Elena’s Gifts

Outside Pulkovo airport on a fresh, springlike, early summer morning, Alexander wrapped his arms around Elena and positioned an affectionate, slightly moist kiss upon her temple.
“Missed you.” He whispered into her left ear.
“I said I missed you.”
“Really? You sounded and looked fine, during our video-chats.”
Alexander gave Elena a squeeze, pulling her in, ever more closely. “Well, you know, I wore a brave face for you.” Looking up, he acknowledged the presence of a young, grey-suited chauffeur standing on the kerbside, who reacted immediately, collecting together the luggage and dispensing with it into the trunk of the limousine. “Let’s go back to the apartment, breakfast’s ready to go. I have many surprises in store for you.” Remembering Elena’s preference, Alexander opened the front passenger door, ushering her to sit inside. “Did you bring your trading instruments with you?”
“My ‘tools of the trade’, you mean. Yes, they take up most of the space inside my suitcases.” She buckled herself into the seat and adjusted two air-in vents, pointing them towards her. “Have you many jobs waiting for me, Alexander?”
“Yes, my love, I have kept them all for you. I have a very long list, maintained in a strict order of priority.” His expression softened more than it had already, as he stroked the edge of her chin in one swift motion of his finger. With a wink, he slammed the car door shut and climbed into the vehicle via the nearside, passenger rear door, taking up a seat directly behind her.

Their journey from the airport to Palace Square passed in silence. From past experience, Alexander knew only too well of Elena’s susceptibility to travel-sickness, if forced into conversation while in transit. During the ride, Elena noticed Tatiana, the chauffeur, flirting with her. She caught several furtive glances at her smooth legs, exposed below the short hemline of her skirt. Occasionally, a gloved hand rubbed and polished the automatic shift lever, in a manner rather suggestive. She wondered if Tatiana thought her preference to sit in the front merely a ruse, covering a desire to be close to her. Possible, she thought. Certainly, she had some strange, mysterious air about her, which no matter how she tried, Elena could not quite nail down in her mind.
The limousine pulled up outside an eighteenth century, pastel-coloured mansion block. Standing on the kerbside, again Alexander cuddled, this time, playfully groping his British guest. She wriggled and twisted out of his grip, wagging her finger at him, mockingly.
“Not in front of the servants!”
“All right Elena, let’s do it your way! Let’s go inside quickly, I want us to make a start as soon as possible.”
The same concierge she remembered from her last visit, greeted them in the reception. “Ah, Miss Elena welcome once again to St Petersburg!”
Thank you Boris.” She offered her hand, which he kissed with such courtly grace not even an ardent, dyed-in-the-wool feminist could take offence. “And how is Mrs Karpov?”
“She remains the light of my life, my protector, muse and inspiration for happiness. Thank you for asking.” Bowing his head forward respectfully, he fingered a button located on the reception desk, triggering the elevator hydraulics, and summoning a lift-car from an upper level within the building.

In the minimalist styled fourth floor apartment, Tatiana busied herself with preparing breakfast. The smell of freshly made coffee drifted out to the balcony, where Elena stood, gazing out across the river through the sunny haze, towards the Blagoveshchensky Bridge. Alexander soon joined her, having changed back into his paisley print, silk pyjamas and dark red velvet dressing gown. Approaching from behind, his hand cupped the left cheek of her buttock.
“Isn’t it just paradisiacal?” He said.
“You want me to start straight away?”
“After breakfast, yes.” He retrieved a folded piece of paper from an inside breast pocket, one specially sewn into the dressing gown. “Here,” he said, “take this, this is for you, the list. Get to know the contents.” A voice from inside the apartment summoned their presence.
Zavtrak is served, Master Alexander, Miss Elena!”
The couple positioned themselves, sitting cross-legged and adjacent each other at a low level, finely veined, white marble table. Tatiana placed wooden bowls of freshly toasted kasha soaked in milk, in front of her patron and guest, along with coffee and orange juice. Tempted by the toasted aroma, Elena quickly spooned in a mouthful of the porridge.
“Tatiana, this tastes sublime.”
“Food for the soul.” Effortlessly, Tatiana opened out a serviette, allowing the two-ply tissue paper to float down and rest upon her complimenter’s cream-coloured thighs. “The small clay pot, to your right, contains a local honey. If you like it… ?”
“More coffee please, Tatiana.” Alexander requested, replacing an empty cup onto a saucer. As she left the room, he turned to Elena. “You see?” He reached over and placed his hand upon her cheek, his fingers stroking her hair behind her ear. “I am surrounded by beautifully skilled women artisans.”

After breakfast, Tatiana showed Elena to the bedroom where she would stay for the week. Her bags were already open, clothes removed, all neatly folded and laid out on the four-poster bed. Alexander joined them briefly, having changed into his running shorts and vest.
“I’m going for my regular run,” he announced, “if you settle in, Tatiana will take care of your needs while I’m gone.”
“Okay Alexander, I think I’ll freshen up.”
Walking into the ensuite bathroom, decorative mosaic tiles covering the floors and walls, she considered how it equalled the size of her kitchen/diner at home. A large, free-standing bath, sat positioned under a tall, south facing window. Slipping out of her clothes, she paused before a mirror above the vanity unit, held her hair up onto the back of her head and swivelled on tip-toes, observing both side profiles. Satisfied, she stepped into the shower, automatically activating the water supply, and receiving a sudden rush of cold water from overhead. This quickly resolved into an agreeably hot temperature. She washed her hair.
Shortly, movement caught her attention, detected through the condensation on the shower glass. To her surprise, she realised Tatiana had entered the bathroom, dressed in a white bath robe, her auburn hair untied, falling loosely over her shoulders. Elena wiped away the mist as Tatiana approached, wearing a mischievous smile.
“It’s good, right?” She said, pointing at the chrome shower head inside the cubicle.
“Yes, very good,” Elena replied, “much better than mine at home, much more powerful!”
“You know, we have several different functions and settings to this shower.” Tatiana’s hand grasped the handle of the glass door and paused, “I’ll show you, okay?”
“Yes, sure.” Elena watched as the white robe fell around Tatiana’s ankles. “Oh, right, you’re getting inside, okay!” Tatiana reached out for a steadying hand. Elena offered one. The two women stood admiring each other under the water spray for several moments. Suddenly remembering her objective, Tatiana slipped an arm behind her guest. Elena braced herself mentally, anticipating a kiss.
“Here,” said Tatiana, “If I touch this button … ” Water droplets fell like glistening rainfall from numerous, small outlets in the shower’s ceiling.
“Oh, this feels very good!” Elena cried out, sweeping her wet hair back with both her hands. As she turned her face upwards, she felt soft fingertips placed lightly onto her hips.
“You ready for this?” Tatiana asked.
“Ready for what?” Elena felt a thrill of anticipation unfold throughout her body.
Small, powerful jets of water burst out from three sides of the shower cubicle. Elena, taken unawares, hopped forward and instinctively wrapped her arms around her companion. Tatiana returned the favour, drawing their bodies tightly together, eyes closed, cheek to cheek. Together, they laughed, their hips swaying to a gentle rhythm, creating a pulse of pleasure rapidly increasing in intensity. Gentle kisses gave way to passion, tentative touches grew confident, exploring each other’s secrets, On this morning, they sealed their friendship.

Back in the bedroom, dried off, Elena dressed. On the bed, Tatiana observed, out-stretched in her robe, legs pointing towards the headboard, her feet resting on a pillow.
“What time will Alexander return?” Elena asked, taking a towel to her hair, bending forward and rubbing briskly.
“Not long, in the next half hour. He takes his running very seriously. Today he’s on the ten kilometre route, past the Marble Palace Museum, through the parks and revolutionary memorial gardens. He’ll stop for coffee somewhere and then come back running alongside the river.”
“Well,” said Elena, taking a brush to her hair, “I’d better get started on his list. Have you seen it? All sorts of things. He’s noted a leak in his shower. I think I’d better look at this before he gets back.”
“Okay,” said Tatiana, swinging her legs off the bed and sitting up, “good idea, I’ll show you the location of the water tank.”
The two women walked the corridor together, one in an untied, flowing, white robe, and the other in blue dungarees, carrying a metal toolbox. Alexander’s bedroom, larger than the guest bedroom and closer in style to the minimalist theme of the living room, held an equally luxurious bathroom. Tatiana placed a wooden chair underneath a wall panel, as Elena scrutinised the shower head and taps.
“Consistent dripping.” She said, thoughtfully, half to herself. On the chair, she unscrewed the panel, exposing the header tank. “Well, the ballcock looks fine, it’s floating. It’s likely the rubber washer in the valve has eroded. I’ll have a spare one in my toolbox.”
Soon after Tatiana had returned with two, cold glasses of kefir, Elena had disassembled the valve, replaced the washers, tested the taps successfully and reinstated the wall panel. “What’s next on the list?” She asked, taking a gulp of her drink.
“Toilet in entrance hall, seat very loose.”
“Okay, doesn’t sound too difficult, what’s after that?”
“Hold on,” Tatiana scanned the list held in her hands, “number three … kitchen steps, creaking noise …” She looked up, nonplussed.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, Elena, with Tatiana assisting, worked her way down the list. Alexander arrived back, listened avidly to a progress report, before disappearing to try out his newly fixed shower.
The next task, a door. “Door to study sticks on floor when opened beyond ninety degrees … do you understand what he means?” Tatiana asked Elena.
“Yes,” Elena blew her cheeks out, “a door adjustment, tricky, I’ll have to take it off.”
“You know, it’s why Alexander is so crazy about you.” Tatiana said, picking up the toolbox and guiding her friend through the lounge, towards the interconnecting door to the study. “You’re gifted, intelligent and practical. Russian men, by and large, do not possess either attribute. When they stumble upon a woman with such qualities, it’s … how you say … like bees to the honey.”
“You’re saying Russian men aren’t very clever?” Having wedged the door, Elena began unscrewing the hinges from the door frame.
“Helpless children and functioning alcoholics consuming heroic quantities of vodka, most of them, to a greater or lesser extent.”
Really?” A hint of scepticism came through Elena’s question.
“Don’t you believe me? Look, how can it not be true?” On cue, Tatiana helped lower the door onto the floor. “Not so long ago, you know we lost an unimaginably large number of experienced and highly knowledgeable people to war and political purges. Theorists, strategists, teachers, doctors, scientists, economists, artists, musicians. You must understand, it takes a long time for recovery, suffering such a great subtraction from society’s gene pool”.
“It’s not just the numbers, it’s about the wide range of skills lost.” Elena said, running her smoothing plane over the bottom edge of the door.
“Of course. Eliminated, gone, kaput, effectively forever, certainly as far as my lifetime’s concerned.”
“How sad.”
“It’s how the country got so messed-up and why Alexander loves you madly. He couldn’t trust a local tradesman with the work you did today. Some of the jobs you’ve completed, corrected defective work done by others.” Leaning forward, Tatiana tucked a loose strand of hair back behind Elena’s ear. “Would you like my advice?”
“O … kay.” Elena blew sawdust off the underside of the door.
“I understand you like him, but you will tire of his company soon. Meanwhile, take all the tokens of love he gives to you. Accept the clothes and jewellery, the car.”
“Car?” Elena froze, mid-turn of a screwdriver.
“Yes, he has already chosen a car for you, top-of-the-range electric powered. Take it, keep it. He has probably set up a bank account for you this morning, filling it with funds enough for a comfortable few years ahead. Also, expect to receive notification regarding a portfolio of shares purchased on your behalf. Accept them and keep them all. End the relationship with him in a month or two. He’ll be heartbroken, for a week. Then he’ll move on, forget, won’t give a second thought to all he has given to you. Do not worry about returning anything, he won’t ask for anything back. Okay?”
“You’ve seen this happen before?” Elena asked.
“Mhm … something similar. Sometimes, the women make a fuss or get greedy. Such instances never end well. My advice, take what he gives, you’ll find it plenty enough.”
“I’ll have to think about this.” Elena said, opening the adjusted door, checking the bottom edge cleared the floor adequately. Tatiana crouched low, examined closely, raised her hand, fingers shaped into the ‘perfection’ gesture.
“The concept doesn’t warrant too much time spent in meditative contemplation. In Russia we have a saying, all genius is simple.”
“What’s next on the list?” Elena asked, brushing herself down.
“Okay, look, we stop for some food, you deserve a break. Alexander has a business meeting this evening, you restart then. The list, it says about kitchen units coming apart, lots of hammering needed, noisy work, only begin after he has left.”
“Okay,” Elena said, closing her toolbox, “let’s eat.”

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


"Listen Doctor Wong,
You've got it all wrong.
No benefits are gained from 'Chinese medicine' concoctions."
"Blue-eyes, I object.
Counter in effect.
Our recipes are handed down through generations."
"Maybe as you say,
But Mao Zedong had his way,
in 1950 driving forward their popularisation."
"Young scientist, think you're hip?
Well, just you regain your grip!
To suggest political necessity and conniving motivation!"

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

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.”
“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.
“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.
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!” 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

Will He Ask Again?

Stationary on the driveway, Hattie killed the gentle purr of the electric motor housed under the bonnet of the newly converted and refurbished red Pontiac, 1969 GTO. Seconds before, she’d seen Wyatt watering the flower borders of the front yard outside his house. Despite attempts to avoid eye contact, it had happened. She watched as the old man retreated to an outside tap located underneath the kitchen window, turning off the supply with several twists of the squeaky brass handle.
As Hattie unloaded grocery bags from the trunk of the car, she saw him strutting down the paved driveway in her direction. Although still early springtime, the weekend’s weather had been fine and she felt the warmth of the sunshine on her skin. She noted how Wyatt appeared unaffected by the climate, wearing his stetson, sheep skin jacket, threaded jeans and dusty old boots, same as always. He’s coming over to talk to me, she thought, is he really going to ask again?
It wouldn’t be for the second time, nor third or fourth. Hattie had lost count of how many times Wyatt had asked her the same question, after learning of her breakup with Ed three months ago. Initially, she assumed he’d been joking … a little insensitively so, perhaps.
“Miss Hattie, what a beautiful day.” Wyatt tapped a curved finger under the rim of his hat. “I see you’ve been getting in provisions for your ma and pa, just like last week. They must give thanks for your help around the house, with you living back at home.”
“That’s most kind for you to say, Wyatt.” She said, lifting the bags up and out, placing them together on the ground against her legs. “Of course, it’s me who’s grateful to them, here in my moment of need.” She looked towards the house and thought fondly of the two people inside.
“I’m rightly sure you are Hattie, rightly sure you are.”
With the lid of the trunk slammed shut, she bent down to pick up several of the bags. She sensed an admiring gaze, scanning her body as he might do, she thought, a favoured horse. Judging the weight of the groceries, the chance of an early escape from the conversation beckoned. “Well Wyatt, I’ll let you get on with the watering of those lovely flowers of yours.”
“Hattie,” he interrupted, slipping his hat off, holding it against his chest, “I wanted to ask, have you given further consideration to my recent proposal? After this day, understand, I won’t be asking again.” Extracting a polka dot patterned handkerchief, Wyatt wiped away glistening beads of sweat from his balding head, before returning it to his jean’s pocket.
“Yes Hattie?”
“Just how old are you?”
“I turned sixty-six in April.”
“Okay, do you know how old I am?”
“Well, I recall the celebration of your eighteenth with a lively and well-attended party. Let me see, that was … eight years ago, which makes you … twenty-five, no wait, twenty-six years old by my reckoning.”
Hattie stood looking at Wyatt, waiting to see if an expression registering comprehension might suddenly materialise. It didn’t. His features remained placid and unchanged.
“Wyatt, that’s a forty-year age gap.”
“That’s right Hattie, I can do the math. It changes nothing. I remain a widower, with no children, no known surviving relatives and no debts. With the situation as it stands, when I go, the proceeds of my estate are headed off to some sure as hell lucky pet rescue home.” Wyatt chuckled to himself, reached inside his jacket and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. “Unless, you’ve reconsidered, Hattie? After all, when your folks pass, whatever inheritance becomes available, you know that’s going to be split several ways between you, your brothers and your sisters. Ain’t that right?” Tearing off the foil from the top of the packet, Wyatt flicked at the underside with his thumb, a single cigarette appeared, which he offered to Hattie.
“Okay, let’s get this straight Wyatt.” She said, taking the cigarette. “Essentially, what you’re proposing amounts to a marriage of convenience.”
“That’s right Hattie, I make no bones about it.” He threw a shiny metal lighter upwards into the air, which Hattie caught, used and threw back. “I’ve been alone a long time, I have few additional needs outside of companionship. Those needs I have, I am confident you can fulfil. Meanwhile, it can’t go unnoticed, I’m no longer a man in the peak of physical health. I am not going to be around forever, sure as eggs is eggs.”
For a moment, Hattie stared blankly at the groceries returned to the ground next to the side of the car. She blew a plume of bluish grey smoke out through her lips, dropped the cigarette and crushed it under the toe of her sneaker on the kerbstone. “There’ll be a prenuptial then?” She said, asking her first ever question regarding the proposition.
Wyatt reached into his sheepskin jacket a second time and quick enough located an unsealed envelope, containing a folded document. “Naturally so, legal and binding, providing mutual protection. Divorce, and you will receive a settlement.” He handed her the somewhat creased envelope. “Although generous, it’ll not be enough to support financial independence beyond a handful of years. Let’s just say it will serve as a token of my appreciation for your sacrifice, prepared as you were to give the marriage a try. Alternatively, God damn,” momentarily irritated he brushed a fly off his nose, “see me through and you get everything, the property, investments, my savings and the like. No debt, no mortgage even. You’ll be set for the rest of your life Hattie.”
“During the meanwhile, I’ll be cooking for you, cleaning for you, darning your socks and satisfying your wont between the bed sheets I don’t doubt!” Hattie’s anger unleashed unexpectedly, her eyes narrowed into a piercing stare. Wyatt, nonchalant, shook his head, slowly raised his hands signalling surrender, his stetson held in one hand.
“Miss Hattie, instead of getting all flustered, why not read the contract? Everything’s there, check through the details. Lend me half your attention if you will and I’ll summarise.” As Hattie unfolded the papers, Wyatt continued. “You will have the area formerly serving as two bedrooms, today converted into one, which includes an ensuite. Think of the accommodation as a studio apartment set-up, your own private quarters. Of course, the rest of the house and gardens are available to you also, on top of which we’ll share a holiday cabin located upstate in the woods.” Wyatt’s statement matched the plain wording of the contract, drafted by a local, prominent and respected lawyer’s firm. “I have my own room and a study. We share the cooking, straight down the middle. Mrs Jackson will come to visit each Wednesday, same as she’s always done, taking care of all the cleaning and washing. The groceries, you’ll have noticed, are delivered. Which leaves sex, because there ain’t no mistaking, that is, a thing.”
“I was wondering when we’d get to that.” Hattie located the heading, midway down the second page of the paperwork, ‘The Sexual Relationship’.
“I ain’t no monster, I don’t have unusual needs nor wild fantasies, nothing that will turn you off or gross you out. No,” Wyatt appealed earnestly to Hattie, “I’m a simple man, who – due to the sale of a significantly sized and lucky plot of Texan land – finds himself in an enviable position. I live a life free from worry. However, for the last ten years, I’ve been living life alone. Besides your companionship, what you read under that heading, that’s all I’ll be wanting, with regularity as specified. But, not against your will Hattie. You understand?” Hattie’s gaze rested upon her name printed in italics at the bottom of the page, followed by a dotted line and a space underneath for a witness’ signature.

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

A Brief But Furious Struggle

“My name’s Samdrew Wilmot-Dickson and today,” the camera scoots back from a facial close-up revealing an interior of palatial grandeur, “I am here, to view the centre-piece display, broadcasting live from this year’s annual, academy summer show.”
The presenter walks out of shot revealing two elderly cellists, who commence with playing an Offenbach composition to accompany the tracking shot of the gallery installation. Before a minute has passed, Wilmot-Dickson is back, the opus consigned to the background, volume pitched suitable for the inside of an elevator.
“Margaret Frideswide is the Midland’s most widely recognised, commercially successful and so far – oldest surviving artist. Not much is known of her early background, but what we do know is she was born in Birmingham at the beginning of the Second World War. Later, as a teenager, Frideswide moved to Denmark, where – during the 1960s, she studied art at the University of Jutland. And,” camera draws out to a wider shot, “I am delighted to say, Margaret has agreed to join me today, to talk about her latest works.”
A small-framed woman, cunicular, face-on she blinks into the lens, her expression blank. She twitches her nose, then her mouth opens and a tongue moistens her lips several times, suggesting speech to follow. Yet no words come forth.
“Now Margaret, the art in this exhibition is made from darkness and light,” the art critic brings his hands up, striking a dramatic pose. “and what’s jumping out to me are the edges, I see them as frontiers, where you’ve negotiated boundaries that surrender to the real world. This is where the art begins and ends, where – at once the eye enters and then leaves the image.” Samdrew pauses, takes a breath, looks across to the artist expectantly, eyebrows arched.
Margaret Frideswide sighs quietly. Without turning her head, she shoots a glance to the man, then resumes her gaze into the camera. A diminutive chin slides sideways, momentarily swelling a cheek outwards, before returning to position normale.
Unfazed, Wilmot-Dickson continues. “These works represent your latest paintings and I would be remiss were I not to mention how they are indeed, shot through with a powerful sense of morbidity, almost appallingly raw.” Wilmot-Dickson, rooted to the spot, resembles a Romeo pointing upwards, appealing to a high-placed balcony. “Take this one, positioned above these great oak doors, where you first enter in to the gallery. It seems to me charged with a neurosis, a simmering swimming pool of visual pleasure, evoking a wild sense of hostility, and indifference.”
Then what follows is a brief but furious struggle, as a triggered Frideswide banshee screams and leaps upon her quarry, slapping him about his face and pulling at his hair, forcing him onto his knees. Before he is able to shake her off, both cellists run in and despatch penalty strike kicks straight into his ribcage. It is only the film crew who come to his assistance en masse, dragging the artist off and blocking further involvement from the two aged musicians.
Wilmot-Dickson, bloodied lip, chin and white shirt, neck-tie pulled sharply to one side, sits blubbering into his hands, while shrieks and howls from Frideswide continue to echo through the gallery chambers, as she is escorted to the staff canteen to cool off. The two cellists promptly pack their instruments and leave the gallery.

The Princess’ Hair (~1,450 words)

Since waking and despite a deceptively calm appearance, sat alone in the spartanly furnished kitchen, Bryan eagerly tracks the arrival of a delivery. A web page displayed on his kitchen table laptop, shows a pinpointed map and a thick red line reaching towards his address.
Midway through pouring a morning cup of tea, the sound of tyres crunching gravel on the driveway release the tension. Continuing with the ceremony, he adds milk while listening to doors slide open and thud, followed by footsteps approaching the front door.
“Dr Bryan Northwood?” The delivery driver scrutinises a handheld e-POD device. Bryan recognises the manufacturer’s dark green and black livery from the website emblazoned across the MPV.

ROMBOTS • A Family Business • Purveyors of the Finest Robophilia • By Royal Appointment

Tinted windows obscure the interior. Tantalisingly, the rear passenger door of the vehicle is open, a silhouette of an occupant discernible.
“Could you squiggle here please, Dr Northwood.”
Bryan obliges, his fingertip forming an unrecognisable representation of his written signature upon the small screen.
“By the way, my name is Chas.” A lanyard ID ties up with a neatly embroidered name badge sewn onto a shirt pocket of his uniform, confirming the information. “I’m an employee of Rombots and I am here – not only to deliver, but also to help with personalising the set-up for you, today. We have as much time as is required – and I will follow up with visits over the following weeks until you are entirely satisfied with your purchase.”
“I understand, thank you.” Bryan’s attention alternates between man and stationary vehicle.
Chas looks back over his shoulder, “I have the Princess model, waiting to meet you. May I ask sir, do you have a name ready for your new companion?”
“Indeed I do, my new companion’s name is Sandy.”
“Sandy it is, sir.”

While Chas is fetching Sandy, Bryan waits back in the kitchen, pacing around the breakfast bar. He feels torn between the event unfolding and his desire for the cooked breakfast he’d wrongly anticipated having time to prepare and eat. This would now have to wait. Different from his usual flat line mood, Bryan is feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement. Naturally, he knows what Sandy looks like; he not only computer-modelled her, he approved a one-twentieth scale model two weeks ago. Now, his imagination has sprung into life. Lucid visualisations flash through his mind, showing Bryan and Sandy both devotional, eagerly engaged with one another in several different scenarios. His daydreaming is interrupted as Sandy walks into the kitchen, Chas following close behind.
“Good morning Dr. Bryan Northwood.” Sandy says, her voice calm, her tone polite. “I am very pleased to meet you.” Auburn hair frames an oval face of fair complexion tapering towards a chin, green eyes look back into his eyes of grey. She is exactly as he imagined – except for one detail.
“Good morning Sandy.” Eyes widening, fixated, Bryan combs his fingers several times through his beard. “Welcome – please, would you like a seat?”

“According to your answers given on the questionnaire,” Chas is swiping through pages on a tablet screen, “this is your first Rombot, and… you’ve not had anything similar in the past.”
“That’s correct,” Bryan is distracted, “my first.”
“Right,” Chas detects a flicker in his client’s attention – but continues, “then I am going to start with the basics. The Princess model comes with three charging pads.” Chas unrolls a shiny white fabricated pad onto the kitchen table, circular in shape and of an adequate size to sit on. “One is designed for placing upon the seat of a chair, another I have here for placing on the bed, under the sheets and the third, another seat pad with an adapter suitable for use in a car. All you need in each instance is access to a power outlet.”
“How long does a full charge last for?” Bryan’s composure has returned, as he hands Chas a cup of tea.
“Thank you; that really depends Dr Northwood, on the usage.”
“Of course.” The answer was obvious.
“Dr Northwood, if I may interrupt?” While mapping the interior of the kitchen in fine detail, Sandy has followed the conversation between the two men. “If we were to share a day together that included several bouts of intense activity, I would most certainly require an overnight re-charge.”
“Right, I see.”
“Without such intense activity, my power source would not need replenishment for several days.”
“That’s right, and – when appropriate, Sandy will give occasional updates on her battery’s life, including before moving into low battery operating mode, which she’ll do automatically so as to conserve energy. She will give you good notice of this and sync with your phone and wristwatch, so you’ll know – wherever you happen to be.”
“I see.” Bryan fakes a reassured smile to both.
“Right, Dr Northwood, I am going to leave, make another couple of deliveries and be back in a couple of hours. I’d like it for you and Sandy to start to get to know each other, go through a few things.” Chas drank down the remainder of his tea. “When I get back, I’ll work the feedback you both provide me with into today’s initial set-up. Does that sound okay to you both?”

“What’s the matter Dr Northwood?” The sound of an engine disappears into the distance, as Sandy looks at Bryan, her head cocked at eighty degrees.
“It’s nothing,” Bryan replies, “just a detail.”
“A detail? Something small in scale, but nonetheless important to you?”
“Well, yes – yes I suppose so. Look,” Bryan shuffles his weight uncomfortably on the kitchen stool, “please, Sandy, call me Bryan. I think you should – I mean, Dr Northwood sounds awfully formal, would you mind?”
“I would not mind at all, Bryan. There, is that better, the problem is solved?”
“Well, no, um, the detail, it’s about something else actually.”
“I see.”
“Let me show you something.” Bryan launches himself from his seat, marches to the broom cupboard, from where he lifts a metal box large enough to hold a pair of boots, away from a shelf, returning with it to the kitchen table. Without further ado, Bryan inserts a small, precisely machined key, turning it forty-five degrees clockwise, triggering a satisfying sound as the lid releases.
“Are you alright Bryan?” Sandy asks, “Your blood pressure has risen, as has your body temperature.”
“I feel a little hot, yes – but I am fine.” Reaching inside the box, Bryan clasps and lifts out the one-twentieth scale model of Princess, as Sandy – but now obvious to anyone, not quite the same as the Sandy sat in the room.
“Oh,” Sandy says, “I see, that certainly is a detail.” Sandy closes her eyes, “Give me a moment Bryan, I’m reviewing the history file containing the original proof documentation and subsequent amendments.”
“Most people don’t understand,” Bryan is apologetic, “It relates to when I was a much younger man. A young woman I met, although present only briefly in my life, she left a strong impression on me I have never quite forgotten, but also never realised again.”
“Bryan, you’re quite correct.” Sandy’s eyes are open, “My hair should be blue. On behalf of Rombots I apologise for this error.”
Bryan turns the small, blue-haired Sandy, over in his hands. “That’s alright, your hair now – is lovely, it’s just – “
“It’s totally okay Bryan, you do not owe me any explanation.” Sandy stands facing Bryan, “Here,” she says, pointing a straightened index finger at him, “pull it.”
“Pull it?”
“Pull it.”
“What…? Pull it?”
“Pull it it Bryan, you know you want to.”
Taking hold, his hand enveloping half of Sandy’s finger, Bryan gives a gentle tug.
“Harder Bryan.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Bryan, do it harder.”
Sandy raises an eyebrow. A second later, her hair has turned blue.
“Oh my God – I don’t believe it!” Bryan is shocked.
“How’s the shade?” Sandy asks.
“How’s the shade? Well, since you ask, perhaps a little darker – shall I pull on your finger again?”
“No Bryan, it wasn’t necessary in the first place, I just wanted to make you smile.”
Bryan smiles; his whole face lights up.
“We can have whatever colour we want.” Sandy says, as the shade of her hair proceeds to cycle through from blue to black, to pink, then green, then a strawberry blonde.
“That’s amazing,” Bryan is flabbergasted, “Sandy, please follow me into the garden, I have a piano outside and I want to play for you. I want to play for you every day.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This has been something like my own, stylised version of an ekphrastic short story, based upon a collage created by pedrov_dog (found on Instagram). The word ekphrasis, or ecphrasis, comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise.

Double Reverse Mormon

“But…” Katie hesitated, what she’d just heard made no sense to her. “A double reverse Mormon thing situation.” Aware of the relative silence inside the public library, aside from the muffled sound of pages turned and throats cleared, she half whispered “What the fuck is that?”
“Well.” Maya glanced at Erik, seeking a signal he was happy for her to continue and explain. Erik returned a gentle smile, an eyebrow arched slightly.
“I hope it’s not what I’m thinking,” Katie said, noticing the non-verbal exchange, “because I can tell you straight off, I am not interested in, that.”
Disengaging himself from the conversation, Erik retrieved a large photo book from the low-level table they sat around, entitled ‘The Wonderful World of Volcanoes’ and began flicking through.
“Okay, let me explain.” Maya gauged the distance of library-users, measuring the volume of her voice to suit. “Erik you see, he grew up within a Mormon community near Gothenburg, Sweden.”
“I’m already not liking this.” Katie said.
“It’s not what you think,” Maya said patiently, “I’ve known Erik for a little over two years and I can tell you, he’s quite unique – at least in my experience of men.” Maya looked admiringly over to Erik again. “At age eighteen, upon rejecting his religion, he became initially persecuted – then completely ostracised by his family, friends – the whole community he’d grown up in; basically everyone he’d ever known.”
“No contact whatsoever?” Katie watched as Erik nonchalantly looked through the book held in his hands. Involuntary feelings of sympathy welled up inside her; he had a kind face, she thought.
“Okay,” Katie had a question, “so, you and I have been getting on well since meeting at the book club three months ago. We share similar interests and there’s been more, too. After the last gig we went to, I felt sure we were heading somewhere. But, I didn’t know about Erik; you conveniently omitted to mention your involvement with him. Why was that?”
“Right okay, I’m sorry.” Maya inhaled deeply. “Look – you understand how relationships work within the Mormon faith, don’t you?”
“I know about the polygamy.”
“Yes, okay, well Erik’s take on this, now he’s outside of the faith – is he doesn’t mind if I have additional relationships, with women.” Maya paused, allowing time for the statement to be absorbed and understood.
“But not with other men?”
“Not with other men, correct.”
“And Erik has relationships with other women?”
“No, nor with anyone else. He is exclusive to me; this is his choice.”
“And,” Katie asked, “he has no ambition for involvement with you and I together?”
“That is amazing.”
“Believe me, he is an amazing man.”
“Okay.” Katie’s gaze moved between Maya and Erik. “What if,” her voice adopting a speculative tone, “what if I was interested in Erik?”
“You can’t be.”
“I mean, as well as you – the three of us all together.”
“No, you can’t be.”
Erik slowly closed the book and returned it to the table.