“What did you just say?” Professor Quentin stiffly looked up from his morning newspaper, disbelief ringing throughout almost each syllable of his query. Easily distracted since birth, nagging jagged thoughts began shifting neurological gear cogs through his mind, engaging with more questions. Such as, when would his wife notice his empty side-plate? Would he be likely to receive additional slices of freshly toasted bread? What’d happened to the whereabouts of the small, glass jar of delicious orange and lime marmalade he’d received recently, as a gift? Would she accuse him of having finished it off yesterday all by himself, just as she had done every morning of this week so far?
Late evening, on the edge of a remote field located in Middle-England, three score and ten years forward of this day, two romantics made preparation for a starkly different kind of date, to the usual.
Charlotte lifted out a fat gun from a portable case they’d brought along with them and handed it to her lover.
“Actually, it’s not as heavy as it looks!” Chris said.
“That’s right, it’s mostly hollow in construction.” Charlotte replied, knowledgeably. “Here, let me help with the cartridge, then you can do the honours.”
The crescent moon and clustering Milky Way stars spread across the cloudless night sky, providing adequate light to assist with prompt loading of the firearm.
“There,” she said, cocking the mechanism, “you’re good-to-go.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Chris tested the weight with a loose grip, peering at the gun inquisitively. As he rolled it back and forth through a one-hundred-and-eighty degree arc, Charlotte studied Chris, unsure if his question had been a serious one or not.
“Yes darling,” she said, taking a firm hold of his arm, “especially if you point like so, up in this direction.” From her pockets, she produced four foam earplugs and gently inserted them, first in Chris’s and then her own ears.
“It doesn’t make too loud a bang,” she said, her voice raised by five decibels, “it’s not like a starter’s pistol. But, safety-first, just in case. We don’t want to go down in history as the first couple to lose our hearing, in such a manner.”
“In case of a malfunction, you mean?” Chris asked.
We’re women and we’re bus drivin’,
around your neighbourhood.
We only take aboard women (and girls),
is that clearly understood?
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.
Keisha, a girl, with an unusual tic.
She’d knee any man met, ’til they were sick.
“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.
“you’ve got somethyng to seye? shoot!”
to arthur tolde guynevere.
“i have gotte the world on mute,
therfore youre soundscape ys cleare.”
“well,” arthur bygan, “it’s the whisperyng knights who shift,
sat unsettlyng around the round table –
that awkward over-sized weddyng gifte.”
“from my father!” guynevere loud voiced, yn this fable.
Much to Mandy’s relief, the 4.47 PM sleeper train from Aberdeen to London, left exactly on time. The air inside the compartment felt cool, a man in unusual dress, had already made himself feel at home. With the emergency pandemic regulations in force, two people per sleeping compartment had become the new norm.
“‘Allo, may I ‘elp you with your suitcase?”
To a fashion, the United States government’s first ever experiment for time travel moving forward, had actually worked. “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.” The nightmarish scenarios avoided, proved endless, when given 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: Suthfork, Middle-London England. His mind and body, as far as he could tell, had survived the journey fully intact.