Of course, we’d found much more to talk about than work. Then I’d let him see me home, that was my first mistake. We’d reached the door to my apartment and although it was late evening, the town lights had lit up the whole scene around us. “Joshua.” I said, admiring his finely formed facial structure, responsible for a pair of prominent, killer cheekbones. “Jakob?” “Joshua, you-know I’ve had a great day, a great evening…” As I said those words, with the crashed intonation at the end of the sentence, I stood stock-still staring at Joshua, wondering. Did he fear what was coming next? Could I detect an outward appearance suggesting anticipatory dejection? I decided it best to press on. “A really, really great, fun time with you, Joshua. However, I am not the person you probably think I am, or perhaps had hoped me to be.” Still, his precise demeanour I could not decipher. “You mean, you’re not actually gay, are you Jakob?” Reading his expression in the light of the streetlamps, I came to understand Joshua as being a little ahead of me in the plot. This realisation left me somewhat taken aback, feeling foolish and naïve. “How did you know?” I spluttered, “What we did together earlier, under the altar table in the church. This, followed by the restaurant meal afterwards and then the cocktails and dancing in that flashy, basement bar.” I quickly regathered my thoughts together. “When did you know? How exactly, did you work it out?”
“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?
Returning the handheld medical instrument to a shallow metal dish, the doctor explained my affliction as ‘classic water on the brain’. “While in the shower, you have this habit of turning your head over onto one side during the morning washing routine.” She said, her voice inflected with a pleasing, Low German accent. “That’s how it happened.”
1. Late evening, onthe 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. “Exactly so.”
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.