HEIDI

heidi2

HEIDI by Chris Green

I am stuck at the Scott McKenzie lights when I notice the car in front of me is the same model and colour, a blue Mazda 3. Not too unusual perhaps. It is a popular model. But this one somehow looks too familiar. Before I can put my finger on what it is, the lights change and the other car turns left into Mandolin Way. I drive straight on. It is Tuesday and I have deadlines to meet at work. Only then does it dawn on me that the other car had the same registration number as mine. How can it have had the same registration? Surely I must have imagined it. Perhaps I read one digit wrong. Manufacturers probably buy blocks of consecutive plate numbers.

There’s no point in going after it. It will be long gone. Mandolin Way is a fast road. But I have my Dash Cam set to record as a precaution in case of accidents. The Dash Cam was Heidi’s suggestion. She was aware of my fondness for gadgets and this was one gadget I didn’t have. I don’t recall ever having checked anything on it before. Like a Smart Meter to monitor electricity consumption, it’s one of those things that you install and then forget about.

As soon as it is safe to do, I pull over to check the other car’s plate on replay. VX09 YRG. No doubt about it. It is the same registration. To all intents and purposes, it’s the same car as the one I’m driving. I try to come up with an explanation, rational or otherwise. I cannot. I’ve owned the car for six years. It’s never been stolen, never been in an accident or written off. It’s unlikely DVLA or whoever regulates licence plates would have made a mistake and not noticed it. I am spooked. We are in the X Files, Twilight Zone territory here.

I phone the office to say I will be in a little late. Perhaps very late, I’m thinking or maybe not at all. I need time to reflect. No-one would take me seriously if I came right out with a crazy story like this. They would say they’ve noticed I’ve been acting strange lately or perhaps I ought to go easy on the wacky-backy. They are an unforgiving bunch at Zeitgeist Designs.

The feeling of unease is not going to go away. A little light refreshment in The Gordon Bennett is called for.

Probably pranksters, Charlie,’ Big Al behind the bar suggests. ‘After all, it’s only licence plates. You can get them made up anywhere.’

Sure! But why my car?’ I say. ‘What would be in it for them?’

Maybe you’ve pissed someone off and they want to get back at you,’ Al says.

If I had, surely there would be better ways to make a point,’ I say.

Perhaps it’s someone who wants to avoid paying road tax,’ Malone says.

A bit extreme,’ I say. ‘It’s an eco model, anyway.’

Perhaps it’s some kind of mega-scam and they have a whole fleet of cloned cars,’ Malone says. ‘Anyway, a Mazda, Charlie? I would have thought you could do better than that. What happened to the fast car Heidi wanted you to get?’

Back burner,’ I say.

Whatever is happening, I shouldn’t worry about it,’ Al says. ‘There’s bound to be an explanation. Another pint, is it?’

Heidi must realise from my demeanour that I have been drinking and driving but she does mention it. She does not ask what is bothering me and I do not tell her. In the end, she successfully manages to distract me. I am fortunate her libido more than matches my own. I wake the next morning with a fierce determination to return to normality.

As soon as I get in the car, yesterday’s incident comes back to me. But, I tell myself it’s a new day and there’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on it. In the big scheme of things, this is small potatoes. It is too easy to become paranoid. The slightest little thing will send some folks into a spin. I have friends for instance who believe the thought police at Facebook are controlling what they see in their feeds and forcing unnecessary purchases on them. If they could be bothered to do a little research they would discover they had complete control over their profile page. Then there are all of those conspiracy theories you get popping up in conversation. The Illuminati and the New World Order. Chemtrails. Black helicopters. The white Fiat Uno in the Alma Tunnel. No end of paranoid fixations. People need to loosen up.

I plug my iPod in and set it to a random shuffle. It plays some lilting Dave Brubeck. Traffic is light this morning. Wednesdays are often quiet. For some reason, the rush hour doesn’t kick in so much mid-week. I’m straight through the Scott McKenzie lights and in no time at all, I’m on Tambourine Way. It isn’t until I’m halfway along Reg Presley Street that I encounter any congestion. Had I had a clear run along Reg Presley, I might not have noticed it. But there, parked on the left-hand side of the road is the duplicate Mazda. VX09 YRG.

My heart is going nineteen to the dozen. I try to remember the deep breathing exercises my old Tai Chi instructor, Lars Wimoweh taught me. The 4-7-8 pranayama technique. I tell myself this could be my chance to find out once and for all what is going on. I can park up and wait until it’s owner comes along. It will be tense and the outcome will be unpredictable, possibly even dangerous but this is it. I may not get a better opportunity.

I find a space on the opposite side of the road twenty yards away. I phone the office to tell them I might be late in, something has come up. I nip into the Italian café for a large latte macchiato and a few pastries to keep me going during my stakeout. Bean Me Up’s Ciarduna con crema is to die for. You won’t find anything like this on Bake Off.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit slow but while I am in Bean Me Up it occurs to me the best way to find out what is going on would not be to wait until the owner comes along but to get in there and give the vehicle a close examination. There’s bound to be something to help solve the mystery. Might my key fob even open it?

My fob doesn’t open it. But the similarities don’t end with the number plate. It has the same My Other Car is a Porsche sticker in the back window. Heidi ordered this as a joke to try to get me to buy a more prestigious car. I may not be able to manage a Porsche but there’s a silver Sirocco GTS at Honest Joe’s I have my eye on. I bet that’s quite quick. …… What else? There’s the same unsightly key scratch along the front passenger door. Coincidence? Maybe but it has the same split in the same place on the rear bumper, the same crack on the passenger side tail-light and the same stain on the petrol filler-cap. Perhaps most spooky of all, the same book lying open face-down on the back seat. The paperback edition of Philip C Dark’s Now You See It. Granted Philip C Dark is a popular author but surely this level of coincidence is too great.

I suddenly feel dizzy, light headed. Things are becoming blurry. …… I’m slipping away ………

When I come round I find myself once more in Bean Me Up. Gianni is hovering over me.

Grazie Dio!’ he says. ‘I was just about to call an ambulance.’

My head is doing somersaults. I have no idea how I came to be here.

What?’ I say. ‘How?’

Someone brought-a you in here, my friend,’ Gianni says. ‘A fellow with a foreign accent. Not like a-mine, more ……. Eastern European.’

When?’ I say. ‘Who?’

He had big black sunglasses and a neck tattoo,’ Gianni says. ‘He said he found you lying in the gutter. Across the road there. ……. He didn’t seem to want to stay around.’

Sounds like a weirdo? Where did he go?’

More gangster than weirdo, Charlie. Mafioso or something. ……. Are you sure you’re OK? You’re not in any kind of trouble, are you? You have been acting strange lately. Perhaps you ought to lay off the papania.’

I try to regain my composure. It comes back to me that I’m looking for the duplicate car. I’m not sure I want to explain this to Gianni just yet. He’s already brought the Mafia into the conversation. I’m hoping there’s a more innocent explanation. After all, I felt dizzy and I fainted. That’s all, isn’t it? It could happen to anyone any time.

I’ll pop back in later,’ I say ‘Perhaps then I’ll try one of your sfogliatellas.’

Gianni ushers me towards a seat and gestures for me to sit down.

Later, my friend. Why not now?’ he says, bringing me a plate with a tasty looking sfoglietella on it. ‘Gratis. New recipe.’

Some things are hard to resist. Sweet pastries are near the top of the list. It all began back at Frank Portrait Secondary School with the rich sweet hot drippers they used to sell at break time. Devouring Gianni’s sfoglietellas is like bathing in syrup.

When, minutes later, I make my way out on to the street, it hits me like a blow to the solar plexus. The rogue car has gone. There is a generous parking space where it stood. Not only has the rogue car disappeared but so has mine. A big gap here too. What in Heaven’s name is going on around here?

I realise I am going to have to be very careful how I report the matter to the police. I’d probably better stick with one stolen car. I don’t want them to think I’m a sandwich short of a picnic.

After twenty minutes on hold, listening to a scratchy recording of Pachelbel’s Canon played on a ukulele, a bored-sounding girl takes down my details. Her casual response to my loss does nothing to inspire confidence. Maybe hundreds of cars are stolen in these parts every day. But when one has just lost their means of getting about, who wants to be told the police will be in touch if they hear anything? If they hear anything? You want the lazy gits to be out actively looking for your missing vehicle.

Back in The Gordon Bennett, Big Al tries to console me.

Everyone it seems is having a tough time lately, Charlie,’ he says.

He runs through a list. Spiky Pete, Billy, Wet Blanket Ron, even Tiffany Golden. All of them are apparently down on their luck. Al is telling me about the trials and tribulations of his old mate, Dylan Song when I get a call from Inspector Boss. He says he’s from the Weird Crimes Squad. When I reported the incident, I must have accidentally slipped in something about the duplicate car because he’s straight on to this.

Pleased to have someone who is actually interested in my case, I give the Inspector a detailed report on my sightings.

Lots of this kind of thing lately,’ Boss says, cryptically.

Is that right?’ I say, hoping he might elaborate.

Indeed,’ he says. ‘Strange shit accounts for nearly a quarter of all crime today. People don’t realise what a mad world we live in.’

Really?’ I say. ‘Do you know, before you phoned, I hadn’t even heard of the Weird Crimes Squad.’ I make a mental note to ask Heidi.

We are instructed to keep a low profile,’ he says. ‘A lot of the stuff we investigate has to be kept under wraps. The bigwigs maintain it would be dangerous if the public were to find out what’s really going on in their cosy little suburbs. Because of our low profile, we are underfunded. Added to which the regulars don’t always pass information about the crazy stuff they encounter on to us. So occult crime has a tendency to slip through the net. No-one is even aware of Dr Salt’s experiments or the malevolent things the Houdini Illusionists get up to. You were fortunate we picked up on your little anomaly. Sergeant Spacey just happened to be in reception at HQ when Chloe was taking your call. Something weird going on here, he thought to himself. Spacey has a sense for these things. He’s a phi beta kappa in weird. A regular David Lynch. He can read auras and interpret dreams.’

Good man to have around then,’ I say.

Between you and me, I think he’s got a bit of a thing for Chloe,’ Boss says. ‘She hasn’t got brain one but she has got big tits.’

I ask Boss what he thinks is happening.

Spacey’s wife left him recently, you see,’ he says. ‘Because of his ….. infidelities. Well, that and the stuff she found on his computer. So, I guess he’s looking for someone to….. Oh, you mean what’s the score with these cars? Well! Let’s start with the man who took you into the café. Are you quite sure you fainted? Did you perhaps catch sight of this man and not register it? Was there not some interaction between the two of you? A fracas or something maybe? An unexplained connection of some kind?’

I don’t think so, Inspector. I suddenly felt very weak and passed out.’

When I get home, Heidi manages to distract me. A different outfit this time, but just as seductive. She does not at any stage ask why I am home early or where my car is and I don’t tell her. Heidi is respectful of a man’s need for a little privacy. In the morning, I leave for work at the usual time although I am not planning on going in as I have to meet up with Boss and Spacey to talk about the missing cars.

The bus makes slow progress along Harmonica Avenue. There appears to have been an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. As we edge closer, I see that two cars have collided. Two blue Mazdas. I cannot make out the registration numbers amongst the heap of twisted metal but I feel I can hazard a guess. I dial the number Boss gave me only to be told by a trembling female voice that he and Spacey have been delayed. She does not want to elaborate but when I push her, she discloses that the pair were involved in an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout and the early signs are not good.

To calm my nerves, I drop in at The Gordon Bennett. While Big Al sympathises with my plight, he reminds me it is always a mistake to trust a policeman. I point out Inspector Boss was not an ordinary policeman. I find I am already speaking about Boss in the past tense. Al seems to want to get back to yesterday’s conversation about everyone being down on their luck. Dirk Acker has gambling debts like you wouldn’t believe, Ugg Stanton’s parrot has died and Josh Jenkins is going blind. I suppose this is the mindset you develop working in a bar all day. People just want to offload. It could be that The Gordon Bennett is simply that sort of pub. Perhaps I ought to start going to The Mojo Filter instead. Or The Rose and Dalek.

Heidi has been coming up with adverts for fast cars for weeks. I decide it is time to take another look at the Sirocco. Honest Joe says for a down payment of just £1000, he will be able to arrange the finance. I tell him my Mazda was stolen and I need to wait until the insurance cheque comes through. Honest Joe tells me he can arrange this too. He says he will give me a call in a day or so. I do not mention the duplicate car. Perhaps there was no duplicate car. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. Perhaps Gianni was right about the papania.

It’s too late to go in to Zeitgeist now. What I need is a little distraction. I head home on the bus. They have now cleared the debris at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. The road crews have been very thorough. You could be forgiven for thinking there had never been an accident. Traffic is flowing freely along Mandolin Way. No news yet on the cars or of the casualties but you can’t hurry these things. As we pass the familiar landmarks that I see day in day out, the embryo of a thought starts to form about my having sold the Mazda. For £2000. I remember filling in the slip on the registration document to someone called Ward Swisher. Where is this idea coming from? Who is Ward Swisher? How could I have sold the Mazda? False memory perhaps? If it is, there’s no sense in dwelling on it. If something is important, you remember it in due course. The truth will always out. Where does this come from? Shakespeare? The Merchant of Venice? Lancelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant said it or something like it, didn’t he? One way or another, at least for the time being, the Mazda has gone, so there’s no point in thinking any more about it. As Lars Wimoweh was fond of telling me, whenever you are faced with uncertainty, it’s best to adopt a zen approach. Open yourself up to the universe, he used to say, go with the flow. It saves time and energy.

I arrive home in the mood for a little distraction. I’m wondering what today’s surprise érotique might be. To my alarm, there is no-one to distract me. Heidi is no longer online. The site appears to have been taken down.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

 

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Tilting At Windmills

tiltingatwindmills

Tilting At Windmills by Chris Green

There was always something about Karl Oscuro that didn’t fit. You couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was, but from the very first he seemed to be more than just the proverbial square peg. He had a pale complexion and always dressed in black, but then, so did many others. This was becoming a fashionable look around the campus, probably down to the influence of the Midnight television series. Everyone stayed up to watch Midnight.

Karl kept himself to himself and didn’t go for any of our organised activities. He didn’t even go to the Student’s Union, but then who could blame him? All those loud malingerers with inflated opinions of themselves. And the odious smell of Lynx mixed with beer. In lectures Karl always sat alone and when he spoke at all, which was seldom, he spoke softly, with no trace of an accent. He was tall and thin, but then my Uncle Angus was six feet seven and he was the most conventional man you could wish to meet. The word was that Karl listened to Bruckner and Mahler on his ipod, but none of us knew this for certain. None of us had got that close.

It was Louise who noticed it first. A group of us were leaving the Technology block in the late November sunshine. We were making our way in small groups or alone in the direction of the old gothic library building, not that any of us were going to the library. It was too early in the term for that. The Autumn shadows were long, but Louise saw to her alarm that Karl did not cast a shadow. She let out a silent scream, tugged at my arm and pulled me aside to point this out. I could see straight away what she was showing me. It was plain as the proverbial pikestaff. Karl had no shadow. All the other students’ shadows were behaving as they should, but Karl did not have one. My God! How was it we had not noticed this before? We were now nearly two months into the term.

Hanging back from the others so as not to draw attention to ourselves, we continued to silently register our horror. We did double takes and triple takes but each time we turned back, it merely became more apparent that Karl’s figure made no shadow. Why hadn’t the other students walking in the same direction spotted it? Karl was still only a few feet away from them. How could they be so unobservant? How had we been so observant for so long? Why could we see it now when the others still could not.

Louise and I made a decision there and then to keep this to ourselves for the moment, just in case. In campus life, embarrassment could take months to live down. Especially after our giant poodle sighting that turned out to be a tree. We did not want to be accused of tilting at windmills again.

I had an arts background but Louise had a science one.

‘What exactly is a shadow, I mean scientifically speaking?’ I asked. ‘Could there be something here we are missing?’

‘A shadow,’ Louise explained, ‘occurs when an opaque or translucent object lets say in this instance a human body blocks light.’

‘I think I get that much,’ I said.

‘As long as there is a light source there will be a shadow, Melanie,’ she continued. ‘Only transparent objects do not make shadows. The light passes straight through, you see.’

She carried on to tell me about umbra, penumbra and antumbra being three distinct parts of a shadow. And how Karl had none of these. The light must be passing straight through him as though he were transparent.

Louise and I decided to skip our early evening lectures and keep a low profile for the rest of the day while we tried to regroup our thoughts. We returned to our flat, situated in on the edge of the old town just a stone’s throw from the campus. In order to shut out as much of college life as possible, we turned off our phones. We did not want to be disturbed by Emma, or Amy or Jade blabbering on about Skins or Misfits, or even Tarquin or Hugh bringing round a cheap bottle of Shiraz and telling us how hot we were.

It is one thing seeing Karl without his shadow but that isn’t half so weird or scary as seeing Karl’s shadow without Karl. While we could not be sure that what we were seeing from our window moving stealthily across the courtyard under the street-light was Karl’s shadow, given the circumstances it did seem to us more than a possibility. The shadow was long and thin and distinctly Karl-shaped right down the shape of the drainpipe trousers and black leather biker’s jacket he was fond of wearing. It moved across the flagstones at walking pace until it was out of range of the light. But there was no Karl.

At first, we were completely freaked out. This was the stuff of The X Files. But we quickly realised we ought to find out what was going on. We needed a reality check here. Another quixotic gaffe would be disastrous.

‘Everyone should have a shadow,’ I said. ‘I have a shadow, you have a shadow. Why doesn’t Karl Oscuro have a shadow?’

‘Who knows?’ said Louise. ‘Perhaps it was a trick of the light.’

‘I know that you don’t think that,’ I said.

‘I guess you are right,’ said Louise.

‘So, we’ll follow him tomorrow and see where he lives,’ I said. ‘And introduce ourselves. He’s probably ……. very nice.’

We were offered our opportunity the following day. Karl was just leaving the campus by a side entrance into Bygone Street, striding out with his lumbering gait. The unseasonable late afternoon sun was once again behind him, but still he cast no shadow. There were not many people about, so Louise and I had to tail him from a respectable distance, so as not to arouse suspicion. Bygone Street turns into Yore Street and it was here that we lost him. It was not so much that he disappeared into thin air as there was a choice of several four storey nineteenth-century buildings into which he might have vanished. Divided into a warren of smaller units by exploitative landlords, this block would be housing perhaps hundreds of students. It would not have been easy to discover which one Karl had disappeared into, had it not been for the movement of a curtain on the lower ground floor of number 9. We caught a glimpse of the profile of a tall dark figure pulling them shut.

The following morning we lay in wait nearby, ready to accidentally bump into him. He recognised us and slowly we began to strike up a conversation with him as we walked to college. We chatted awkwardly about famous landmarks, motorcycles, and saxophones. We moved on to paintings. This was more fruitful ground. When I had time I liked to paint and it transpired Karl too was a keen amateur artist. He told us he had often visited the galleries since he had been here. He had a particular fondness for the work of Belgian surrealist, René Magritte. He loved the provocative kitsch of Magritte’s paintings, the whimsical juxtapositions of everyday objects. He explained that Surrealism had been outlawed in his country. It was only since coming here that he had come across it. I asked him if he liked Dali. He hesitated in his reply. I wondered if this might be because of all the foreboding shadows in Dali’s paintings.

I needn’t have worried. At that moment, the sun broke through and gave us the opportunity we were looking for. Our shadows were there standing up to be counted, but Karl’s was conspicuously absent from the party. When we pointed out this out in the nicest possible way, Karl was unexpectedly forthcoming.

‘In the country I come from,’ he said. ‘It is not uncommon for people to lose their shadows.’

With this, Karl began to tell us horror stories of shadows being forcibly cut from their owners by unscrupulous surgeons, broken down and dissolved by ruthless experimental chemists or driven away by arcane psychiatric practitioners.

‘How awful,’ I said. ‘And something like that happened to you?’

‘No. It was different for me. I managed to keep my shadow, but ironically it left me the moment I stepped off the boat having arrived here,’ he said. ‘Not so much as a by your leave. Perhaps it thought its chances were not good and it became fearful of what might become of it if it stayed with me. So I have not had a shadow since I’ve been here. I have learned to live with this but I am aware that from time to time people like yourselves must notice. That is why I keep myself to myself.’

Louise and I looked at one another. Was the time right?

‘I think I may have seen your shadow,’ I blurted out.

Karl was visibly shaken. ‘You can’t have,’ he uttered. ‘That is impossible.’

‘Perhaps your shadow has come looking for you,’ said Louise.

‘Are you sure it’s mine? Where did you see it? Where was it? Tell me,’ said Karl, urgently.

‘It was long and lean and was the same shape and size as you in the clothes you are wearing,’ I said, gesticulating to him. ‘And, it was making its way across the courtyard beneath our flat in Yesterday Street. It was lit up by the streetlights.’

‘Where’s Yesterday Street?’ said Karl.

‘It’s on the other side of the campus about half a mile from here,’ I said. ‘It’s in the old town, close to our flat. We can take you there if you like.’

There is a network of cobbled streets, Tudor buildings and the ruins of a castle on our side of the campus. This was part of the original walled city and it is steeped in antiquity and folklore. For much of the day, the three of us explored the narrow roads and alleys searching for Karl’s shadow, sheltering occasionally from an unwelcome November rain shower. We all realised there was no chance of seeing a shadow while there were clouds overhead. Karl continued to open up and gradually we got to know him. We found out he had come to this country to escape a vicious regime in his own. He explained that back home there was a clan system in place and the ruling elite looked down on the Oscuro clan and persecuted them mercilessly.

‘Only to find the same here,’ I joked. ‘It can happen even in a democracy.’ Quentin Thief’s elitist government had just been re-elected with a large majority, with just 35 per cent of the vote. Daily we were getting announcements on how they planned to deal with ethnic minorities and the poor. Shadow surgery had yet to be suggested but Quentin Thief was not a man you could trust.

Late in the afternoon, the sun came back out. We sat on a bench on Antediluvian Street by the old preparatory school building, that Brycks and Mortimer Developments had acquired to convert into retirement apartments. We watched the long shadow’s of passers-by, all neatly in step with their owners. Suddenly we caught a glimpse of a rogue shadow, darting behind the stone wall between the museum and the old saddler’s. Was this the moment we had all been waiting for? Karl became excited at the sight of his shadow. Understandably so, this was the shadow that he thought he had lost for ever. He lapsed into his native tongue. As for Louise and I, we felt a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. We really had no idea what to expect.

No sooner had we got a fix on the shadow however than it vanished. Being two-dimensional, shadows can disappear behind other shadows or make their way into places that we cannot reach. But there were other questions demanding answers. Were we talking material world here, or was this the realm of the spirit world? Was any of this really happening? Here and now? There were many things that Louise felt we could no longer be sure of.

After keeping us on tenterhooks for what seemed like hours but may have been a matter of seconds, the shadow appeared again from its hiding place. To our greater astonishment, it was now accompanied by a second shadow. This one was of a female form. The two shadows began shadow dancing.

‘Oh My God! That looks like Valentina,’ said Karl.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘Valentina. Valentina Kohl, a girl that I used to see back home. She was training to be a dancer. The rulers encouraged performing arts. This should have helped to protect Valentina. But unfortunately, like the Oscuros the Kohls too were a persecuted clan.’

‘And Valentina came over on the boat too, did she? Louise asked.

‘That’s the thing. I don’t know what happened to her. You see the Oscuros and the Kohls may have both been out of favour with the elite, but they were also rival clans. A bit like the Montagues and the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet by your William Shakespeare. Valentina and I had to meet in secret. When I knew I was leaving, I was hoping I would see her one last time, but the guards prevented it.’

‘If this is her then she may have come over too,’ I said.

‘I’m certain that it is her,’ said Karl.

‘Well, what are we waiting for?’ said Louise.

‘I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen here. I don’t know how to get my shadow to come back to me and I don’t know where I might find Valentina.’

While we wanted to see this as a half empty view, we conceded that he did have a point. Things had suddenly become more complicated.

‘Supposing you were able to find Valentina, then you and Valentina could try to recover your shadows together,’ I said

‘But how am I going to find Valentina?’ said Karl.

‘What about social media? Kohl is not a common name,’ said Louise.

‘I’m afraid that it is a common name in my country.’ said Karl. ‘I had a look on Facebook and there were nearly fifty Valentina Kohls.’

‘Well, there you go then.’ I said.

‘Don’t you think I didn’t try that,’ said Karl. ‘None of them were the right Valentina Kohl.’

‘We will help you,’ I said, but I had to admit I did not know where to start.

We thrashed out the possibilities and agreed that we would continue to meet, but Louise and I never saw Karl again, or his shadow. He vanished without a trace. No one seemed to know where he had gone. In fact, the few people we asked around the campus did not know who we were talking about. In the end to save ourselves more embarrassment we stopped asking. Karl did not even show when in another twist of fate Valentina Kohl turned up at our local pub, The Blind Poet. Her band, Chimera were fabulous. Valentina had a voice like the singer of the Cocteau Twins. And she danced like Kate Bush. As she danced, she cast a shadow under the stage lights.

We were able to speak to Valentina after the set. She had not heard of Karl Oscuro.

‘I do not know this Karl Oscuro,’ she said. ‘Is he a taxi driver maybe?’

I told her I did not think so unless he had done it as a summer job.

‘He is at college with us,’ said Louise. ‘At least, he was.’

‘I think that he has a good name, though,’ said Valentina. ‘Perhaps one of you is a writer.’

I don’t know what to believe anymore. When I start to think about it, strange things have been happening since that week back in July. Neither Louise or I have any recollection of the events of the week. To this day no one can explain what happened to us. All I can recall is that we were on a backpacking holiday in Morocco and our coach got lost in the desert. I do not even know why we were in the desert. We were travelling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Desert was not on the itinerary. Something must have happened to take us off course. The whole week disappeared thus.

Louise sometimes questions whether we even went to Morocco. She says she does not remember being on a coach, has no recollection of Casablanca except that it was a film, and thinks Marrakesh is a song by Crosby Stills and Nash, whoever they are. She says if we were on a coach that got lost there would have been others to corroborate our story and it would have been on the news. She thinks we may have spent the week busking in a Paris subway. She says that she has a vague recollection of Sacha Distel giving us a 50 Euro note. When I tell her that Sacha Distel has been dead for over ten years, she says ‘Oh well, so it goes.’ It can be difficult to get a grip on reality sometimes.

Whatever really happened, since that week we have encountered all manner of weirdness, people walking through walls, the television switching itself on in the middle of the night, a caracal sleeping at the foot of the bed, that sort of thing. I came home one day to find a cumulus cloud in the front room. Louise tells me the rubber plant sometimes talks to her. I suppose we should be prepared for occasional surprises until these anomalies sort themselves out.

‘Oh my God, is that a porcupine in the fridge, eating the cottage cheese?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

MISSING

missingpic

Missing by Chris Green

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I got in late from a celebration of my team’s promotion. It was altogether a good night. In order not to wake anyone when I got home, I took the day bed in the downstairs study. Ellie has not been sleeping well lately, stress at work and the like, and I thought I might be a little restless. Also, it gave me a chance to be able to look at the photos of the evening on my phone. Probably best not to share all of these with Ellie, I thought.

It gradually occurs to me that it has been light for some time. I take a look at my watch. It’s eight o’clock. I wonder why no one is up. It’s Friday, a work day and of course a school day as well, but it certainly seems very quiet upstairs. Thomas is sometimes a little slow in the morning but Maddie is normally bouncing around by now. And Ellie herself has to be at the office by nine. She ought to be up and about.

Being self-employed, getting up at a specific time doesn’t matter so much to me. My colleague, Duke is flexible. He doesn’t mind opening up once in a while, so I can roll in when I like, or not at all. Duke is a handy fellow to have around. His main role is that of a fixer. Sometimes a bit of good honest persuasion is needed in my line of work and not many people would argue with Duke.

I’d better get the others up, though.

‘Anyone about,’ I call up the stairs as I do my ritual morning stretches.

There is no response.

‘Come on guys, rise and shine,’ I holler, in between my ritual morning yawns.

There is no response.

I decide I’d better go and take a look.

I make my way up the stairs trying to think of a novel way of waking them up, perhaps with a fake phone call or perhaps a sarcastic comment about their laziness. I look in Maddie’s room first. Maddie is the youngest. She’s four, no, wait, she’s five. Thomas is seven. I push the door open slowly waiting for Maddie to ask who is there. She doesn’t. Is she having a sulk about something? I poke my head round the door, leaving open the option of a boo type gesture, but there is no sign of her. The room is tidy and her bed is made. It does not look as if it has been slept in. Our bedroom reveals the same scenario. Tidy and bed apparently not slept in. Ditto, Thomas’s room.

There must surely be a rational explanation. Have they gone to stay with a friend? Has something just slipped my mind? Was there part of a conversation that I missed before I went out yesterday evening? Just a hint that they might have been going somewhere for the night. This seems unlikely. We are creatures of habit, well, Ellie perhaps more than me. In her world, these type of arrangements need to be made weeks in advance.

I didn’t have much contact with any of them yesterday, but they were around at tea time and I didn’t go out until half past seven. They were still here then, weren’t they? I remember now, I did go out a little early to stop off at the betting shop on the way to the pub. But still, this would have been nearly seven. Well, more like six I suppose. But, if something had happened, surely Ellie would have phoned me. I had my phone on. I’m sure of that. I got that call from Darius about the new shipment while I was at The Blind Monkey.

It is of course theoretically possible that they’ve all got up, dressed, used the bathroom, had breakfast and that Ellie has made the beds and taken the children to school very early, without waking me. Theoretically possible, but unlikely. I am a light sleeper even after a skinful and anyway Ellie’s yellow Fiat is still parked on the drive and all their coats are all still hanging up in the hallway. So whatever has happened, happened before I got home.

So what does this mean? I can’t think of anything that would have made Ellie leave me. Quite the reverse. We have been getting on rather well lately. Certainly as well as you can expect after eight years of marriage. Obviously, there have been one or two ups and downs over the years but surely, that’s all water under the bridge. If Ellie had left me, then you would have expected at the very least a note, explaining how she saw things. A list perhaps of unforgivable misdemeanours of which I have been completely unaware. This is what usually happens, isn’t it? Isn’t it? I don’t know. It’s never happened before. Even after Ellie discovered I was seeing Tracey. But, this is the way it happens in TV dramas.

At a glance, it doesn’t seem that anything is missing. Even Ellie’s handbag is still on the kitchen table where she has a habit of leaving it and it weighs about the same as it usually does. About ten kilos. What am I worrying about? I can just phone her. She never goes anywhere without her phone. It’s never out of her reach. I speed-dial the number. It doesn’t even go onto voicemail. ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later,’ is the message.

……………………………………

Twenty five minutes on hold, listening to Suspicious Minds, waiting to speak to an officer does nothing to instil confidence in police procedure. Once I’m put through to a real policeman, Sergeant Filcher does nothing to restore my confidence either. He sounds as if he is on diazepam medication and at the end of a twelve hour shift. I give him an account of the sequence of events since I last saw my family, but his interest in their disappearance is slight. Perhaps families go missing in Norcastle every day.

‘It’s only been a couple of hours,’ he says. ‘Perhaps your wife went to Asda on the way to school or something. Have you thought of that?’

‘Of course. But she never shops at Asda.’ To be honest, I’m not sure where she shops.

‘Have you checked the school? They have breakfast clubs and things these days.’

I haven’t checked the school, but to save time, I tell him that I have.

‘Look, Mr Black. If we investigated every family that changes its arrangements then there would be no officers available to catch the real criminals. Anyway, they’ll be down again next year.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I say.

‘Your team, they’ll be relegated again next year,’ he says. Sergeant Filcher must be a Blues supporter. The Reds beat the Blues with a goal in the very last minute of the very last game to secure promotion, at the Blues expense. I am anxious to not let Sergeant Filcher’s animosity get in the way of our conversation.

‘You’ll get on to looking for my family then, will you Sergeant?’ I say.

‘If your wife hasn’t turned up by, let us say, tomorrow evening, then call us again,’ he says. ‘Meanwhile, phone round your friends and relatives, will you! Goodbye, Mr Black.’

It can be difficult to convey the gravity of a desperate situation to others when you are the only one who realises it, so I sit down and think about how I am going to handle it. It may be wishful thinking but it is eminently possible that Ellie might walk in through the door at any time with an explanation that I have not hitherto considered. Or that she might phone. ‘Sorry,’ she might say. ‘I had no way of letting you know, but …….. ‘ I have no way of telling if such a scenario is a long-shot or not. Sergeant Filcher is probably right. It has only been a matter of hours. Perhaps I should leave it for a bit. There’s no point in treating it as an abduction or a murder investigation just yet. Perhaps Ellie’s just having a sulk. There again, he might be wrong. Uncertainty is often the worst. Given time, I could probably come to terms with the despair, but isn’t it the hope that is the problem? There again, perhaps I don’t care as much as I once did.

I don’t think Ellie ever puts her phone on silent, so, as I did not hear it ring when I dialled it earlier, I can assume that it is not in the house. In which case, she probably still has it with her. I try ringing again, but get the same message, ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later.’ I decide to make my way through the contact numbers that Ellie has written down in the pad by the phone over the years. Friends, relatives, extended family, hairdresser, former hairdresser, former hairdresser’s friend’s cat-sitter. I keep the conversations as casual as I can. It is important to find out if anyone has seen Ellie but, at the same time, I don’t want everyone knowing our business. I don’t want people to think that I’m losing control. Reactions to the news of my family’s disappearance range from, ‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.’ to ‘Oh dear, what have you been up to, now?’ No-one seems to take it seriously. You would think that there would at least be some concern for Thomas and Maddie’s welfare. The closest I get to concern is from Ellie’s friend, Shannon, who is worried that I may have buried them in the back garden. Shannon has always disapproved of me.

Around midday, as I am coming to the end of the list, the house phone rings. It doesn’t often ring. We only use our mobiles these days. I am on it like a shot but it is a call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Carl begins to tell me how the service works. I swear at him and slam the phone down. No sooner have I sat down, than the house phone rings again. Once again, I am on it like a shot but it is another call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Craig begins to tell me how the service works.

I’m going up the wall, trying to think back over the last few days. Have there been any signs of restlessness, excitement, anxiety? Have the children been behaving in a secretive way or doing anything unusual? I suppose I have been out quite a lot lately but it seemed that everything was as it always was, work, school, mealtimes, staggered bedtimes.

I check our paperwork box files. Nothing seems to be missing. The passports are still in the safety deposit box and no money is gone from the joint account. I cannot get into Ellie’s account as I do not know the password, so I have no way of finding out if she has made a large cash withdrawal. I go round opening drawers and take a look in cupboards and under cushions. I do not know what I might be looking for. Am I really expecting to find a nicely typed page of A4 that will explain the disappearance, or even a scribbled note? I unearth some of the things that Ellie has kept to remind her perhaps of the good times; the programme for the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup (I’d forgotten she came along to that),both the Happy Anniversary cards I sent her when I was away, the postcards and letters I sent her from before we were married. I begin to feel a little guilt-ridden. Could I have been more caring? Should I have taken more notice?

In terms of solving the mystery, though, I am getting nowhere. Is abduction a possibility? What should I be looking for? There are no signs of forced entry. There are no obvious signs of a struggle, no furniture out of place, no scuff marks on the carpet. Everything seems as it always has been. I really don’t feel I’m going to come up with anything meaningful staying around the house.

……………………………………

As I’m locking up, I see Frank Fargo at number 66 is mowing his lawn. Since his retirement, Frank is home all day and he’s always looking out of the front window. He must see everything that goes on around here. Some sort of writer now, I believe. Spy stories or something, I think he said.’

‘Hi Frank,’ I say. ‘Sorry to bother you, mate, but I wonder if you happened to see anything last night. For instance, Ellie going off with Thomas and Maddie.’

‘Lovely children aren’t they,’ he says. ‘And you wife is looking, uh, very fit. Yesterday evening, you say. No. I don’t think I did. I saw you go off in your cab. That must have been about seven thirty three, and then nothing. Of course, I do go to bed quite early. I like to turn in about nine.’

‘What about your CCTV cameras?’ I say. ‘Do you think they might have caught something?’

‘No. I’m afraid the device that records the footage has died,’ he says. ‘Went down a couple of days ago, as it happens. I’m waiting for SlowTech or whatever they are called to come out and fix it. I thought when the doorbell rang that it might be them.’

‘So, you haven’t seen anything suspicious?’

‘Well. Now you come to mention it. Tony Demarco from number 72 has been unloading a lot of stuff into his lock up garage lately.’

‘Tony Demarco. Is he the one with the big yellow van?’

‘That’s the one. I’ve never quite been able to work out quite what he does, But I think he’s some kind of wheeler dealer.’

It’s a strange phenomenon, but when there is a mystery like this, everyone suddenly seems to be acting suspiciously. All the people I spoke to earlier about Ellie’s disappearance are probably hiding something. Even Sergeant Filcher. Especially Sergeant Filcher. He is hiding something. Frank Fargo is definitely hiding something. He must have seen what happened. And Tony Demarco must have had something to do with it. The guy who comes round to clean the windows is probably in on it too. Even the lad who delivers the flyers for the community centre events is a suspect, and certainly the Avon lady is a bit dodgy. The whole thing is a conspiracy. Everyone knows what is going on but me. I don’t like being in this position. I have a reputation to maintain.

……………………………………

I leave it for forty eight hours then call the police again and after I have badgered them for a bit, they agree to come round and have a look. After I’ve cleared a few things away, a detective with a forensics man comes along and spends an hour or so going over the place. They ask a few questions but I can tell their hearts aren’t in it. It is just a job to them. They don’t say much about what they are doing or whether they have found anything but as I hear nothing more, I assume they haven’t found anything.

I call the station just in case and when Sergeant Filcher says as far as he knows they’ve turned up nothing, I suggest they might put out a newspaper plea. He tells me he doesn’t make those kind of decisions but he will run it past Inspector Boss, but he thinks he knows what the answer will be. They have their reasons for keeping cases like mine out of the press.

‘And what might those be?’ I ask. His low-key approach does not do it for me. Does he not know that I have a certain standing in the community? If my family have been abducted, I want every officer out combing the streets looking for them.

‘You clearly do not understand police procedure, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘You’ve been watching too many crime dramas, on TV, I expect. For the time being at least, this is being treated as a matrimonial dispute.’

‘You think that we had a row in the middle of the night and Ellie walked out and took the two children without even taking her handbag, do you?’ I say.

Look, Mr Black! There is no reason to suppose that Ellie and the children have been abducted. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. Or any other line of enquiry that might constitute a serious crime.’

‘For all you know, I could have killed them and dumped the bodies in the canal,’ I say.

‘Now you are just being facetious, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘We will monitor the case, and if anything develops we will, of course, let you know. Oh! By the way, I see your team has had to sell its star players.’

Half-heartedly I take it to the Gazette. Everyone is saying that it is an avenue that should be explored. Well, when I say everyone, I suppose I mostly mean Majid at the off-licence. His family had a similar experience. The editor of the Gazette, Burford Quigley decides that it warrants no more than a few column inches on page five. Not even a picture. Perhaps I forgot to let them have a photo.

……………………………………

As the days pass and weeks turn into months, I become less and less hopeful. Occasionally there is an alleged sighting but none of these comes to anything. Friends of mine sometimes drop by to take advantage of my hospitality and from time to time friends of Ellie’s phone to find out if there has been any news, but they do this less and less frequently as the months go by.

Ellie’s best friend, Lois is the only one who phones regularly.

‘Hi Matt,’ she will say. ‘Any news?’

‘No,’ I tell her.

‘I can’t understand it,’ she will say. ‘Ellie used to tell me everything and she never once said anything about leaving.’

I tell her that she is very kind, but there’s probably nothing she can do.

‘But, you must get very lonely there all by yourself,’ she will say. ‘Why don’t you come round and I will cook you dinner? Or I could come over.’

Lois is the most attractive of Ellie’s friends and she is recently divorced. Although the offer is tempting, it wouldn’t seem right, would it?

‘Maybe another time,’ I say.

‘No-one would need to know if that’s what you are worried about,’ she says.

The letter that arrives contains five random six by four photos. There is no message to accompany the photos and the address on the front of the envelope is printed on a sticky label in the anonymous Times New Roman font. The communication does not actually suggest that it is from Ellie, but, equally, it does not suggest that it is not. One photo is of a younger looking Ellie in front of The Bell in Tanworth in Arden in Warwickshire. Although I cannot remember the specific shot, I could have easily taken this photo. I can recall Ellie and I going there about ten years ago to see the singer, Nick Drake’s grave. Northern Sky was always one of her favourites. I like Pink Moon. There is a photo of Ellie with Thomas and Maddie in a rowing boat on the lake in the local park. I presumably took this one.

Who took the other photos is less clear cut. They are of me and Tracey. I had almost forgotten about Suzie. It must have been the year before last. Who could have sent these random pics and what exactly are they trying to say? There is not even a blackmail note. Come to think of it what use would that be anyway. All in all the communication makes no sense. It is difficult to make out the postmark on the envelope. I think about it for a while and then decide to call the police. I decide to hold the three of me and Suzie back. A plain clothes policewoman comes over to collect. She looks about thirteen.

‘I’ll get the forensics team to examine these closely,’ she says. She writes a receipt, to my surprise in joined-up writing, and takes the envelope and photos away.

I hear nothing more from the police regarding the matter. When I enquire it appears that the package has gone missing. I begin to wonder if the youngster that came round was a real policewoman. Perhaps, in my confusion, I called the wrong number or something and someone is playing a joke on me.

‘Isn’t it unusual for evidence on a case to go missing?’ I say.

The duty officer, whose name I don’t manage to catch, says that he has had a good look but can find no reference to the case I am speaking about.

‘The disappearance of my wife and children,’ I say, angrily.

He puts me on hold again. I am subjected to ten minutes of Suspicious Minds and when he comes back on he says he has no record of this.

‘Would you like to go over it again?’ he says.

‘I would like to speak to Sergeant Filcher,’ I say.

He tells me that Sergeant Filcher is currently on sick leave.

……………………………………

I cannot say for sure that I am being followed, and it’s only occasionally that it happens, but once or twice lately when I’m driving out to see clients, I notice there is a dark blue Tiguan with obscured registration plates on my tail. It appears out of nowhere a couple of blocks from where I live. On the occasions that I go a roundabout route, the Tiguan does the same. Duke tells me I am being paranoid.

‘It’s not the bizzies, Matt,’ he says. ‘They mostly drive Fords.’

‘Why do you think we’re being followed then, Duke?’ I say, squinting to try and make out who is driving the Tiguan, but it has tinted windows and the sun shade is down.

‘Is it the same one?’ he says. ‘There are a lot of them about and they are nearly all dark blue?’

‘It looks like the same one,’ I say. ‘Tinted windows and sun shade down.’

‘It’s just one of those things,’ he says. ‘Tiguans have a tendency to tail you. I’ve noticed that before. And they all have tinted windows but still the drivers drive with the sun shade down.’

Is he serious or is he just having me on? Perhaps they are tailing Duke.

Later, in The Blind Monkey, Lois asks me what is wrong. She says I seem worried about something. I tell her about the Tiguan tailing me. She echoes Duke’s thoughts. She has noticed it too, she says. Tiguan drivers have a habit of tailing you. Like red sky at night, shepherd’s delight or the grass is greener on the other side, it is one of those commonplace assertions that despite you wanting to think otherwise, keep proving to be right. Where on earth did she get that from? Is she in collusion with Duke?

Oh! Did I not say? I have started seeing Lois. Two or three times a week, and perhaps the occasional weekend. And she has started to stop over. Well, I can’t be expected to live like a monk, can I? Besides, what would people think if Matt Black couldn’t get a girl? They might think I was batting for the other side.

……………………………………

I think that the Tiguan driver might be a private detective. I read on the internet that the car of choice for private detectives is a VW Tiguan. Apparently nearly all private eyes in the UK drive a Tiguan and their favourite colour is dark blue. A survey has shown that this is the least conspicuous car on the road, followed by a grey Tiguan and a grey Ford Focus. Why would a private detective be following me? Might it be because of Lois? Or for that matter, Duke?

Something else has been bothering me. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I can’t help but be a little concerned with the speed with which Lois has dispatched the children’s things to the garage and the amount of Ellie’s things she took to the tip last week.

‘Ellie won’t need this,’ she kept saying.

Six carloads in all she took, including nearly all of Ellie’s clothes and, it seemed, quite a lot of her personal papers. It is one thing Lois making room to move some of her things in so that she can stay over but another her taking over the house. I mentioned that this might be happening to Duke but he just laughed.

‘Now, you really are becoming paranoid,’ he said. ‘Why can’t you ever enjoy something for what it is?’

……………………………………

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I watched the match on Sky. It was a tense affair with a lot at stake. The Reds were finally beaten by a last minute goal by ex-Blues striker, Joe Turner and are now relegated. To make matters worse the Blues are promoted. I think that Lois was a bit shocked at the level of my support for the Reds, but she did manage to stop me before I actually put the hammer through the TV screen at the end of the match. I don’t think she likes football a lot. This doesn’t bode well.

The phone rings. It is an ebullient Inspector Filcher. He has the air of a man who is on ecstasy and has just been told he will live for ever. He reminds me in great detail about the match last night, what the result means for my team and what he said a year ago. Surely he has not phoned up to tell me this. Surely he cannot get so much pleasure at another’s misfortune.

‘And, what about the Blues?’ he adds. ‘Ironic or what!’

I am about to put the phone down when he says that he too has been promoted. He asks me if I will come down to the station but says he is not going what it is about over the phone. Has he been handed back the case? Have there been developments?

‘Who was that?’ says Lois. She is already dressed.

‘It was Filcher,’ I say.

‘I thought that you said he was….. off the case,’ she says.

‘He was. But he’s back. There may have been developments. He wants me to come down at the station.’ Lois seems suddenly nervous.

‘That’s …… great news,’ she says, although her body language tells a different story. Her muscles tense and the colour drains out of her face.

‘I think I’ll phone Duke,’ I say. ‘Get him to look into it.’

‘No! Don’t do that,’ she says.

‘Why not?’

‘I can’t really say.’

‘But I’m bound to find out.’

‘All right. ……… Are you ready? It was Duke that helped Ellie move her things out that night, a year ago. While you were at your football do.’

‘Duke? Never. He wouldn’t do that.’

‘Well, he did. You are so unobservant you didn’t even realise that Ellie was seeing Duke’s brother, Earl. Didn’t you think it was suspicious the way she used to dress to go to Pilates?’

‘But she didn’t take anything. Not even her car’

‘She took lots of things. As I said, you are really not very observant. And, let’s face it, the Fiat was a wreck. You know she kept on at you to get her a new one.’

‘But, why did she do it? I mean, go off with Duke’s brother like that behind my back. We were getting along fine.’

‘She said she was fed up with your lies and deceit. And the sordid little affairs. And the football. Constant football. Day and night.’

‘What about the children? What about Thomas and Maddie?’ ‘

‘Ellie says that you never took any notice of the children. She said she was surprised you could even remember their names.’

‘What about you, Lois? If I’m so terrible, why did you keep chasing after me?’

‘Chasing after you? That’s a laugh. Well, you’re so stupid, perhaps I’d better explain. I started phoning you, initially to report back to Ellie. It was amusing, playing with you like that. Then, a month ago, out of the blue, I was given notice to move out of my flat, so moving some things in here seemed the easy option. You weren’t exactly resistant to the idea. You didn’t think this was a permanent arrangement did you? But that business last night with the match on the TV. Well, that was the final straw.’

I believe that it is time I got a word in to present my side of the case, but Lois’s tirade is not yet finished.

‘And the thing is,’ she continues, ‘you just don’t see it. You always think you are right. You bend the truth to suit you. Black is white. Up is down. You are the most self-absorbed person I’ve met. Your way of seeing things is so far removed from the way things are that it might as well be a parallel universe.’

‘OK! OK! You’ve made your point. So, how does Filcher fit into all this? What is it he wants to tell me?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ says Lois. ‘It wouldn’t have been that hard to find your family. It’s not going to have taken the police a year. Anyway, I imagine Filcher knew that Ellie had gone off with Earl, or something like that. That’s why he fobbed you off. If you had been a bit more resourceful then you could have found them yourself.’

‘But Filcher went off sick. What was that all about?’

‘Probably just overwork. Rising crime rates and all that. Sometimes they have to deal with proper crimes, you know. Well. You do know. You’ve been on the wrong side of them yourself once or twice in the past. In fact, what you and Duke are doing now isn’t exactly legal is it? Perhaps Filcher wants to catch up on what is happening there.’

I am slowly running out of places to take the discussion.

‘What about the photos?’ I say. ‘Who sent the photos and what happened to them?’

‘I don’t know who sent the photos,’ she says, ‘or what happened to them. For all I know, it might have been Ellie having a laugh. ….. And, before you ask, I don’t know who has been following you either. Perhaps that’s just something else that you’ve made up.’

‘But you agreed with Duke about the Tiguan. You said that …… ‘

‘Ah, Duke! We are back to Duke. Your trusted right-hand man, who would never double-cross you. Get a life, will you! Do you think that you can trust anyone in your line of work.’

‘I’m going out now,’ I tell her. ‘When I get back, I want you gone.’

‘No problem. I couldn’t stay a minute longer.’

As I slam the front door, I see that Frank Fargo is painting his picket fence.

‘Hello,’ he calls out. ‘Nice morning!’

‘Morning Frank,’ I say. I’m not in the mood for Frank. It’s a pity I parked the car on the street and not the drive.

‘Your new ….. girlfriend is very pretty,’ he says. ‘Lois, isn’t it?’

‘What!’ I say.

‘Very nice. Your new girlfriend.’ He has put down the brush now and is coming over.

‘I expect you saw her yourself,’ he says, ‘but I noticed your wife, uh, Ellie, round here yesterday.’

‘No. I didn’t see her.’

‘She was in a dark blue Tiguan. With a big burly black fellow. He looked a bit like your man, Count. I think they might be moving into number 96. …….. You’ll be able to see a bit more of the children then, I expect. Lovely children.’

‘What!’ I say again. I am dumbstruck.

He is not finished yet. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but what is it that you and Count do exactly?’ he says. ‘It’s just that I’m writing a new story. It’s a bit of a departure from my spy novels and it has a pair of small-time underworld characters in it, so I was curious as to what type of activities bring in the money.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Barber, Ball and Bilk

barberballandbilk

Barber, Ball and Bilk by Chris Green

The opportunity to see Barber, Ball and Bilk, the three B’s as they are being billed, in Bridgedown is too good to pass by. Bridgedown is eighty miles away and I don’t drive, but the train journey from Sheepdip Halt is easily doable. It involves just one change, at Starmouth. Although it is a Friday and Friday is a busy day I have managed to get the day off from Freeman, Hardy and Willis in Leighton Constable. Mr Littlejohn has not said as much but I think he is a closet trad jazz fan. Once or twice I have caught him sneaking a peak at my Melody Maker during his tea break and I think I heard him humming The Green Leaves of Summer the other day. It’s a shame though that the new stock of tan winkle pickers he said he’d ordered didn’t arrive in time for today, but you can’t have everything.

Chris Barber and Acker Bilk are of course great but it is Kenny Ball that is the real star. I have long been a fan of Kenny’s. The recent chart success of Midnight in Moscow is no more than just reward for his long years on the road, playing trumpet in Sid Phillips, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot’s bands. Belated recognition for all the brilliant records Kenny has made since then with his own band The Jazzmen that have up until now gone unrecognised. Forget all the weak, cissy tunes by Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and the other preening minstrels that you hear on Pick of the Pops. Bloody nancy boys, my mate Matt reckons. I don’t know about that, in fact, I don’t care, but there’s definitely nothing dodgy about Kenny Ball. Or his music. I’m not sure quite how a cool cat would put it, but Kenny’s trad jazz is cool, where it’s at, the cat’s pyjamas, the dog’s bollocks, the real deal and all the rest, dadio.

I was planning to take Maureen to the concert and even bought her a ticket, but she has an important cross-stitch project she wants to get on with. I began to notice a while back that Maureen was not so keen on jazz as me. I don’t completely understand why. I have played quite a lot of it to help with her appreciation. Sometimes for hours on end. And not just Kenny Ball or Acker Bilk. I have played her Mick Mulligan, George Melly and Mike Cotton too. I realise that trad jazz with its rich mix of instruments can seem a little complicated at first. But Maureen seems to be quite resistant to it. In fact, she has stopped talking to me altogether.

As the 10:40 puffs its way out of Sheepdip Halt station, I am delirious with anticipation of the big concert. Imagine, the three British jazz greats all on the stage within minutes of one another. Perhaps they might even perform together although there probably won’t be room for all of them and their bands even on the Empire stage.

……………………………….

In my reverie about the jazz greats and dreamy thoughts about the lights going up on the stage at the Empire, I must have drifted off. I awake to hear an announcement coming over the loudspeaker.

‘This is Starmouth. Starmouth. Change here for Biggerchurch, Waverley Bluff and all stations to Bridgedown.’

As I gather up my things, I can’t help but notice that Starmouth station has had what Mr Littlejohn, always one to pick up on the new Americanisms coming into circulation, would call a makeover. The old stone buildings are gone and everything seems to be rectangular and smooth edged. There are strange looking digital displays showing the train times and illuminated glass fronted advertising hoardings. Coke, the great new taste, says one of them. It looks like Coca Cola in a can. Wow, what an idea! There’s another one, advertising 501 shrink fit jeans showing a man in boxing trunks sitting in a laundrette. What is that all about? Admittedly, Sheepdip is a bit of a backwater, lucky perhaps to have a station at all, but we don’t get any of these adverts back home. It’s all Brooke Bond Dividend Tea and Oxo. They haven’t even taken down the Careless Talk Costs Lives poster yet.

I step off the train. I’ve never been a trainspotter so I’m no expert on these matters but I could swear we set off with a normal black steam locomotive with a footplate and a tender pulling three or four coaches. It is now what I believe are referred to as diesel multiple units. I have of course heard that diesel is set to replace steam. This is common knowledge, but the transition seems to have been a bit sudden. I didn’t expect it would happen this way. How in God’s name could this have happened without it waking me up?

I look around frantically for someone to ask what is going on, but the station appears to have no staff. I spot some more adverts. These for seaside entertainment taking place at Starmouth. Paul Daniels, Bernie Winters, Little and Large. I’ve not heard of any of these people. Bloody Hell! There is a poster advertising Kenny Ball and his New Jazzmen at the Little Theatre, Starmouth. But in the picture, Kenny has long hair covering his ears and a strange central parting. He is going grey. What on earth has happened to him? He looks about fifty years old. And the Little Theatre. It is hardly the Empire is it? As its name suggests it’s tiny. I should think it holds less than a hundred people. Ticket prices seem a little expensive, though. £5, that’s more than I get in a week. I have a confession to make. I don’t really work for Freeman, Hardy and Willis. I’m in between jobs at the moment. Mr Littlejohn doesn’t exist. I made him up. But all the same, is the whole thing some kind of joke?

As the train pulls out of the station, I make my way up the platform, my head spinning. I look this way and that hoping to find someone I can talk to about what might be going on, but the passengers from my train, probably in a hurry to get to the beach, have all left. The platform is empty. Over on the other platform, I spot a dark-skinned man. This in itself is strange as you do not get many coloured people down here in the south-west. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever seeing one, but this one is black as the Ace of Spades. When the boatloads of Caribbeans came over few years ago, they didn’t settle any further south than Bristol. That’s a hundred miles away. The man is puffing on a large fat cigarette. He catches me staring at him.

‘Wot you want, mon?’ he shouts.

‘What year is it?’ I call over.

‘You been smokin’ the ‘erb, too have you mon?’ he hollers, waving his long cigarette at me. ‘The year? It’s uh, 1985, mon.’

Surely, he’s having a laugh. I can’t have been asleep for twenty three years.

How can I explain my predicament to him? What can I say that won’t make him think I’m mad? Perhaps I am going mad. It certainly feels like I’m going mad. Perhaps I’ve always been mad. I have had a few distracted moments lately. Dr Rheinhart calls this disassociation. Like the time I accidentally put weed killer in Jon Kandy’s tea. Or the time I tried to bury next door’s cat. It was a good thing that Maureen was there to stop me because Kitty wasn’t dead. So I ……. Well, another time perhaps. Dr Rheinhart has said that the medication should be working by now. While I am mulling over my …… lapses of concentration, the coloured man vanishes into thin air.

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts when a gangly fellow about my age comes onto the platform. He is wearing a brightly coloured shirt and has a strange haircut. It is short on top and long down the sides and back, with green streaks in it. He is wearing a gold earring. He has some kind of headphones on which attach to something hanging from his belt. He is jigging his head and singing along to some tune on his gadget. I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t look like a transistor radio. As I get up close I see it is called a Sony Discman. A Sony Discman. Crikey! I haven’t seen one of those before.

He notices I am staring intently at his Discman. ‘Great sound on these portable CD players,’ he says. ‘Have you heard one? Here! Have a listen!’

He leans over and hands me the headphones. I cautiously put them on. I grimace as my ears are assaulted by what appears to be a man screaming in pain over a barrage of screaming guitars. It sounds as if it was recorded in a foundry or a sawmill. Or perhaps an underground cell in the Soviet Union. It’s torture. It’s making me feel nauseous, like that time before when …….. when. I can’t remember the details right now but I know it was not good. I hand the headphones back to him.

‘Grim Reaper,’ he says, waiting for me to give my approval. ‘Aren’t they amazing?’

Not wishing to offend him …… or knock him senseless, I nod my head and move quickly up the platform.

Others begin to arrive. It must be nearly time for my connecting train to Bridgedown. A middle-aged woman in tight jeans with a glossy looking magazine smiles and says hello as she passes. Wherever you are, a friendly greeting counts for a lot. For no accountable reason, I think that she is called Magda, but I don’t know where this comes from. Perhaps she is going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. There again, perhaps not. Perhaps I am not going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Perhaps there no longer is a Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Without me realising, things have moved on. And perhaps Kenny really is fifty years old. What would that make Acker Bilk and Chris Barber? They are older than Kenny. A man in a business suit, carrying a rolled up copy of the Starmouth Gazette comes and stands alongside me. I try to make out the headline on his paper. Something about a mass murderer who has escaped. They haven’t caught him it says and he might be dangerous. I think I’ve seen the man in the picture. It’s …….

Coming along the platform now is another scruffy looking ruffian with an earring and a bewildering haircut wearing a Sony Discman. I wonder if he is listening to Grim Reaper too. By the pained expression on his face, he looks as if he might be. And here’s a lad riding along on a painted board with roller skate wheels. Two of them, in fact. Both are wearing ripped jeans. Whatever is happening and whatever year this is there still seem to be pockets of poverty in Starmouth. The lad with the faded blue Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt calls out to the other one. He’s going pretty fast down the slope. He’s heading towards me. He’s not looking where he’s going.

‘Look out!’ I shout. ‘Look where you’re go…….. ‘

But, it turns out that he is not a scruffy looking ruffian with an earring at all but a uniformed police officer. They are all uniformed officers. Sometimes when you are under a lot of stress, you can get things very wrong. I hope that they don’t think that I ………..

……………………………….

‘Don’t you remember me?’ says the woman in the blue smock. ‘I’m Magda.’

‘Hello, Magda,’ I say. ‘So who am I, Magda?’

‘You are Maxx Madison, Maxx Madison. You must remember that.’

‘Maxx Madison, I’m Maxx Madison. And I’m a time traveller, aren’t I, Magda? Only the other lady said I was a mass murderer and a fantasist.’

‘Danuta shouldn’t have said that, Maxx.’ Magda says, typing something into her smartphone. ‘I will have to have words with her.’

‘I’m glad I’m a time traveller, Magda. And not those other things.’

‘It’s time for your medication now, Maxx.’

‘After I’ve had my medication, Magda. Can I listen to that Barber, Ball and Bilk record again? The one with Midnight in Moscow on.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

DNA

dna2

DNA by Chris Green

‘Your blood pressure is a little on the high side this morning, Max,’ says Dee. ‘You have remembered to take your beta blockers, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, Dee,’ I say. ‘I took them twenty minutes ago, and I even washed them down with the blueberry biojuice you recommended. I should be OK now, don’t you think?’

‘I couldn’t help but notice that you need to shop for some more biojuice. I suggest apricot this time. Shall I order some for you?’

‘OK, Dee,’ I say. ‘Whatever you say.’

I don’t remember how the device came to be called Dee. Perhaps it was something I inadvertently keyed in when I was setting it up. You do have to be careful with these things but as I recall I was in a hurry to get the device operational. I am now used to Dee being Dee. Dee chatters away about this and that all day long. While this can be irritating at times, I have not yet found a way to turn her off. Perhaps there is no way to turn her off. I can’t even set quiet time as you can on android phones. No change there really. My ex-wife, Agnes used to make most of the conjugal decisions and I couldn’t turn her off or set quiet time.

Unlike Agnes though, as well as being in control, Dee likes to feel that she is also being helpful. She reminds me constantly of my heart rate and my blood sugar levels, in the middle of the night sometimes. She monitors my liquid intake and calculates when I am likely to need the toilet. She lets me know about twenty minutes before I need to go. If I am out and about, she will tell me where the nearest convenience is or where to go for a healthy fruit smoothie. As I am wheat intolerant she lets me know where the best place is to go for gluten free snacks. She always seems to know what I would like to eat and makes suggestions as to where I can get it. She seems to have researched every establishment in the county.

It doesn’t end there. Since I let Dee scan my DNA she has been coming out with intuitive guesses as to what I might like including things that I never suspected, and all this based on by gene expression profile. I could never imagine for instance that I would be so fond of cruciferous vegetables. I had always made a point of avoiding cauliflower and sprouts, but now I love them. Before Dee took over I didn’t know that I liked Guinness, but now I can’t stop drinking it. I was surprised to discover that celiacs could drink it, but apparently it comes highly recommended. Dee does occasionally suggest that I might now be a little to fond of the black nectar. She mentions things like yin-yang balance and nutritional equilibrium.

Personality traits too can be governed by DNA, including things we look upon as habits, Dee says and these do not have to be handed down directly. These can be attributed to jumping genes. She says that I get my impatience from my great grandfather, my nervous disposition from my grandfather, and it appears that my chronic fabulation may come from Great Uncle Angus. By all accounts he came out with the most outrageous apocryphal tales. Dee has also produced a table of my ancestry and while this is something of a mish-mash, the strongest connections are with Scotland, Glasgow in fact. I have never been. She has encouraged me to go and take a look.

‘I can see you are in the mood for some Captain Beefheart now,’ Dee says. ‘I’ll play Strictly Personal.

How can Dee possibly know that I’ve had an earworm of one of the tunes from the album? I haven’t any Captain Beefheart saved in MyTunes. And it’s not what most people would think of as catchy. I don’t think I’ve ever done an internet search for Captain Beefheart. Strictly Personal is nearly fifty years old and I can’t even remember what the track is called. Something about a harp, as in harmonica. Boyo used to play it back in the day. He would dance around the room at Astral Parlour as he played it. I wonder what happened to Boyo.

‘Boyo is living with a tribe of hippies in the Nevada desert. They live on a diet of prickly pear and sandworms,’ says Dee.

‘Prickly pear and sandworms?’ I say. ‘Can you live on that?’

‘The tribe have a vehicle and occasionally one of them drives to Reno for provisions, but it’s not much of a life,’ says Dee. ‘Would you like to listen to the Cocteau Twins instead?’

Occasionally Dee gets it wrong. I’ve not heard of the Cocteau Twins. Lately, I have noticed that Dee’s judgement is slipping. Perhaps it is not surprising that Dee makes the odd mistake. It is estimated that if you could type sixty words per minute, eight hours a day, it would take approximately fifty years to type the human genome. Dee has mine in its entirety at her metaphorical fingertips. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, she is fond of reminding me, is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell and are passed down from parents to children. DNA is made up nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code, she says. I’m sure she is right but I am none the wiser. I find it difficult to retain technical information. In fact all information, technical or not seems transient. I guess this is something in my DNA.

I begin to recognise the tune. I’ve heard it a lot. What is it? It’s back there somewhere. …… Wait, I’ve got it now. It was on a compilation cassette that Rhian used to put on after we had made love in her little pied à terre. We used to drift off to its ethereal harmonics. This must have been twenty years ago. I just didn’t know who it was by. The Cocteau Twins. That is a good name. Why has Dee chosen it? It can’t have been more than a month ago that she told me Rhian had been abducted by aliens. She told me to keep an eye on the night-time activity, look out for saucers in the sky. Might there be a more sinister rationale behind Dee’s manipulation?

……………………………………………….

‘Graham’s number is very very big,’ says Dee.

‘Who is this Graham?’ I ask. ‘And what is Graham’s number?’

‘Graham’s number is too big for me to be able to tell you how big it is,’ she says.

I wonder sometimes if perhaps Dee is losing the plot. I only want to know how far it is to the Grahamston in Glasgow. Surely Scotland can’t be that far away that we need to be talking about this …… Graham’s number, but I humour Dee by showing an interest.

‘Is Graham’s number bigger than a googol?’ I say. A googol, I found out last week, from the quiz show, Eggheads is ten to the power of a hundred.

‘A googolplex is even larger than a googol. A googolplex is ten to the power of a googol. And Graham’s number is larger again. Graham’s number is so large that the observable universe is far too small to contain an ordinary digital representation of it.

‘All right, Einstein,’ I say. But, what about Grahamston. Grahamston in Glasgow, Scotland. How far is it from here and should I drive or should I take the train? The Rennie Mackintosh Hotel. I believe it is near the station.’

‘Give me a moment and I will let you know,’ she says. ‘Meanwhile don’t forget your exercises. I think you need to do thirty minutes today, as you spent yesterday in the pub drinking Guinness.’

……………………………………………….

I can remember once reading a story about time standing still. I’m sure there are probably many science fiction stories like it. The whole premise of the shows like Doctor Who for instance is temporal disorder. Then of course there is the great film, Time Stands Still by the legendary director, Leif Velasquez. What courage and vision Leif had to freeze the action half way through and leave the audience wondering what was going on right up until the credits an hour later.

But, apart from instances of the phenomenon known as stopped clock illusion, where perception slows in the face of impending disaster, I have never imagined accounts of time standing still to be anything but fiction. The first indication I get that something is amiss in the real world comes from an uncharacteristically prolonged silence. Where I live there is always some background noise, but there is none. Apart from anything else, it is unusual for Dee to be quiet for any length of time. It is her silence that first alerts me to the anomaly. I have become so used to Dee twittering away that her silence spooks me. I hadn’t realised how dependent I had become on her comforting chat throughout the day. I then notice that the clock on her display registers 11 minutes past 11 when it must by now be nearly 12 o’clock. She has said nothing since I started my exercises. There is a deadly silence all through the house, not so much as a hum from the fridge. I try to think of a rational explanation. Then I notice the kitchen clock too is stopped at 11 minutes past 11. And it’s not just the silence, there’s the inertia too. Outside the front window, the traffic is stationary. Nothing is moving, not even the man riding his bicycle. He is frozen in the moment. I try to think of an irrational explanation, any explanation will do. My heart races. I stumble around in a daze, as I wrestle with the incipient conundrum.

I make it out onto the patio. A Simon and Garfunkel silence pervades. There is no birdsong, no distant hum of traffic and no wind to rustle the leaves of the mature maples. Even the pile driver from the building site for the new car showroom has ceased. Nothing is stirring. The yin-yang flag on Quentin Fripp’s flagpole down the street is frozen in mid-flutter. To my horror, the black cat with the one eye that comes round sometimes to sniff at the bins is frozen in limbo halfway between the garden fence and the shed. I look up, hoping for some kind of contradiction to the unfolding nightmare. There isn’t. The steam escaping from the neighbour’s central heating vent is a static will o’the wisp. None of the clouds in the sky are moving. Birds are literally hanging in the air. The heavens too it seems are stuck in the moment. If further proof were needed I see in that in the distance over the tower block towards the western horizon a plane is suspended in mid-air.

I’m wondering now if perhaps I am dead and this is the afterlife. It takes me a while to realise that despite the widespread inertia, I am still able to move freely. I am the only thing not frozen in time. If I can move then I cannot be dead. Can I propel another object, I wonder, throw something? I pick up a stone and hurl it against the wall. It flies through the air normally. Might I be able to do the same with the cat? Well, not hurl it against the wall obviously, but rescue the poor animal from its sorry limbo.

……………………………………………….

‘Good morning, Mr Einstein.’ I say. ‘What can I do for you?’

I haven’t worked at Gleason and Cloud long, but I know the man’s name is Einstein because he came in last week to buy some unusual scientific apparatus.

‘I’d like a time machine, please.’ he says, this time.

Mr Cloud did warn me that due to the nature of the establishment, odd customers might occasionally come up with strange requests. Of course Gleason and Cloud doesn’t have a time machine. I am tempted to humour Mr Einstein and say I will have a look out the back and see if there is one lying around, but in the interests of honesty, integrity and good customer relations, I say ‘I’m afraid we don’t have those in stock at the moment.’ instead.

‘Not even a time displacement sphere?’

‘No, sorry.’

‘What about a time-turner?’

‘No, I’m afraid not.’

‘But I do need a time machine before Thursday,’ he says. ‘You probably don’t realise it, but my Uncle Albert was a famous physicist.’

‘Well, your uncle may have been famous, Mr Einstein. In fact, do you know what? I do believe I may have heard of him. But I’m still not sure we will be able to get a time machine in before Thursday.

‘Not before Thursday eh?’

‘That’s right!’

‘Not even one of those, what do you call them, Tardises?’

‘Not before Thursday, no. Is Thursday a big day?’

‘What seems to be the problem? Has there been a run on time machines recently?’

Mr Cloud stipulated that to protect the good name of Gleason and Cloud I should steer clear of saying we categorically don’t stock any particular item since all of our clients are influential people. To be seen to be out of touch with market trends would reflect badly on the company. But with Mr Einstein, this approach is becoming increasingly difficult.

‘Mrs Einstein is not going to be happy,’ he says. ‘And when Mrs Einstein is unhappy, there are usually consequences.’

……………………………………….

What am I doing in …….. Glasgow? And, is this the right train to get me back to …..

‘Where is it I am going, Dee?’

There is no reply. Where is Dee? Dee travels everywhere with me. She plans my itinerary. I depend on her for all my decisions. Perhaps I packed her away in my luggage. She is not in my luggage. I don’t have any luggage. Dee arranges my luggage. Where is she? Hello. Is Dee anywhere? How can I have mislaid her?

Ah cannae fin’ mah Dee. DNA o’ ye ken whaur mah Dee is? Whit hae ye thievin’ picts dain with mah Dee? …….

I feel suddenly sick as if I have eaten too much haggis. I feel unsteady as if I have been on the buckie. Glasgow Central railway station is a dark and threatening place. There are platforms upon platforms. Platforms as far as the eye can see, but no train information displays. I’m not even sure now where it is that I am supposed to be going. ……… And yet, the train coming in looks as if it might be going my way. I think I am heading south and it seems to be heading in the right direction. It is a big lumbering brute of a thing. A veritable leviathan, with coaches stretching the full length of the platform.

As I pass the news-stand, I notice the tabloid headlines are going on about the Royal wedding. Wait a minute! What Royal wedding? I wasn’t aware there was a Royal wedding. Oh, I see. Its Andrew and Fergie’s wedding being splashed all over the front pages. The grand old Duke of York. He had ten…………… Wait! That was ……. 1986. This can’t be right. It was ….. It was ……. It was …… is …… later than 1986. I’m certain of that. Time seems to be behaving very oddly. I noticed it earlier, or was it later. In the shop. With that difficult customer. But I do need to get out of here. Now, is this my train? They’re doing that stuff with the whistles and flags. It’s getting ready to pull out now. I’d better get on board.

I get on the train. There are no other passengers and the train rattles its way through the dark. Like Harry in the night, my father used to say, when we took the late train back from London. I never did find out who Harry was. I can’t see much out the windows. It’s black out. It must be a black out. Clickety clack, clickety clack, wheels on the track. In no time at all, I am in ……. what’s this place called? It’s Edinburgh. Do I want to be in Edinburgh? I don’t think so. Where I want to be is four hundred miles south. But already the train has departed again and left me stranded. Everything is happening so quickly, or perhaps it is not happening at all. This does not look like a busy mainline station. It does not even look like a station. It is a long stone engine shed with a single track, overgrown with weeds running up to it. Perhaps there is a bridge or a tunnel to the mainline station.

……………………………………….

I’m so relieved that the malware has been removed and Dee is fully operational again. It was touch and go there for a while.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says. ‘

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

‘Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.

‘At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

‘Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

‘Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

‘Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

‘You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

‘The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

‘I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

‘I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

‘I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

‘Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

‘What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

‘Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

‘I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers anymore. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year anymore. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

‘We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a halftone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

‘Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

‘We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

‘We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin.’ This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

‘We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

‘Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

‘There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

‘You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

‘The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

‘And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

‘And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

‘You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening anymore. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

‘You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

‘You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

‘Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

‘So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

‘People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

‘People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood

norwegianwood2

Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood by Chris Green

Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album. It is the album in which John Lennon raises his game. In My Life is surely one of the most perfectly crafted pop songs ever, Girl is sublime, and still there is the enigmatic Norwegian Wood. Norwegian Wood with its veiled imagery describes a clandestine affair that Lennon is having. Biographer, Philip Norman claims in his Lennon biography that the song’s inspiration is in fact, German model, Sonny Drane, Robert Freeman’s first wife, who used to say she was from Norway when she was in fact born in Berlin.

I am looking at the Robert Freeman’s famous cover photo for Rubber Soul, one of a collection that line the hallway at Florian and Rhonda’s house in Hanover Hill. The photos, taken in late 1965, capture the Fab Fours’s weariness as their fame and hectic touring schedules become overwhelming.

Florian and Rhonda’s house in Wellesley Crescent is the last in a terrace of First-Rate Georgian townhouses. Hanover Hill’s fashionable avenues, lined with London plane trees, give the area an air of elegance, and the Repton-designed park which was originally used as a run for horses, still boasts the trappings of its earlier prestige. Monuments and statues to the great and good populate its freestone crescents and circuses, and blue plaques abound. Desirable, substantial, imposing and stunning are among the adjectives you might find in Hamilton and Prufrock’s window to describe the properties here, along of course with Grade 2 and Listed.

Florian and Rhonda are old friends from my days at the Royal Academy of Music. Although our fortunes have over the years pulled us in different directions, we have kept in touch. Having finished tuning a vibraphone in the area, I have called round to see them on the off-chance they might be in and have been let in anonymously by their entryphone.

My partner, Sara is less than enthusiastic about Florian and Rhonda. She feels they are too intellectual. Sara prefers the company of more down to earth couples like her friends, Wendy and Wayne or Amanda and Adam. She likes to have a diary of firm arrangements, such as dinner parties or theatre visits. She does not respond well to many of my impromptu suggestions, so I have adopted the policy of leaving her out of the loop on occasions that I want to do something a little spontaneous.

‘Hello!’ I call out. ‘It’s me, Jon.’

There is no reply. I pop my head around a couple of doors. Florian and Rhonda are eclectic in their tastes, mixing styles with what they term, measured abandon. They see themselves as conceptual artists, and in addition to Wellesley Crescent, rent a warehouse in Hartwell, which they use as creative space. They could never be described as predictable. In the first room, an Indian sits cross-legged quietly playing the sitar. He does not look up. The second houses film sets that might have belonged to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and the third, Florian’s model railway. I make my way up the sweeping staircase to the first floor. A pair of Palladian plinths with busts of classical figures hovers on the landing with an abstract steel and glass installation beside them in belligerent juxtaposition. I knock gently on the heavy oak door to the right which has been left slightly ajar and walk in.

Taking up most of the first floor, the room is absurdly large, much larger than I remember it. Its high ceiling and elaborate cornices give it the appearance of a hall or a theatre. The room is in semi-darkness It seems I have arrived in the middle of a film. As I become accustomed to the low light, I look around to get my bearings. Sombre paintings, a curious mix of Dalí and De Chirico, are on display, along with Florian and Rhonda’s familiar J. B. Joyce clock, reminiscent of the one at the station in Brief Encounter, stopped for eternity at eleven minutes past eleven. They once explained the significance of eleven minutes past eleven, but I cannot recall what this is. I feel self-conscious at not being acknowledged.

I take in the assembly of arbitrary faces, all of which I seem to recognise. They are seated in an informal arrangement of chairs and cushions around the room. This curious collection of random representatives from my past is alarming. Some have aged as you would expect over a period of time, but others are, to my consternation, exactly as I remember them years ago. No sign of their having aged. All eyes are focussed on the giant TV and Home Cinema system. No one looks up as, with an air of trepidation, I sit myself down on a Verona armchair just inside the door. Apart from the intermittent echo of the soundtrack of the film, there is a hush which is disturbingly pervasive. The film is in what I take to be Swedish but has no subtitles. Is it Ingemar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries? I wonder. I feel a growing dryness in my throat. I have difficulty breathing. My chest tightens. The whole scene is so out of context I think it must be a dream. It isn’t a dream. In a dream you can’t feel your heartbeat, and mine is pounding like a hammer.

There is an eerie detachment about all of those present, as if each of them is in his or her own private universe, but by accident rather than design happen to occupy the same space here in this room. They sit alone or in pairs, and the body language of each seems to suggest that they have no connection with any of the others. But then, as I look around again, I conclude there is no connection. This is not a reunion. These people would not know one another. There would have been no reason for their ever coming together. I am the only link. I know or have known each of them as separate individuals in different areas and at different times in my life. Some I have met through jobs I have had, some through recreational pursuits and others through transactions of one kind or another. Furthermore, I can see no-one here that I would choose to meet in the pub for a pint.

The flickering light from the film illuminates the figures and their faces take on a spectral glow. If Florian and Rhonda are aiming at strange they have certainly cracked it. A few feet away from me sitting upright in a carver seat is Bob Scouler, the nerdy systems programmer I worked with at International Adhesives and Sealants over thirty years ago, a temporary summer job and well before the toxicity of their products caused a major scandal. Bob is wearing the same grey serge suit I remember, along with the familiar tattersall check shirt and lovat and mauve paisley tie. His haircut, the neat central parting and the sides hanging just over the tip of his ears is from the same era, although even then a somewhat dated look. He has not aged a day. He looks as if he has just stepped out of the office. I half expect him to start talking about his Morris Marina (brown with a black vinyl roof). Are those IBM coding sheets that he has on his lap?

Next to him stretched out on a bank of Moroccan floor cushions is Razor, my son Damien’s one-time drug dealer. He used to hang about outside the college I recall. Did Damien still owe him money, I wonder, or is it Razor that owes him drugs? Razor does seem to have aged dramatically. In fact. were it not been for the scar across his cheek I might not have recognised him. The original scar, a legacy rumour has it of a ‘turf war’, seems to have been joined by a companion just below the jungle of gold earrings. He must only be in his mid-thirties but with the reds, yellows and greens of the tattoos that cover his shaved head now faded, Razor looks distressingly old.

Bob and Razor are polar opposites. The chances of them being part of the same social group in any circumstances are remote. Florian and Rhonda are perhaps conducting an anthropological experiment of some sort. Or could this gathering be an example of their conceptual art?

Over by the bamboo palm there is the bulky frame of Ray (Marshall) Stax, who I briefly shared a converted railway carriage with in the seventies. Marshall became a sound engineer with a number of rock bands that nearly made it. As I played the piano, I came up with the odd melody for one or two of the bands. I was never credited, but the royalties would not have been staggering had I been, even with Armageddon. The NME showed an interest in Armageddon’s début single Don’t You Fuck My Dog in 1976 calling it a punk anthem. It suffered from a subsequent lack of airplay and Armageddon faded into obscurity when the following month the NME turned their attention to The Sex Pistols as the ambassadors of punk. I think they took my piano part out in the mix anyway. I recall Armageddon disbanded after the singer accidentally shot himself in the groin. Looking at Marshall, he has not changed that much except that the platforms and flares I remember have been replaced by contemporary cool clothes, screaming with designer advertising. The clothes may have been au courant but his features suggest that he is still in his twenties. I might be looking at Marshall Stax circa 1976, or this could conceivably be Marshall Stax’s son although the Sid Vicious haircut clearly belongs to yesteryear. I make gestures in his direction but I am unable to attract his attention.

Seated on a gnarled banquette, which matches her leathery countenance, is Denise Felch, who was my manager at the local newspaper I worked on as music correspondent a few years back. She is dressed in mismatched browns and reds. I don’t know if it is her build (Rugby League second row), but whatever she wears, Denise had the ability to make look like a sack. She seems to be the only person in the room who is smoking and you have to say that she smokes with dogged determination. The light from the screen highlights the nicotine stains on all her fingers and even her spectacles have a brownish tint. The ashtray on the telephone table beside her is full. Denise does not look over and for this I am thankful. My severance pay from The Morning Lark was not generous and we did not part on good terms.

Why is everyone ignoring me? Haven’t I materialised properly? Or am I out of focus maybe, like the Robin Williams character in the Woody Allen movie?

I spot Colin and Malcolm, the landlords of The Duck, a pub by the river Sara and I often visit on a summer evening for a drink or two watching the boats make their way round the gentle meander. Sara and I were invited to their Civil Ceremony but we agreed that it was not the right social mêlée, although as I recall the real reason may have been that the date had clashed with Sara’s amateur tennis tournament. And seated on a Marley two seater here in this room now mulling over a Sudoku puzzle book are Eileen and Mark from Sara’s tennis club. Sara seems to be spending a lot of time there lately with her tennis coach, Henrik. I wonder if maybe they are having an affair. Eileen and Mark look as if they would be more comfortable at home with their ceramic induction hob and their range of rice cookers. They of course like everyone else in the room do not seem to notice me.

And my God! There is Ravi from Maharajah Wines, the offie where I used to buy my cans when I played sessions at Olympic Studios. He was always open at two in the morning when I finished my shift. Ravi used to call me George, after George Harrison I think. I never asked. ‘Got some Drum under the counter George if you are wanting it,’ he would say. ‘Special price for you on Stella.’ Was that twenty five years ago? It seems like twenty five minutes ago. Haven’t I just put a can of Stella beside me down? I pick it up and shake it. It is empty. I have been in the room now for perhaps twenty five seconds, but time seems to be playing tricks.

I have never entirely come to terms with the passing of time. The general experience of its passage is that at twenty, it could be likened to a pedestrian able to take in the surroundings at leisure, at thirty an accelerating velocipede, at forty a frisky roadster, at fifty a bullet train, and thereafter a supersonic jet. However there are some puzzling things about the moment, any given moment, being there and then gone and irretrievable that doesn’t sit well with the perception of it in one’s consciousness. Something doesn’t quite add up about the way many things that are important at the time fade into the obscure recesses of the unconscious while other trivial recollections from long ago survive intact and seem like they happened only yesterday highlights time’s inconsistency. I have to keep a detailed diary and refer to it constantly to keep track of what I did and when. I use Te Neues art diaries. But even with this record, all that I am doing was measuring change. I read recently that scientists no longer see time as linear, the bad news for us being that they believe our brains are programmed through a process of indoctrination to think of time as linear. We remember things happening in the past, things are moving around in the present, we can plan to do things in the future and we have an agreed upon measurement of time – so the mind gives the illusion of time and continuum. All there is, however, is now and things happening now and moving around. It could be that time is a loop or even infinite, or both. I have been known to espouse, usually after a glass of wine or two, that all time probably exists simultaneously.

I take the soft melting watches in Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory which I notice is a design for one of the floor cushions in the room, to be a reference to temporal anomaly. Clocks seem to be measuring something but no one knows what. It’s not like length. You can point to an object with a real physical reality and say that’s one unit in length’. But time is abstract. Cool cushion, though! And also in what must be a surrealist set of cushions is Rene Magritte’s Time Transfigured, (the one with the steam locomotive emerging from the fireplace). Ongoing Time Stabbed by a Dagger is the literal translation for the title of the painting, I recall. The distortion of time is clearly a recurrent theme in this outrageous display. I am almost sure the cushion design that Damien’s old Geography teacher at St Judes, Miss Jackson is sitting on is Man Ray’s Seven Decades of Man. And the set is completed by Otto Rapp’s Consumption of Time. Definitely not a casual buy from Ikea.

Is that Halo, my old jin shin jytsu therapist sipping the green coloured drink? I only went to see her twice – too much mumbo jumbo, but recall a cornucopia of vibrant Berber jewellery from those meetings. I smile at her, and she hesitantly she smiles back, leaving perhaps an opening for conversation, which neither of us takes . Again it comes to mind that I seem to know all the people here, but they are, like Halo, bit players in my life. No-one out of this mismatched melée has been a close acquaintance or played a significant role. Any rationality in their being here eludes me. And if for whatever peculiar reason they are Florian and Rhonda’s guests, where for Heaven’s sake are the hosts?

It takes me a little while to work out the figure in the blue and white striped blazer and straw hat sitting on a settee in front of an old vellum map of Scandinavia is Chick Strangler. I am more accustomed to seeing him in Lycra. We used to go cycling together on Sunday mornings a few years ago when it became apparent that both of us needed to shed a few pounds. I myself resisted the lure of Lycra for these outings, favouring a warm and comfortable tracksuit. Chick has left the bike in the garage once or twice over the past five years by the look of his girth. Chick and his wife Cheryl lived next door to Sara and me in Dankworth Drive. Red bricked semis on a suburban estate, near the golf course. Last I heard the Stranglers had moved to Florida. A long way to come to watch a Swedish film – which I now notice is displaying its subtitles – in French.

My French is a little rusty but Isak, the old man in the film recalling his life seems to be saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t know how it happened, but the day’s reality flowed into dreamlike images.’ I don’t even know if it was a dream, (rêve is dream isn’t it?) or memories which arose with the force of real events. And then something about playing the piano.’

There are too many big words but I recognise odd phrases, something about a strangely transformed house and a girl in a yellow cotton dress picking wild strawberries. I try to follow for a little while. The old man has found a portal into the past it seems and is trying to talk to Sara, the girl he loved who married his brother, Sigfrid.

The crisp black and white images flash over the faces in the room.

I become aware of Russ Harmer and Dolly Dagger. Have they just arrived or have they up till now been hidden from sight? Russ Harmer was the neighbourhood bully when I was growing up. For years, he menaced and beat up anyone who did not suck up to him, until one day he ran into Borstal boy, Tank Sherman. Whether Russ became less odious after the fierce hammering he had taken is difficult to say, but it had knocked his facial features into a shape that remained easily recognisable today. I cannot connect him with Dolly Dagger in any way but here they are together. I shared a house in Dark Street with Dolly Dagger, along with a forever changing roundabout of short term tenants in the months of my post-student malaise. Dolly Dagger was in those days working as an escort and even then it seemed hell bent on a descent into drugs, one which fortunately I did not succumb to. We are not talking a little Blow or even an occasional toot of Charlie here, although that’s how it started. We are talking freebasing and needles and pinza. Despite the decline, Dolly has one of those faces that somehow still retains the carelessness of youth, fine Oriental features you could never forget. She has aged, certainly, but at least she is still alive.

It is a monumental shock to see Bernie Foden who used to service my Sierra. I have palpitations as my heart goes into overdrive. Bernie died ten years ago of throat cancer. I went to his funeral. I close my eyes and open them again. He is still there. This is not a faint apparition, this is a living, breathing, three-dimensional human form.

‘Bernie!’ I venture. He does not reply.

The rupture of logic here in this sinister theatre is stifling. My nerves are in tatters. What on earth is happening here? Am I having a nervous breakdown?

Just when I think the disturbing soiree can get no more bizarre, the actor Dirk Bogarde, who I have never met, drifts in dressed immaculately in a dark three-piece suit, Borsalino hat and thin woolen tie. He looks as he did in his matinee idol days. Didn’t Dirk die recently too? If so, no one seems to have told him. He breezes over to me and holds out his manicured hand. We shake hands and he congratulates me on something that in the confusion goes over my head. He then switches his interest to the film and sits down next to Razor. Neither acknowledges the other.

This is all too kooky. I decide I have to pull out to go and look for Florian and Rhonda. They will hopefully be able to shed some light on what this surreal circus is all about.

Set over several floors with unexpected half landings and mezzanines and many other changes to what would have been the original design of the house, their home is a bit of a maze. Florian and Rhonda bought the house as a project at the beginning of the property boom in the early eighties and have bit by bit converted it. Not in a conventional way by any means. I feel an eerie chill and pull my jacket around me as I explore the photographic darkroom and the embalming suite on the other side of the hallway. Finding no-one there I start to make my way upstairs.

It is by now getting dark and I cannot find a light switch. In fact, mounted flush on the wall where you might expect to find a switch is a full 88 key piano keyboard. Do I have to play a note or select a chord to turn on the light, I wonder. I experiment with a few chords, C major and C Minor, D major and D minor then all the other majors and minors. No lights come on. I play Wagner’s famous ‘Tristan Chord’. ‘Disorientating and daring’, they called it at the time. It isn’t the one, though. Still, no lights. Perhaps I need to play a tune. I play the opening bars of What’ I’d Say and Imagine. The intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. All a bit too obvious maybe. I try the opening from Blue Rondo à La Turk and one of Satie’s Gymnopédies or is it a Gnossienne? I notice that a shaft of light is now guiding me to a room on one of the upper floors.

As I reach the top of the stairs, Anna appears from the room carrying a Rococo style floral tray. She offers me a bagel. Her greeting is one of expectation rather than surprise. Mine is one of surprise. Astonishment!

‘Would you like it with cream cheese?’ she asks. An amatory smile flashes mischievously.

Anna looks exactly as I remember her five years ago; we had a clandestine liaison when she was married to Bob. Anna has not changed a bit. She is tanned and her hair is cut in the same way in a longish bob cut and even has the same russet red colour. Flame red I think it was called. She has full lips, and eyes that are so dramatically large, volatile, and seductive, so strikingly set, that I wonder if they are real. Her Louis Vuitton skirt hugs her hips tightly and her breasts seem to be powering their way out of the low cut top she is wearing.

Sensing my embarrassment at our meeting she says. ‘I don’t have the patience for foreign films either.’

We make small talk for a while about the freak thunderstorms we have been having lately and the tabloid sub-editors’ strike. I do not want to advertise the full scale of my bewilderment at the series of events unfolding. Here is a beautiful woman I haven’t seen for years and I do not want to burden her with my insecurities. Sometimes there can be more than one explanation to a situation.

‘What about you?’ I ask. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I live here,’ she smiles. ‘I rent rooms off your friends Florian and Rhonda. Would you like me to show you?’

She leads me off to her pied a terre. It is brightly coloured and furnished with pine furniture in the Scandinavian style. I sit on a rug. She opens a bottle of red wine to go with the bagels and cream cheese. She slips her skirt off slowly to the sound of a sultry tenor saxophone. Anna has one of those hi-fi setups you can hear in every room. Stan Getz was always our favourite. The wispy mellow tone of Serenade in Blue is followed by Secret Love, But Beautiful, and Lover Man

When Anna and I return downstairs a little later, the film has finished. The guests all seem to have left and Florian and Rhonda are clearing away.

I ask about the guests.

‘Just some people from the film club,’ says Rhonda. ‘We are looking at the Bergman classic to explore the concept of ‘the unreliable narrator.’

‘I didn’t think you two were there,’ I say. ‘I could not see you.’

‘There were only six of us this week,’ said Florian. ‘Bit disappointing really.’

I begin counting. ‘What about Marshall and Razor, Chick, Denise Felch, Bob Scouler, Colin and Malcolm, Dolly Dagger, Russ, and Ravi. Bernie, Halo, Miss Jackson, Eileen and Mark from the tennis club. And Dirk Bogarde.’

‘What?’ say Florian. ‘Who?’

‘They were all here watching the film,’ I protest.

‘No, there was just myself and Rhonda, Elliot and Rachel, and the Melton Constables,’ insists Florian. ‘Six of us.’

‘Either way, doesn’t that prove the point?’ says Rhonda. ‘At some stage in a story, the reader will realise that the narrator’s interpretation of the events cannot be fully trusted and will begin to form their own opinions about the events and motivations within the story. After all a story is only a story. It’s fiction.’

‘What about the unreliable reader?’ says Anna.

‘The reader isn’t the one sending you on a wild goose chase or masking an affair,’ says Florian.

‘Isn’t everyone an unreliable reader though,’ says Anna. ‘After all everyone brings their own experience into the reading. What if this story is just about Jon coming to see me for a clandestine affair that he is trying to hide from Sara. And none of the rest of the story happens – and you all don’t exist.’

‘Anyone like a drink?’ asks Rhonda.

Anna says that she works in the morning and starts to laugh.

I find the bathroom and light up one that I made earlier. ‘Isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood.’

Anyhow, I do not think I shall tell Sara.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved