Alfrid had sight of him: location Gallery 2. Using the zoom function on the security camera monitor, he watched awhile, as the man lightly stroked a high value piece with his fingertips. “Excuse me sir!” Alfrid yodelled, skidding to a stop on the polished gallery floor. “You can’t touch this.” Surrounded by non-figurative paintings on the walls were five sculptures, located near the centre of the room. Each, human-sized in scale, formed from richly veined marble and oil-finished ash timber, broadly cylindrical and smooth. Bored into the sides, round-shaped holes added interest, some through the marble, other holes appearing in the wood. Naturally, the sculptures called out to be touched and the man doing the touching, stood dressed in full military fatigues. “I sanitized my hands thoroughly.” He said, pulling away sharply from the sculpture he’d been caught fondling. “At the entrance, when I came in.” He held his hands up in front of his chest, palms showing, his long fingers stretching outwards. “Well …” Alfrid hesitated. Abstract words collided with each other inside his mind, while he tried to formulate a coherent sentence. “I thought the problem with touching, had to do with dirt and grease from people’s hands, transferring onto the sculpture.” The army man looked at the gallery custodian, appealing for a judgement. “Coupled with the passage of time, it’s these minute abrasives and oils which cause the damage.” “Look, it’s just, if I say ‘yes’ to you,” Alfrid’s voice vibrated with a conciliatory tone, “you know what I mean?” “Others will think it’s alright to touch the exhibits too?” “That’s right, sir.” “Although,” the military man countered, “there’s no one else in here, just you and I. No one else will see me touching.” Both men threw glances around the room, unnecessarily. Alfrid placed his hands on his hips; he felt close to conceding the point. Staring out through the shopfront earlier, had demonstrated the street outside as empty. No cars, no people, no stray dogs, no vapour trails intersecting across the blue sky. Following the second-wave onslaught of the virus pandemic, this had become the new normal. The telephone at the reception in Gallery 1 rang. “One moment, please.” Alfrid said, raising a relaxed index finger up in the air, as he backed out of the space.
“Yes, well when I read your advert on the local web directory,” Eva seated herself on the park bench, “under the eye-catching title ‘Cry Baby Counsellor’, I immediately thought to myself, ‘Yes, that’s for me!’ Next, I followed the link and filled out the appointment form.” “Did you find the process straight-forward?” Counsellor Diana Thebes asked, “And, you read all the information about how I operate, no problems as far as you are concerned?” “No, none at all my dear, and I read them all again in your email reply.” Eva looked around the immediate vicinity, “I think it’s all rather novel, outside in the park, the fresh air, next to the river having a counselling session, with the old mill factories situated opposite. It’s rather scenic, I’d say.” She undid the top two buttons of her coat and placed her handbag next to herself on the seat. It had turned into a warm and hazy, late-summer’s day. “What will you do in winter? It won’t be much fun in the rain and snow, will it?”
Just after she’d closed the office door, but before she could finish her first sentence, Mr Sharples, in an ignorant fashion, interrupted Willa. “Willa, before we get into this conversation, I have some bad news. It’s been decided, the decision taken and confirmed as final: you are too old to go out into space and travel to Mars, and you’re off the project, with immediate effect.” “What? What are you saying to me?” Willa staggered, overcome by a sense of disbelief, frantically trying to absorb and process what she’d just heard. Despite the short notice, she had readily agreed to the request for an early morning one-to-one. Now, she found herself plumped in a seat opposite her boss, speechless.
To a fashion, the United States government’s first ever experiment for time travel moving forward, had actually worked. “Exact precision, needs tweaking by the technicians.” The pilot had recorded later in his log. “Admittedly,” he’d reflected, “I could have ended up on an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, or inside a mountain of rock, or on a busy and fast moving freeway.” Such nightmarish scenarios avoided proved endless, when given proper consideration.
According to the read-out on the auto guidance i-device strapped to his wrist, providence had played him in with a lucky hand. Albeit cramped-up inside a small, walk-in maintenance cupboard with his foot wedged inside a plastic bucket, it transpired that Lieutenant Commander John Eagle, of the Florida-based US Special Secret Projects Unit, had rematerialised in a club named Iggy’s. The location: 1967 Fairview Avenue, Middletown, England. His mind and body, as far as he could tell, had survived the journey fully intact.
So, here I am, at the top of a raised gangway secured to a vintage paddle steamer, a bouquet of pink carnations in my hand and about to make the boldest statement of my life. The backstory as to how I come to be here, I will explain, briefly.
Despite growing up to realise Aditya is viewed by society as an ‘imaginary friend’, he has been in my life since before any other meaningful event I am able to recall. Today, he is no less real. He is the brother I never had and better known to me alone, as Adi.
I know. You are sceptical. You didn’t have an imaginary friend when growing up, nor have you ever known anyone who did. I’m sorry for you, I really am. Believe me when I tell you, you have missed out. Right from the beginning, Adi has been my sage, providing support, advice and guidance. He’s given comfort when needed, warmed me, warned me, saved and occasionally scolded me. But he has never, ever, abandoned me. Unconditionally, he has always been here, right by my side.
Two innocent souls, from a chance meeting, quickly form an intense friendship. Several days later, following a sweaty bonding of bodies driven by mutual carnal desire, they had come to regard each other as lovebirds. We join them, yet another day later, at Obsomba station, located on the Northern Criss-Cross Line. In the golden hour before the setting of the sun, we find ourselves needing to ask, has someone had a change of heart?