High Hopes

“I’m guessing you must be Melvin! Hi, I’m Summer.” Confidence oozed out deliciously from the blue-haired young woman, as she crossed the courtyard in several long strides. Sat next to the marble fountain, Melvin looked up from the patch of ground he’d been staring at, as if brought out of a daze.
“Yes! Hi there, Summer I presume?”
“Isn’t the villa just beautiful?” Summer spun around three hundred and sixty degrees with her face turned up towards the sun. “As a student, I used to help with picking grapes in the vineyard, during college break.”
“Well, you know I’ve lived in the area for five years, not more than twenty kilometres away and I had no, idea, such a place existed.” Melvin stood up and looked around, surveying the architecture, “I must say, it’s impressive.”
“Yes, yes it is.” Summer watched Melvin shuffle left and right, his hand horizontal on his brow to shade his eyes against the bright sunshine. She felt her enthusiasm drain away. She trusted her gut instinct, at least during an occurrence like today, feeling it dominate her head and heart so decisively. “Look, lets get a coffee,” she suggested, “there’s a kiosk over there with tables and chairs set up nearby.”
They walked together in silence, like an old couple with nothing left to say to each other. Melvin sunk his hands deep into his trouser pockets, playing with his keys and some loose change, while Summer compiled a list of reasons in her mind.
“Let me get them, what will you have?” Melvin said, pulling out his wallet from a back pocket.
“No,” Summer replied, “I’ll get them, what would you like?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Okay, well if you insist,” Melvin glanced at the blackboard menu, “flat white then, thank you.”
“Flat white?”
“Yes please, two sugars.”
“There’s sugar on the table, in the bowls, slim packets of sugar.”
“Oh, yes, so there is.”

Continue reading “High Hopes”

And I Love You, Too. (NSFW/Erotica)

“It’s such a beautiful day.” Standing on the fifth floor balcony of the hotel room they’d checked in to only minutes previously, Santiago surveyed the vista before him.
Maria dropped her backpack onto the bed, removed the hair band she’d worn all day, ruffled her hair and joined the distinguished-looking young man, outside. “It’s just such a beautiful countryside; where are we, exactly?”
“You know what?” Santiago’s expression softened, “I don’t know for sure. I know we are in northern Europe. After we met for the first time this morning, at Charles De Gaulle airport, our train stopped in Brussels and then continued through Belgium. Could we be in the Netherlands? I’m unsure, I dozed off several times.”
“No.” Maria pointed towards a mountain range. “The Netherlands are flat, bicycle friendly flat. Did you know that in the town of Utrecht you can coast along unaided on a bike for one kilometre after pushing through just five pedal rotations?”
“I did not know that, Maria.” Santiago grinned, amused by his companion’s reply. “How did you happen to come by this information?”
“I’ve told you, I received a good education back in Buenos Aires.”
“A good Catholic education and upbringing. I wonder what Sister Carmella would think of your pink hair?”
“I wonder what she’d think of this?” Maria faced Santiago and forced her hand between his legs. Her fingers groped the loose folds in his trousers, until, from touch, she identified his balls. With a firm grip established, Maria pulled her catch towards her. Santiago felt a flourish of bodily changes spring into action, as his lips met with hers.
Al-right,” Maria said, pulling away from the embrace, “a decent sized set you’ve got down there.” She winked, smiled, lifted up a little onto her toes and planted another kiss, this time onto the smooth space between Santiago’s eyebrows and nose.
“You know, it matters not where we are,” Santiago fixed his gaze into Maria’s green eyes, “I am just glad we found each other.”
“I can check our location!” Maria excitedly retrieved her phone from her jean’s back pocket and began tapping in her birth date code to access the phone’s features.
“No, hold that action Maria. Don’t you see? We are two porteños on an open ticket, a random adventure visiting the other side of the world a long way from home. Isn’t there something magical about that?”
“Oh for sure!” Maria cleared a list of notifications from her locked screen and returned the phone to her pocket. “Honestly, all the station names we’ve seen, they’ve meant absolutely nothing to me. All I can tell you is that we are not in Spain.” Laughing, she draped her arms around Santiago’s neck and scattered light kisses across from his jawline, to his cheekbone, to his temple. A sense of euphoria grew large and fluffy, inside Santiago’s head.
“M-Maria … Maria, I, I, love, you.”
Maria could make out the shape of two nipples showing through Santiago’s shirt. Deftly, she slid her hands down and covered both protuberances with the face of her thumbs. “It’s still early,” a cheeky expression danced across her face, “let’s open the wine you picked up. I’m taking a shower.” She gave his left nipple a sharp twist, felt his chest muscle tense and a satisfyingly deep growl vibrate through her momentarily flattened palm.
“If you don’t mind,” Santiago said, “I’ll kick these boots off and watch some TV whilst you shower.”
“Go right ahead, I won’t take long.”

Continue reading “And I Love You, Too. (NSFW/Erotica)”

Flowers

“Hi Rihanna, I’m home!” Bill called out, closing the front door behind him and dropping his keys into a Jerusalemite ceramic bowl on the sideboard. He checked the time on his wrist watch, showing exactly five thirty-five. “I got you some flowers!”
“How long did it take you to get home?” The distant, tired voice of his wife, although familiar to Bill, retained the power to make him sigh to himself, betraying a hope for something different.
“35 minutes exactly, from door-to-door!” Bill picked up several envelopes from the floor, casually scanning them before casting aside onto a coffee table. Slipping his cycle helmet off, he removed his sunglasses and headphones, dropping them onto the red, leather chesterfield sofa as he passed. He walked through the apartment living room, towards the bedrooms. “I don’t think I can actually better that time, not without shaving my legs and racing head down. How’s your day?”
“Oh, you know, ‘same old same old’, exhaustion, a prevailing sense of apathy. I had to rest in bed again all day today.” Rihanna smiled weakly at her husband as he entered the bedroom. He smiled back, his features softening sympathetically.
“I had a strange day today.” Bill said, approaching the bed, sitting down and laying a bunch of orange-red zinnias on the folded sheet.
“Are these for me?” Rhianna read the gift tag.

Continue reading “Flowers”

The Smiling Ballerina (~900 words)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Way back, in the early 2020s, I owned a café-bar in Söder, Stockholm, called Mellan Broarna, the meaning of which made sense, if you happened to be familiar with the island. Known locally for late hours, fine schnapps, a range of delicious smørrebrød and original entertainment, we welcomed local and international visitors alike. I ran the place with a light-touch managerial style, as you’d expect, encouraging bar, kitchen and waiting staff to coordinate harmoniously. They understood their responsibilities and kept the place operational, incident-free, right across all the eight years the project existed.
You’d have liked the place, unassuming from the outside, spacious on the inside. Large, arched windows looking out onto cobble streets outside. A wood interior, furniture, bar counter, finery found in all the fixtures and fittings. The brass lamps glowed orange, warm and reminiscent of a century ago.
Yes, you’d have loved the place, for sure.
My role, aside from styling, finance and administration, included sourcing performers for Friday and Saturday evenings, when we hosted a varied assortment of musicians, comics, and poets. Thursday evening served as audition night, a feeder for the weekend shows, with acts new to the venue granted the opportunity to perform in front of a smaller, but nonetheless encouraging, and appreciative clientele. Those shows steadily gained a reputation for uncovering talent, going on to appear at the weekend here, elsewhere in the city and beyond.

Genius is simple, performers arrived any time during the evening, writing their names on a piece of paper taped to the wall to one side of a modest-sized, raised stage. The acts went on in order, I compèred, read out short bios I’d scribbled onto scraps of paper; I crossed names off after each performance. Undetermined gaps of time existed between one act and another, allowing adequate time to refresh drinks, order food and discuss the pressing issue of the day. Informality ruled. Several novice creatives told me they actually preferred these feeder evenings, above the weekends, and showed up regularly.
One summer, on a Thursday evening, Bella, an African American and Gretchen, originating from Germany, arrived together; two overseas students previously acquainted by a chance meeting. Bella explained how the studio formed their usual rehearsal environment, however, they both happened to enjoy practise in the open air, with the Royal Djurgården city park as their choice location. Here, they’d stumbled onto each other and a bond of mutual appreciation quickly formed, with Bella admiring Gretchen’s cool trumpet playing and Gretchen equally impressed with Bella’s artistic ballet exercises. On the same day, according to Gretchen, they’d had a bonkers idea to become an act, as Bella Ballerina and Gretchen the Trumpeter. Prepare to be amazed! they’d told me. I chuckled, kindly, asking them, is that right?
Because, like you know, it takes a lot to amaze me, at least in a positive sense.

By ten that Thursday evening, we had comfortable numbers, not cramped; the staff each occupied with their tasks, all just how I liked it. Earlier, I had commandeered a small table and busied myself with administrative paperwork, refreshed by lager and encouraged by the promise to myself of a nightcap at the end of the evening. My attention had wandered back and forth to the stage, fulfilling my role for introductions. Several poets had appeared in the mix, along with a stand-up comedian, a folk singer performing original material with a nyckelharpa and a young woman playing several classical selections on guitar, starting with Bach, followed by a Clara Schumann piece and finishing with my personal favourite, Tarrega, with a flawless rendition of Adelita.
Then, it came to the turn of Bella and Gretchen. They emerged from the green room, located behind where I sat. First onto the stage, Gretchen with her trumpet, plainly dressed in a short-sleeved white blouse and blue jeans. Bella followed, wearing a low-back, mid-sleeve, black coloured leotard, with white tights, ballet shoes and silk ribbons. The crowd gradually hushed, as the two young women took up positions at opposite ends of the stage.
Gretchen began playing a slow tune, the notes singing, stretching out across the room, curling around everybody in the room. Bella matched the music with sensuous movement, arms unfurling down to her fingertips, ripples through her body, neck and head, and unfaltering balance en pointe. The audience were captivated, couples exchanged affectionate glances, lovers gently squeezed each other’s hands. When the pair finished, the applause echoed onto the street outside. As they turned to exit the stage, people cried out for an encore, which, smiling and clearly having fun, Gretchen and Bella obliged.
At the end, after taking their bows and the applause, they left the stage for the green room. Simultaneously, a man I recognised as a patron, the slightly eccentric Sir Charles, clearly deeply moved, left his table and advanced to meet the smiling ballerina and trumpeter. I heard him address them, saying it had been a wonderful experience, how he’d never heard such beautifully played music or seen such poise and elegance in dance, and on behalf of the universe, he wished to thank them both.
It had been an outstanding, atmospheric evening, one that holds on in the memory. You remember the times when that happened, don’t you?

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)

We Went Everywhere Together

It’s true, with my job as restaurant critic for Food World magazine, we went everywhere together. With a mission to cover all fourteen states of the Eastern Seaboard, the last 12 months had seen Jürgen and I move around regularly.
Typically, while I developed an extensive directory of remarkable places to eat, he’d take up casual employment, in whichever conurbation we found ourselves in. I hadn’t heard him complain too much about it. Picking and choosing whatever took his fancy, almost any form of manual work suited him.
Apparent to even the casual observer, Jürgen has a little less height and weight in comparison to me. His toned, athletic physique is impressive. I make comparisons to a competition-winning, middle distance runner … and with the stamina to match. His many attributes are widely recognised by other people too, the kind of folk who need a job done. I’m not sure if he’s altogether aware of it, but he has a social magnetism, drawing people into him. For sure, when out together he’d often get hit on by men and women alike. After a period of adjustment, it became something I’d gotten used to.
I’d guess it’s fair to say Jürgen and I were opposites in many ways. My work tends to be a solitary endeavour. Before we met, most of my acquaintances were involved in projects closely related to my own. You get to recognise the characters, top-end restauranteurs and event organisers, wine merchants and the rich who never cook for themselves. Reasonable-minded people might say the connecting thread for these types is arrogance, plain and simple. Well, nevertheless, I don’t hate them for it, I feel comfortable in their company. In the past I’ve shared time with them all … and occasionally whole weekends.
Next to my New York background, sits a proud Sicilian ancestral heritage; I’m Roman Catholic. Ultimately, I believe in the judgment of God and not that of bigots. In Jürgen, while he holds an immense regard for the architecture, art and atmosphere of churches, I see not a glimmer of faith inside of him.
Politically, my sympathies point towards liberalism, while, as far as I can make out, he holds no truck with any idealogical wing. Jürgen describes himself as apolitical. A person seeking power, he once told me, disqualifies themselves from suitability to hold office, by definition. I see his point, but I am less cynical. Despite our differences, I felt compelled and excited by this man, more than anyone else I’d ever known before. Across the time spent together, I experienced growth and insight from a perspective hitherto unknown to me. It sure as hell hadn’t happened immediately, but gradually, I did indeed fall in love.

Whilst finishing off in Georgia, the penultimate state on the list, I received a call from James, lifestyle editor at the magazine. He’d been instrumental in my successful application as restaurant reviewer. Originally, I’d met him and his husband Todd, at a members-only spa in the Village district on the west side of Manhattan. Over time, the three of us established a friendship featuring regular meet-ups, convivial late nights … occasionally late morning sleep-ins.
Ross, he says, for your next assignment, how does sunny California sound?
It sounded good. I wondered how fast he wanted me there.
How about you speed your way through Florida and get your sweet ass over to Los Angeles by … let’s say … this time next week. I’ll book a table at La Providence for Saturday.
That fast.
No way could I turn him down. Lots of wonderful opportunities had opened up to me since meeting James. I hadn’t had so much fun in years, finding myself generously rewarded for travelling, writing and eating out in fancy restaurants. Looking back, I knew deep-down Jürgen wouldn’t want to go.
How am I going to get to California? he said. He disagreed with air travel, solely on environmental grounds. Well, when I’m finished in Florida, you catch a greyhound bus from Miami, I told him. By road or rail, factoring in stop-overs, that’s the best part of a week’s travel, just to get somewhere I don’t even want to go to, he’d said.
Ultimately, Jürgen caught a greyhound from Miami, but upon arrival at the first stop in Atlanta, from where we’d not long left, he carried on north via Little Rock and back to Omaha, Nebraska, his home state.
Over in LA, I had the time of my life. I loved the climate, the people, the restaurants, bars and cafés. Soon, I hooked up with contacts and made new friends. With their help, I discovered parts of the city tourists often miss, expanding Food World magazine’s directory for the city tenfold, over the course of just a few months.
Jürgen and I kept in touch. He’d found work, some happiness, alternating between Omaha and Gothenburg, a town just a few hours west on the interstate. One time, we met at a convention in San Francisco, six months after last seeing each other. Our lives had diverged, this much had become apparent. I came to recognise the differences between us extended to our entire outlook on life. Unable to understand each other’s point of view, felt like a blindness. Getting the time and distance between us, helped me understand this. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever miss him. Although, something that has just occurred to me, the asshole flew to San Francisco!

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)

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.
“What?”
“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.
This.”
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

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.”
Infatuation?”
“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.
“Calm?”
“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.
A-hem!
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?”
“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