A Stroll Along the Quay

“Mike!” Alona shouted, her voice cutting through the mewing seagulls overhead. “You’ve got to pull yourself together. Come on, let’s take a stroll, I need fresh air.”
Separated by an intentional gap, they headed across the car park towards the quayside. There, under watchful eyes of mothers, a huddle of children leant over the edge dangling lines baited with bread to lure crabs. Equipped with small red nets attached to bamboo canes, fathers stood nearby, ready to catch the crabs when clear of the water’s surface. Under the terms of an unspoken truce, Mike and Alona peered into a rainbow-coloured plastic bucket containing water. Various sized dancing crustaceans waited impatiently for their return to the sea, ready for the next hunter-gatherers.
They continued walking in silence. The Nelson stood on the far edge of the quay, backlit by an intense pink sunset. Eager customers lined the picnic tables outside. The aroma of deep-fried fish drifted through the air.
“I know it’s all my fault.” Mike said.
“Stop biting your fingernails, Mike. Please … not in public.” Sharp glances traded between the couple. “Retain some … dignity, won’t you? Anyway, explain to me, what’s all your fault?”
“From when we first met – six months ago – I placed you upon a pedestal.”
Infatuation?”
“No! Okay yes, sort of.” Mike stopped, turned and gripped the safety rail, casting his gaze out across the harbour to where yachts and fishing boats bobbed on the water. “You’re beautiful, kind-hearted by your actions, more intelligent than me, you brim with self-confidence. I saw you as perfect. You fulfilled my ideal vision of a woman and life-long companion. Honestly Alona, I’d convinced myself I saw an aura glowing around you, each time we made love.”
“Then why,” Alona drew alongside Mike and placed a hand over his, “does it feel like this relationship’s crashed emotionally? Don’t you want this any more?” She studied his expression, searching for clues,
“I feel awful saying this and you’re not going to like it.” Mike bit on his lower lip. “Recently, I’ve come around to seeing your faults.” Mike looked at Alona, noticing her eyes widening and her posture stiffen, as she sighed deeply. “How you sometimes make insensitive comments, forget to clear up after yourself and possess few money-management skills. As the mistakes racked up, one after the other, you went from representing my whole world to a meteor, vaporising upon entry into my planet’s atmosphere.”
“You mean, I fell from the pedestal you’d placed me on, falling from a very great height.”
“Yes, Alona.”

Mike felt his hand grasped firmly, his arm tugged. “Right, Mike Montagne, you come with me.” For her height and size, her physical strength surprised him. He felt small and insignificant, resistance seemed pointless.
“Where’re we going?” He asked.
You’ll see.” Alona snapped back, without turning her head.
Without warning, she changed direction sharply and descended the concrete steps built into the harbour wall, onto the jetty below.
“Get down on all fours!” She demanded.
“What … why? What’s going to happen to me?” He said, lowering himself shakily onto both knees. Alona’s hand pressed onto the back of his head, pushing him down to the seawater.
Don’t struggle.” Her words, just before his face made contact.
Quickly, he drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes. The shock of the cold water numbed his lips, cheeks and forehead. Against the vermillion background of his eyelids, small, bright blue ovals drifted in random directions. The harshness of sound dampened, as water filled his ears. After a stream of bubbles escaped his mouth, Alona pulled him out.
Breathe.” She told him, before pushing him downwards one more time.

“How are you feeling now?” Alona asked.
“I think, I feel alright.” Mike replied, sitting down. The harbour wall served as a backrest; drawing up his legs, he rested his chin onto his knees.
“Calm?”
“Yes, actually I feel quite serene.” He said, managing a smile.
“You’ve just experienced a remnant of the mammalian diving reflex.”
“I have?” Mike ran his fingers through his wet hair and gave his head a shake.
“It’s a response we share with most mammals. When cold water hits the face, physiological changes occur.”
“What changes?”
Alona adjusted her summer shift dress and sat down in front of Mike. “Well, the important aspect for humans relates to blood flow, concentrating in vital organs: the heart, brain, spleen and so on. Increased levels of oxygen accompany the blood flow, producing a calming effect.”
“So,” Mike held Alona’s hand, “whenever I feel anxious, find a wash basin and dip my head in cold water.”
“Yes, even the simple act of splashing cold water onto your face helps. But immersion, like just now, works best.” Alona shuffled along on her bottom, closer to Mike. “In this calm state, I want you to understand; I love you. Okay? Also, forgive me my little foibles, allow me some leeway. There exists dark and light aspects to my character; I love myself, perfection holds no interest to me. You and I will move forward if we are happy, trusting, secure and wishing to grow together. You need to accept me as I am. Okay?”

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown

Later That Day …

The door to the café crashed open, violently rattling the glass inside its frame, as in stormed a middle-aged gentleman dressed in tweed. “I came as soon as I could.” Rebecca heard Dr Brennan say. She watched, as he placed a brown leather briefcase upon the table before her. “You realise that as of yesterday, I am officially retired?” Marco, assuming a position close to the doctor, nodded his head sheepishly.
“I know Dr Brennan, I … I remember Rebecca telling me so … Wednesday last week, over dinner. I felt bad about calling you, but you know how much she admires you. She oft repeats that the best thing about being ill, is the ‘seeing you’ part.”
“Well Marco, you may know, I am a long-term friend of the family.”
“This, she has mentioned, how you delivered her into this world and when her father disappeared soon afterwards, you assumed the role of an uncle, doting on her throughout her childhood.”
“Well, truth be told, the midwife present at the time, she delivered Rebecca. However, it can be said I knew her mother very well, keeping in touch until she recently passed.”
“Doctor, is there anything you can do for Rebecca?”
The medicine man turned his attention to the patient. “You said on the phone she is completely frozen, is that right? Not even blinking? For how long?” Rebecca watched on as the doctor stroked his luxuriously silky, blonde moustache, quizzically eyeing her. “Clearly explain the circumstances to me, one step at a time Marco, stage by stage, miss nothing out, it could prove absolutely critical. And by the way,” he added, glancing around the dining area, “where are all the other customers – and all the staff for that matter?”
“W-well,” Marco stuttered, “it’s a self-service café, so no staff.”
“I see.” Dr Brennan dispatched his jacket to the back of a chair and proceeded to undo the white cuffs of each sleeve.
“And, after a while,” Marco continued, “the customers all got freaked out when they saw Rebecca, standing here like this. They wished me luck, but rapidly – table by table – all bade me farewell.”
“Disgusting,” Dr Brennan growled, “some way short of the Dunkirk spirit, ay?” With sleeves rolled up past his elbows, Rebecca drew comfort and a sense of relief at the sight of the doctor snapping-on a pair of sterilised surgical gloves. From his briefcase, he withdrew a small carton, out of which slid a sheet containing eight pipettes sealed in foil. Releasing one and twisting the tip off between his thumb and finger, the doctor approached Rebecca. “It is important I lubricate her eyes.” he muttered under his breath.
“Oh, I’m not very good with eyes.” Marco winced, turned his head sharply to one side and raised a hand to cover the upper half of his face.
“You enjoy gazing into them longingly, yet when it comes to saving them, it’s out of the question I suppose?” Brennan carefully administered droplets of water into both of Rebecca’s eyes, causing a rush of relief to surge all around her body. The doctor quickly dispatched a silent kiss onto the tip of his patient’s nose, then turned back around to face Marco. “Right, that seems to have done the trick. Now, for the next five minutes I am going to apply gentle massage to Rebecca’s neck and shoulders, to help ease the strain caused by her posture.” Brennan walked behind his patient and began kneading. “Whilst I do this, please continue with your version of the events leading up to the point when I entered the café.”
“Yes, of course, I will explain.” Marco pulled out a chair and sat himself down, legs akimbo, elbows on knees, chin rested in hands. “We’d agreed to meet for a walk in City Park today. Rebecca loves the cherry blossom, which – as you may know – has only very recently come into flower. Nothing untoward happened, we sat together on a bench, chatted, people-watched, quietly poked fun at passersby, joked and laughed. I read a poem to her I’d composed earlier this morning.”
“Marco, I am about to … ” the doctor grunted, peering over Rebecca’s shoulder, “undo … Rebecca’s brassière.” Rebecca felt the clasp release and the straps relax around her shoulders and from underneath her bust. “I am expanding my application of massage to encompass her back and both sides of her rib cage. It is imperative I have no obstructive materials slowing down the therapy. Please continue with your explanation; can you read me the poem please?” Marco fumbled in his back pocket, withdrew an old leather wallet and pulled out a scrap of faintly lined paper, which he unfolded, silently read through to himself, before loudly clearing his throat.
A-hem!
My darling, pure and sweet-as-honey Rebecca,
You mean more to me than my own private Mecca.
Sweet archangel, I want to Hajj you every day,
Not just once a year, tra-lala … tra-lala … tra-lalay.”
Engulfed by solemnity, Marco refolded the piece of paper, thumb-dabbed at the outer corner of his left eye, blotting a welled tear as he did so. “I haven’t quite got the ending yet,” he said, “it’s a work-in-progress.” He noticed the doctor on his knees, applying a precise therapeutic massage technique he assumed only possible, from such an angle.
“I want to Hajj you, every day,” Brennan called out, “I like that Marco, as a wordsmith, you are surely gifted.”
“Thank you Dottore.”
“Look Marco, I’m not sure how far in you are to this relationship; I sense you’re still whirling around in the honeymoon phase, would I have that about right?” Marco nodded, unabashed. “I must ask, have you yet laid naked alongside Rebecca?”
“No Doctor Brennan, I have not. I am a devout and good Catholic attending weekly confession.” From a nearby dining table, Marco retrieved an unused serviette and blew his nose twice. “Actually, consummation, this was the topic we were discussing, here in the café, shortly before Rebecca’s paralysis.” The emotional young man’s head fell forward into both his hands. “Perhaps,” he sobbed, “I should call an ambulance?”
“No … no that’s alright Marco, I have matters firmly under control. Now listen to me carefully, we are approaching the next stage of Rebecca’s treatment. Marco, I assure you, in my capacity as a learned, medical professional, what follows is crucial and necessary if we are to have a chance of saving Rebecca.” Marco heard a zipper open. “I need to relieve Rebecca of her springtime tank top and skirt.”
“Doctor Brennan! I must insist you stop right there now!” The physician’s hands froze. “I respectfully ask permission to take my leave, before you remove any further clothing. Rebecca, her mind and her body, which make up her very essence, she is sacroscant to me.” Marco grabbed his jacket and checked he had his door keys and phone in the pockets. “At this stage in our relationship, I believe it is inappropriate for me to see her, in all her marvellously, natural, birthday-suit glory. When the moment does arrive, I want it to be a truly special, romantic thing. I hope you understand.”
“I completely understand,” replied the doctor, “I suggest you leave now, as we haven’t a moment to lose. Return home, I will send you a text regarding the progress I make here. Trust me Marco, I will take excellent care of Rebecca.”
“I will go,” Marco said, as he turned for the door, “although I know not how I will sleep unbroken through the night.”
“Here.” The doctor unscrewed the top of a bottle taken from his briefcase and slipped out two pills. “Take these as soon as you reach your apartment. These will help, you will sleep like a baby.”

* * *

“‘As ‘ee gung yette?” Rebecca ventriloquised through tightly clenched teeth.
“Yes, he’s gone.” Answered Dr Brennan, watching through the café door window as the figure of Marco disappeared around a street corner.
“Oh thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I thought he was going to read more of his awful poetry.”
The doctor switched the ‘open’ sign over, pulled the blinds closed and slid both bolts across the door, top and bottom. Turning around, his gaze rested upon Rebecca. Bathed in a golden Renaissance glow from the ceiling light, she stepped out from a scallop shell shaped pile of clothes gathered around her on the floor. “My Venus, my darling, I want you now! It seems like an age since we were last together.”
“Alistair,” Rebecca nimbly pulled at buttonholes, opening out the doctor’s shirt, “Are you sure you can handle this friends-with-benefits arrangement? You understand we can never go public. After all, we both have our reputations to consider. You understand this one-hundred percent; tell me you do?”
“Of course Rebecca.” In series of fluid movements, the doctor released the belt from his trousers, using it to encircle Rebecca’s modest waist. He pulled the young lover firmly towards him. “Believe me, I’m no fool.” He whispered, tracing a pathway of delicate kisses along her curving neck, “Now, Rebecca! Obey me, do exactly as I say and ask no questions.”
Yes Doctor.” She said.


©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown

Judi Came Around

Since waking two hours earlier than his alarm, Gregor remains in a state of tension. Four knocks on the front door cause his anxiety to rapidly climb. In the time taken to respond, he’s flattened his hair neatly, pulled at the sleeves and hem of his plaid shirt, wiped both hands on the back of his navy-coloured chinos and taken three deep breaths. The door opens to reveal a woman of senior years, dressed in a tight fitting knitted black top, a purplish paisley print shawl, dark blue jeans and tan leather ankle boots.
“Gregor Samson,” she says, holding aloft a piece of paper, “this is your advert?”
“Dame Judi Dench, ma’am,” Gregor bows his head respectfully, “indeed that is my advert. I am so pleased you decided to come.” Staring at the actor with widening eyes, he absorbs the vision before him.
“After our brief telephone call yesterday, there was never any doubt Mr Samson. Once I make up my mind, I rarely change it. Now if it suits you,” her voice pinched, “perhaps I may be permitted to enter?” The impatient tone shakes Gregor out of his stasis.
“Yes, yes please come in,” they pass through a small entrance hall, “mind you don’t trip over anything on the floor. As you can see, my apartment doubles-up as a studio.” Gregor shoves scattered boxes out of the way with the side of his foot, creating a pathway leading to a yellow-coloured, wingback armchair. Picking up two circular cushions, he smashes them together with an orchestral bravado. Returning them to the chair and gesturing with his out-stretched hand, Gregor invites his guest to be seated.
“Thank you. Now before we continue any further,” she says, perched undecidedly, “I understand that you are Mr Gregor Samson, a would-be artist and – obviously you understand – I am Dame Judi Dench.”
“Eminent actor, star of stage and screen – from Shakespearean tragedy to international espionage – and much more in between!” Gregor interjects, “Yes ma’am, I confirm, we are reading from the very same page.”
“R-right … well, Mr Samson, I propose we set to one side the titles and address each other by the names our loved ones know us by.” While Gregor processes this information, Judi takes the opportunity to scan the immediate environment. Books stacked on window sills compete for space with an array of mismatched ornaments. Pictures hang unevenly from the wall and the floor is scattered with different sized boxes containing coloured paper, magazines, postcards and photos. Her host sits opposite on a cheap sofa-bed, covered with a Liberty print throw.
Struggling with nerves, Gregor begins arranging pens and pencils in neat, colour-schemed rows on the coffee table situated between them. Judi observes, clasping her knee with both hands.
“Judi, can I offer you coffee,” Gregor blurts out, “tea, or something stronger already? I have vodka – although if I remember correctly,” he says, adopting a Scottish accent, “The Macallan is ye favourite tipple!” A black cat enters, freezing into a state of alert. She stares at Judi, before scampering away silently into another room.
“No Gregor, a character I am well known for playing displayed a liking for whisky. Not I, for in real life I lead a teetotal existence.”
“Oh!” Gregor is stunned, “If this is the case, then how can you take part in the project?”
“I assure you, this is the case and I can take part in this project.”
“You realise,” Gregor questions, “you have to get blind drunk?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Not acting drunk – and not a just bit tipsy.” Gregor’s hands animate to illustrate; an index and middle finger sway and stumble across the upturned palm of his other hand. “No, a falling-over, paralytic kind of drunk.”  Signalling the hour, a clockwork cuckoo on the wall behind Judi, extends outwards from a small wooden cabin and calls several times in a row. A look of surprise ripples across the actor’s stoic expression. The two sit in stillness, waiting for the bird to be done.
“I have your advert.” Judi unfolds the piece of paper she’s had gripped in her hand since entering the apartment. “The one I answered, prompting our telephone conversation yesterday and bringing me here today.” A pair of reading glasses open and slide onto the bridge of her nose; she clears her throat. “Volunteer famous actors wanted for ‘Blind Drunk’ photographic portrait series.” Her voice is strong and clear. “A short interview taken while inebriated, to be published alongside photo. Gallery exhibition and book to follow.” Judi re-folds the paper and reading glasses, slipping them back into her handbag. “Most succinct, may I say Gregor. Nothing at all ambiguous contained within those words.”
“You are prepared to give up your teetotal pledge, especially for this project?” Gregor is transfixed on Judi, elbows resting on knees, his fingers grooming the short goatee beard clinging to his chin.
“It is not a pledge Gregor, it has been a lifestyle choice – choice being the operative word.” Sinking back into the chair, her forearms effortlessly balanced on the supports, the actor adopts a dignified air.
“Look,” Gregor says, “I have a bunch of questions, but I want you drunk before I begin.”
“Blind drunk?”
“Pretty much.”
“Then without further ado Gregor, let the proceedings begin.”

Gregor gets busy. In front of the doorway to the living room, he pulls down a white screen fed from a roller attached to the ceiling. Pulled taught, he secures it to a hook screwed into the floor.
“May I?” he says, indicating the need to move the armchair next to the screen. Judi watches on, as Gregor completes the scene with a side table, onto which he places a lace doily and a plain bedside lamp.
“Cushions?”
“Cushions!” Gregor retrieves the two fluffy objects from where they lay on the floor. Bashing them together once more, he tosses them onto the armchair. As Judi moves to take her seat, the black cat reappears and runs between her legs.
“Margot Fonteyn!” Gregor calls out sharply. “Away!”
“Margot, Fonteyn?” Judi asks, as she lowers herself down into the yellow armchair.
“Well, she was pretty nimble on her feet as a kitten, at the time the name seemed appropriate. Two years on and she takes actual pleasure in up-ending ornaments, visitors and so forth.”
“Not quite a ballerina then. However, I imagine she is an excellent companion to you.”
Two double-sized shot glasses are produced from a cupboard, along with a bottle of whisky.
“I wasn’t teasing about The MacCallan.” Gregor turns the bottle around in his hands, casually scanning the label.
“You will be partaking with me Gregor?”
“Yes Judi. I’ll probably be imbibing more slowly and less – I guess. Getting drunk with someone is much more pleasurable than drinking when the other person remains stone cold sober.” Gregor hands a lead crystal glass to Judi.
“I agree, thank you for your consideration. Better fill this up, we had might as well get stuck in straight away.”

30 minutes later …

“… and so I said to Daniel … ‘Daniel, Daniel, we’d better just watch ourselves, yes we’d better … watch ourselves!’ Y-you know what people are like, Gregor, people talk. I mean, once the press get a hold of something …” Judi empties her glass, upending it, her head thrown backwards as Gregor’s camera triggers the flash. “More please!” the glass is hit hard onto the side table. “People will start saying it’s all a bit oedipally, oedippypally, no … oedipal, between him m-and me.”
“I know, but it’s true, there’s a real chemistry on screen between you and Craig.” Gregor empties the bottle, filling the glass to the top. “Don’t worry, I’ve got another one. It’s weird, because it is like an icy kind of chemistry, you know? Both of your characters are actually rather cold … like, they show very little outward emotion.”
“Y-es, I suppose that’s true. Of course he’s not got many close friends.” The actor sinks the contents of her glass in one gulp. “You’d better open that other bottley-bottle, young man.”
“But it works, it works Judi.” Gregor clicks the shutter of his camera several more times, before quickly opening the second bottle and refilling Judi’s glass.
“Well, thank you Gregor, thank you … thank you.” The actor empties her glass another time. “You know, I am way to old for you. Way too old even to be considered a cougar, nowadays, actually …”
“Well, I think you’re beautiful Judi. I think you are a very beautiful person in every aspect – you know that, don’t you Judi, you know that I think that … don’t you?” Gregor squints through the view-finder, feeling a little worse-for-wear. Drawing the image in and out of focus … he notices Judi has her eyes closed. “Judi? He waits a moment. Her eyes remain closed. “J-J-J-Judi?”.

Two and a half hours later …

Judi came around. “Oh … my, head.”
“I have some orange squash” Gregor says.
“Muh …?”
“It is fifty percent actual juice.”
“I don’t suppose you have some good old-fashioned tap water, do you Gregor Samson?”
Gregor fetches Judi a large glass of water, with ice cubes added for good measure. “I’m so pleased you’re not dead.” He said, placing the glass carefully in the actor’s hands.
“Muh …” She sips her water.
“I mean, you are knocking on Judi. I am so relieved you didn’t die here.”
“Thank you Gregor, me too. Have you got what you needed? I hope so, because I am not doing this again. At least not for a good long while.”
“Oh yes, all brilliant, fantastic, Judi you were wonderful. Look … I’ve got a taxi waiting for you outside.”
“Muh … thank you … thank you Gregor. Now, if I can just get out of here without tripping over that fucking cat … and breaking my neck, it will all have been worth it.”

Justice at Space Museum

Looking back, it had all seemed so very simple: I understood my orders, I knew my target, his current appearance and exact whereabouts. Although decades had passed, it had been decided. Under no circumstances, I’d been informed, will a secret service operative turned double agent, slip away into a newly invented life and escape final retribution. Justice, must be served and due to my particular specialism, I had been selected as executioner.
Following my arrival in the city of Chürke on a fresh, sunny Sunday morning, I immediately set about preparations in my usual meticulous manner. Selecting a room in the Grande Belmondo Hotel facing directly opposite the Space Museum, had seen me off to an excellent start. From a balcony window, for much of the following week, I carefully studied the movements of Professor Dumbelassè with my handheld, twenty-five times magnification, naval captain’s telescope (a family heirloom). Fortunately, the professor turned out to be a creature of habit and by the Thursday, I had set my watch to emit a beep in synchronisation with each distinct, routine event.
Quicker than anticipated, there came no need to sit at the window for hours on end. Instead, I found distractions to help pass the time. Watching television featured strongly, as did brushing up on my phrasebook lingo – in case the need should arrive – and reading a novel, which back home I’d struggled to significantly break into.
Following an audio alert from my wristwatch, a quick glance through the window confirmed the professor’s arrival for work, or his ten minute coffee break combined with mid-morning stroll. And later, him scampering over to the town square sandwich stall, collecting his regular order of currywurst in a bap.
On my fold-out quarto tabletino screen, I scrutinised the digitised architectural blueprints for the museum. These had been stolen some eight years or so ago – before I’d even begun working for the service. I had to admire the astute cathedral-thinking of my employers, hacking the original architect’s archive, then sitting on the files for this long, guaranteeing concerns for the theft and security breach had long since disappeared.
Able to identify the trade entrance, I committed to memory a route through a network of corridors, leading to the main exhibition hall. An online virtual tour provided me with up-to-date information concerning the exact positioning of each exhibit. These, I carefully transposed onto the floor-plans. Actual-scale rockets, lunar modules, satellites and replica space probes were amongst the many space programme artefacts the professor had collected. At key locations within the main hall, video documentaries and sound-effects played on loop. Well-constructed dioramas recreated scenes from every-day life on the Moon and Martian colonies. I watched as figures clad in modern, light-weight spacesuits, populated common scenes. Space travelling families entertained friends, scientists were depicted in cut-away laboratories, geologists shown examining rocks. Motion sensors, when approached, activated movement and simple interactions between the characters, transporting the visitor into an immersive experience.
In the evenings, before sleep-time and in the mornings before hauling myself out from the comfort of the hotel bed, I imagined a museum walk-through, growing evermore familiar with the details necessary to help complete my task.
On day six, I received notification from command. The coded instructions were to eliminate the professor the very next day. This, I remember thinking to myself, will almost be too easy.

Security in the museum struck me as surprisingly lapse. I picked the lock on the back door within a matter of seconds. Although well-versed in overcoming security systems, none existed within the service areas and I easily found my way to a props, scenery and costume storage room. Inside, I located a complete spacesuit outfit. Stripping down to my underwear, I gently eased myself into the suit, clamped down the helmet and slipped on a pair of gloves and boots. Back in the corridor, I navigated to the main exhibition hall. The time on my watch read eight-forty-five, meaning fifteen minutes before the professor’s arrival and another thirty minutes before the museum opened its doors to the public.
My first problem: I wished I’d left the boots off, at least until I’d reached my goal position. I hadn’t anticipated how much they weighed and found myself taking long, slow strides, each one requiring considerable effort to complete. Luckily, I had time to play with and took my place on an exhibit at a dining table amongst a family of space colonists, several minutes ahead of Professor Dumbelassè’s arrival and daily inspection rounds.
I’d not long settled into my seat, clear lines of vision established, when the echo of a heavy fire door opening and closing, reverberated around the hall. This, signalled my quarry’s entrance. The professor appeared, dressed in a white lab coat and carrying a mug of coffee. In his other hand, he held a newspaper picked up from the subway, which he read while walking. Upon reaching a display, his gaze briefly scanned, then he continued on, taking a sip from his mug at each interval. He appeared much older closer up and in comparison to the images contained on file. Ambling around the museum, I observed a stout man with a florid complexion and a weary, resigned expression, suggesting acceptance of this as his life now. Whilst watching him ascend the steps to a section of a shuttlecraft, I wondered if he missed the high stakes adventure and excitement of his former profession.
The lighting inside the flight deck flickered on, as the professor disappeared inside. With this as my cue to move, I left the diorama and plodded in my heavy boots the short distance to the stairway. Checking the time on the large, digital clock situated above the main entrance to the museum, I proceeded to take my first two steps up the stairs. To my unpleasant surprise, lifting either of my feet for a second step proved impossible. The boots – I concluded – were magnetised. As I stood there frozen to the spot, the gentle rise-and-fall whirr of a vacuum cleaner emanating from inside the shuttlecraft, reached me at the bottom of the stairway. At least for the moment, the professor appeared occupied.
Working quickly, I resolved that whilst my legs refused to lift directly upwards, if I twisted and leant heavily with great effort over onto one side of my ankle, the soles of the boots gradually peeled free from the metal steps. My progress slowed significantly.
Half-way up, I paused for breath. Condensation had formed on the inside of the helmet and perspiration clad my body. By my assessment, if I didn’t do something soon, I might pass out from heat exhaustion. Left with no alternative, I knelt down, released several catches and stepped barefoot out of the boots. Simultaneously, the sound from the vacuum cleaner died, followed by indistinct rummaging noises, suggesting completion of the cleaning task inside the shuttlecraft. Instinctively, I tried to lift both empty boots with my hands – but they remained stuck fast. Then … I heard a voice.
What on God’s Earth … ?” Looking up, I saw Professor Dumbelassè standing at the top of the stairway, hands on hips. “You are struggling with the anti-gravitational boots. You see there,” he pointed his finger, “there is a red-coloured release button on the back of the heel section, press it twice, firmly now.” I followed his instructions and each boot came away freely. “What are you doing in one of the museum’s spacesuits? You know they are not replicas, they are the real thing. You shouldn’t even be in here, we are not yet open to the public and you need to purchase a valid visitor’s ticket. Please, explain yourself to me!”
I remained silent, peering through misted glass. The far easier barefoot ascension of the stairs came as a relief. Momentarily, the professor appeared distracted. “Your … your toenails, you have them painted green!” A truth, the outcome of becoming super-bored twelve hours earlier. “You – you – you, you’re a woman!” He shouted, stuttering at me. I had to lose the helmet, it had become a rotisserie for my head. A firm twist released the headgear and allowed cool air to rush inside. With the helmet removed, we stood stock still, staring at each other in silence.
“What … what do you want from me?” The professor finally asked, his question prompted by an involuntary twitch, which see-sawed several times back and forth across two bushy eyebrows. “Why don’t you talk?”
Honestly, I am an efficient, highly economical operative. I don’t waste time, I don’t waste words, I don’t engage in philosophical debate with a target. I am here for a singular reason. It served no purpose to elaborate on this with the professor. Although, with his knowledge gained in his previous employment, I sensed a dawning realisation taking place.
“You’re here for me, aren’t you?” His voice quavered, instilled with fear. “The fact you appear unarmed, this informs me of your physical attributes in the way of the martial arts.” Crestfallen, he drew in a deep sigh. “It also tells me, it is pointless to resist in any.” I drew level with him on the stairway. “You know,” he said turning to face me, “here, with what I have been instrumental in creating, I thought I had finally found happiness in my life. It seems such a shame for this to all end now. But I know, you were perhaps just about to tell me, there is no fairness to life.”
Removing my gloves and wiping sweat from my forehead, I broke my rule. Looking into his tired eyes I imagined the possibility of living more than one kind of life. Where, during a lifetime, we balanced the actions taken in one half, with better actions in the second. I felt an unfamiliar and dormant emotion of sympathy, for the old man stood before me.
“I am a specialist in pressure points Professor,” I told him, “you will barely feel any discomfort as you slip away.”
“But you must understand – I have not made any preparations! I have my wife, Grethe to think of.”
A brief expression of surprise crossed his face, as my fingers applied specific force to critical areas of his skull. His eyes rolled, several times he gulped for breath, staggered, then collapsed unconscious into my arms. Death followed, as he tumbled down the stairway. Uppermost vertebrae snapped apart, as one might expect. In doing so, the professor’s elimination defied suspicion and would be regarded later, as nothing more than a tragic accident.
I’d completed my mission several minutes before the museum opened to the public, enough time to get changed and leave unnoticed. I returned to my hotel room to freshen up. An element of rumination usually follows the completion of an assignment. I wondered about the professor’s wife, if she knew of his double identity and I questioned how he had imagined it possible to get away with espionage betrayal. Naivety, arrogance? Or, maybe he hadn’t really expected to?
Ultimately, it is important I let go of these kinds of thoughts and standing underneath a cool shower, usually fulfils this need. What may seem important today, becomes ever increasingly irrelevant, with the passing of time.


©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown