From a comfortable viewing distance, I watch as two extraordinary people wait at a grimy San Francisco tram stop. I notice their eyes level with each other several times. During the passing seconds of this connected gazing, their engaged brains collect and process the combined equivalent of a 1969 moon-landing sized, four kilobytes worth of RAM. Information, some of which is relevant to this story, some much less so.
“Hi there! Okay, this maybe a bit of an odd thing to say, but, well, you know, I love your naturally blue hair. Are you English. by-any-chance?”
“I am. I am also curious as to how you guessed that. From your accent, I would say that you’re English too? But, I wouldn’t have known just by looking. I mean, clowns they just look like other clowns, right?”
“Well…” Clown is deflated. “There is some variety. Look… we’ve got twenty minutes to kill before the next tram arrives, if it’s on time. There’s a café over there.” His tone of voice and frowning expression suggests something between an appeal and a demand.
“… and now,” the newsreader concludes “with the time fast approaching ten thirty and a-hem… acting in full compliance with the newly elected government’s single issue election manifesto promise…” the middle-aged man pushes himself up and out of his chair, “I will disrobe, taking off all my actual clothing.”
“In this special, extended edition of the news,” the newsreader tugs at his tie and begins unbuttoning his shirt, “the Nudist Party’s MP for Dulwich and recently appointed Minister for the Department of Domestic Affairs, Ms Brighton Hope… is here with us to explain the Nudity Act, which was rushed through the Commons today and became a part of British Law, just a few seconds ago.”
An odd moment for the viewing public: the camera recording the scene swings in different directions, seemingly out of control. Aspects of the studio not normally seen are revealed. Lighting, cables and members of the crew holding e-clipboards are caught motionless in the shadows.
A bonus! The distraction has spared viewers the sight of a saggy backside flopping out over the elasticated waistband of a pair of rather grim-looking underpants, descending two flagpole legs. The next stabilised image frames the newsreader re-seated on his caster wheel chair behind the studio desk, with his modesty mostly in check.
Stood outside my front door, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, I deployed a swift reflexive manoeuvre, relieving an itch on the side of my nostril. As it turned out, an awkward itch, the sort that splits into two under the pressure of a finger.
Mid-relief, I spotted my elderly and infirm neighbour crouched outside the door of her stone-built cottage, observing me. With a sudden roar, a brewery wagon laden with metal beer kegs drove past, splitting the peace apart and briefly obstructing our view of each other.
“My powers now are very weak.” She shouted across, as the raw sound of the diesel engine faded. “You know I am not long for this world.”
“I’m sorry, what was that Mary?” I could barely make eye-contact with her, so far was she bent over. “Are you okay there?”
“You are a kind man.” She said. Her arm reached out for support against a freshly painted door frame. Twisting her neck around, she squinted an eye. “Your life, since I have known you over the last fifteen years has suffered a fair number of bumps in the road, hasn’t it?” She lifted up her head another notch, waiting for my reply.
“Well…” A pleasantry or a reflective answer required? I wasn’t sure and the passing seconds in this conversational hiatus, demanded action.
“You know Mary,” I settled upon a mid-deep reply, “there have been a fair few setbacks, you’re right. Life’s not turned out how I’d imagined. If I could do it all again, avoiding the same mistakes, I would for sure.”
“Indeed.” Mary said, with the squinted eye fully closed. “Let’s see what we can do about that.”
Yes, this coat: a duffle coat, I’d had it a long time. Purchased on the high street of Camden Town in a basement-based, second-hand (sorry – vintage) clothes shop. This, long before you were born and only a short while after the Home Counties’ CB radio craze had died a sudden, faddish death.
Initially, despite access denied to a full length mirror, I liked it. Where the material made contact with the skin of my neck, creating a mild itchy sensation, this failed to dampen my ardour. My deficient colour vision could not identify the shade; was it blue, grey, or simply enigmatic?
“Karl, have you noticed lately, how The Author has become actually involved in his own stories?” Veronique’s finger-grip tightened, creating what-would-become a permanent crease in the tightly woven and durable synthetic fibre of Karl’s jacket. “Well my darling, I can’t say I have been concentrating of late on no writer.” Karl trudged a hesitant foot forward, re-balancing himself to take into account the minute transfer of his lover’s weight spread out across the backs of his body and thighs. “The truth is,” he continued, “my first and foremost priority is to see us out of this immediate and perilous Borgesian landscape that we find ourselves caught up in.” As if his statement had pulled the trigger of a large handheld megaphone, a chorus of creature noises volumed-up, perhaps startled and warning of an imminent, potential danger. Karl stood stock-still, while utilising his top two front teeth to bite down with moderate pressure onto his lower lip. Working independently, the two figures scanned the swaying canopy of branches, leaves and twigs, swooshing several metres above their heads.
1. If you take a jolly good look around – and I mean a rootin’-tootin’ jolly good look around, there aren’t many women in the world with naturally blue hair. Very, very, few, as evidenced by the facts. Hair scientists say this rare phenomena occurs due to a specific genetic defect caught unawares, buried deep, about halfway down within the spiral structure of our DNA.
Conversely, as a committed appreciator, I say naturally blue hair is the eighth wonder of the world, a biological miracle, invoking a sense of much awesomeness. No less, I say, than a heavenly blessing from God’s can’t-leave-it-alone tinkering fingers. Still, to this very day, I can recall in reasonable-to-fair detail, the circumstances as a young teen, when I saw my very first one.
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.
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.