito doesn’t know what is wrong. Tiffany no longer wears raunchy lingerie and has stopped surprising him in the shower. He has even painted the spare room purple for her and put up some shelves to accommodate her growing self help book collection. Surely it can’t be his comment about her putting on weight. He had meant it in a nice way.

‘I thought we might go to see some Sufi tonight, darling,’ he says. ‘So I put this sampler together to get us in the mood.’

Tiffany registers a robust look of disapproval. Benito thinks she is beginning to seem more like Ursula every day. He turns the music down a little.

‘We can have a curry,’ he says. ‘Akbar’s has an excellent selection of Punjabi dishes and the cabaret comes on at nine. Authentic qawwali music.’

‘I hate this awful wailing and I hate curry,’ screams Tiffany. What could she have ever seen in Benito Van Horn? The man is singularly intolerable. How, she wonders had she not seen this situation coming?

‘We could go to Ping Pong and have some noodle dishes if you prefer,’ he continues, seemingly oblivious to his falling star. ‘They have bamboo music, I believe, That’s quite gentle.’

‘I hate you,’ she shrieks.

‘Or we could just go The Black Horse for a pie and a game of darts, if you like.’

‘You just don’t get it, do you?’

‘You’ll be hungry later on.’

‘I’m leaving you.’

It is the second Sunday in September. Tiffany Golden is pleased to be shot of Benito Van Horn. She is starting to enjoy life again. While her rare talent is still not fully functioning, she is beginning to get her premonitory powers back. Just last week, she foresaw that she was going to meet a tall stranger with blond curls who would sweep her off her feet. And here she is driving along Las Palomas in her new Mini Cooper S Coupé with the roof down to meet DoubleTake.

DoubleTake’s singer, Ben Cool with his blond hair and black suede eyepatch is a dreamboat. AdAge has won the contract to handle the band’s PR. Naturally, Tiffany has volunteered to take personal control of the contract. What she doesn’t realise is that Benito Van Horn has died his hair blond and changed his name to Ben Cool. He didn’t even realise he could sing, until about a month ago when he was recording the overdubs for HashTag’s album, and now look at him. His fifteen minutes of fame beckons. What he doesn’t know is that the agency his management company have hired to handle the band’s promotion is AdAge.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved