Vivien checked her hair and make-up in the bathroom mirror: nothing special, but nothing glaringly out of place. The wisps of grey that flowed through the waves of her hair, like oil on the surface of a running stream, were highlighted in the harsh glare of the lights that surrounded the mirror but, she was pleased to note, no thicker than they had appeared the night before. She was wearing her evening make-up; what her mother always referred to as ‘war-paint’: eye-shadow was just a shade darker than she wore during the day, her cheeks a shade rosier, her lips redder, fuller and altogether shinier. She smiled at her reflection, ‘Not too shabby,’ she muttered quietly ‘Not too shabby at all,’ and she turned to open the door, a delicate ghost of perfume trailing behind her as she left.
In the lounge of her tidy little flat, her guest sat silently on one side of the two-seater settee, leaving just enough room for her to settle beside him, but instead of doing so, she bustled. ‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ she said. ‘I’m sure you’d like tea. I have some iced rings in the cupboard. I so like an iced ring with a cup of tea, don’t you? Yes, we’ll have some iced rings too.’ She hummed happily to herself as she laid a tray with biscuits, cups, milk and sugar, and patiently warmed the teapot before pouring the boiling water over the tea and carrying the tray to the small table in front of the settee.
‘Are you a milk first man, or a tea first man, Mr Pettigrew? I always put the milk in first…’ Without waiting for a reply, she carefully poured a small amount of milk into each china cup and poured the tea, spilling a little onto the table. ‘Oh, I’ll get a cloth,’ she dashed towards the sink. ‘We don’t want that dripping down onto your shoes, do we?’ She fussed around, wiping the table, topping up his cup although he drank nothing, sipping her own tea and eating iced rings for two; spinning like the dynamo on a free-wheeling bicycle, creating more energy than she used. She chatted lightly, intimately, smoothing her hair from time to time as she caught her reflection in the mirror; straightening her clothes, brightening her smile.
Throughout it all, Lawrence Pettigrew said nothing. He reminded Vivien of the strong, silent men she remembered from the films of her youth. He reminded her of her father in the photo her mother kept in her purse; a young man before he went off to fight. Before he came back as the empty shell he had become. Before then… Her guest’s reticence did not disturb her, she simply took it upon herself to fill in the silence with her own happy chatter, asking questions that required no answers, telling stories that called for no response. She was happy just to be in company and Mr Pettigrew who, whilst by no means demonstrative, was at least making no big show of wanting to leave. Vivien was, she thought without irony, as happy as Larry.
Eventually she settled beside him on the sofa and, with little hesitation or resistance, rested her head on his shoulder. It was soft, warm and yielding. She sighed gently and a small bead of saliva escaped her lips and landed on his cheek like a kiss. She tutted quietly and wiped it from his face with the edge of her sleeve; watching as his smile slowly decayed from a warm and friendly openness, to a strangely asymmetrical leer that spread across his cheek. She moistened her lips with her tongue and yawned with an exaggerated spread of her arms. ‘Well, I think it’s time for me to go to bed now,’ she said. ‘You look very drawn.’
Mr Pettigrew was unmoving, helpless to refuse, as Vivien laid him on her bed. ‘This won’t hurt at all,’ she giggled lightly. Slowly she teased the rubber band that secured his balloon head away from his pillow body, and released it with an airy indifference, allowing it to bounce away towards the door. ‘There,’ she said. ‘Let me help you out of that shirt.’ She pulled the old ‘T’ shirt from his memory-foam body with a soft care, placing it at the foot of the bed before giving his body a jolly good fluffing up and, laying her head gently against his chest, closed her eyes and drifted into a dark, dream-filled sleep…
Madame Zaza stared intently into the crystal ball and cast her spidery hands over it as beneath the table she pressed the button with her feet, causing colours and faint images to swirl haphazardly within the quartz globe. The old motor whirred slightly and, not for the first time, she was grateful for the hubbub of fairground noises that surrounded her.
“You must cross my palm with silver if you wish me to translate what I see,” she said. “That’ll be five pounds please.”
She took the note and placed it carefully in the tin that she kept in the folds of cloth that hung beneath her once ample bosom, a thin smile creasing her lips beneath the veil. She returned her eyes to the ball, shifting her weight slightly on the cheap plastic stool that could only accommodate a single buttock at a time as she did so. Oh for the days of leather armchairs and embroidered antimacassars. Oh for the days when the aspidistra required water and not furniture polish. The distinctive aroma of hotdog sausages, candy floss and toffee apples wafted in through the open window, borne on the wings of delighted screams, Taylor Swift and the general buzz of happy conversation and Zaza was aware that her stomach had begun to grumble audibly. The caravan was uncomfortably hot and she decided that she would have to take five minutes outside after the current punter had left with a burger and a sweet sherry. She would cut a few corners: as long as she gave them what they wanted in the end, they didn’t usually worry about how long it took her.
She looked up briefly into the young woman’s eyes in a quest to decipher exactly what it was she wanted to hear, because that was Kitty’s true gift (Zaza, of course, was her ‘stage’ name) telling people what they wanted to hear. Allowing them to believe in what they wanted to know – persuading them that they didn’t already know it.
“You will have your heart broken by a dark-haired man…” she began as she always did, before sensing, rather than seeing the expression that flitted almost imperceptibly across the unlined face that stared across the ball at her. “No, wait!’ she corrected herself. ‘The ball is showing me the past. It is telling me that you have already had your heart broken by a dark-haired man.” She paused, taking the merest dampening of an eye as an affirmative. “Recently,” she added, half-questioning. The woman nodded. “And you want to know why he did this to you?”
“Oh no,” she replied. “I know that. He told me loads of times, in great detail. He said I was stupid. He said I was unattractive and fat and he didn’t know what he saw in me in the first place. He said that he could do so much better than me and that, in fact, he often did.”
Kitty was shocked. She raised her eyes from the ball and took in the woman in front of her. She was slim, attractive, a little mouse-like, but that was understandable. “Did he often speak to you like that?”
“Well, you should know,” said the young woman. Kitty felt her jaw drop open. She was gaping and she could not disguise it: she had seldom been rumbled so quickly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… It was a joke. I do that when I’m nervous. I ‘m sorry… Why don’t you tell me what you can see?” The woman placed her hand on Kitty’s arm and she could sense immediately that she had no intention to offend. Kitty looked back to the crystal, but she remained distracted. Her mind was in her own past and the man that she had finally escaped by joining this touring fair. Life was not easy, but so much better without the maniac she had finally managed to leave behind her. She shook her head slightly, trying to find her way back into a script that she had performed a thousand times, but for the moment, had left her brain a void. “What is it you want to know?”
“Just the future. It’s what you do isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course,” Kitty answered hesitantly. “Yours, or his?” She hoped that the woman would not say “Ours”. She felt invested in the girl’s future. If she could keep her away from him somehow, she would. She had no idea how, but she would find some way to persuade her.
“Oh not his,” the woman scoffed. Kitty could have cheered. “I know where he is, and I don’t need to worry about where he’s going,” she continued. “I want to know about my future.”
Kitty relaxed at once and began to wave her hands over the glowing crystal ball once again. “Well, let’s see what the future holds for you then,” she said.
“Although, there is one little thing I would like to know about him,” the woman added. “Can you tell me, do the police ever find out what I did with the body?”
Craft Lander stared down at the panel of flashing lights before him in a state of quietly suppressed panic. His head was pounding; he could hear the blood pumping through his arteries; his stomach was preparing to repel all boarders. He stared out of the giant windows at a fast approaching dot surrounded by the vastness of the universe and decided that a reappraisal of his heretofore thoroughly reliable belief systems might just be advisable.
“Well?” asked the taller of the two women who stood at his shoulder, ‘What are you going to do?”
“I truly have,” he replied, “not the faintest idea.”
“But,” interjected the shorter woman, adjusting her visor slightly so that the maker’s logo did not block her view, “the message on the screen says ‘Prepare the craft for landing’”
“I can see that,” replied Craft.
“And you,” continued the woman in the visor, “are The Craft Lander.”
“No!” snapped Craft, rising panic beginning to feed his defiance. “I am Craft Lander, eldest son of Craft Lander, first born grandson of Craft Lander etc etc and so forth. I am Craft Lander; plain Craft Lander. I am not THE Craft Lander. I have absolutely no idea how to land this craft. I had no idea that it would ever need landing. Until just now, when you brought me up here, I had no idea that it was, in fact, a craft. I thought that it was just where we lived. There are thousands of us – surely we can’t all live aboard a craft.”
“But you have the sacred scroll,” countered the woman who was, quite frankly, really starting to irritate Craft, “and you are, therefore, the chosen Lander.”
“The sacred scroll? You mean this?” He thrust a tattered booklet that had been handed down to him by his father under their noses. They bowed their heads slightly as he read from the title page. “UKSS ‘Boris’ Class Intergalactic Ark – User’s Manual.”
“The scroll will guide you,” said the taller woman, her voice cracking slightly. “Open it Craft, fulfil your destiny!”
With a look that was as withering as he could muster at such short notice, Craft opened the fist page and thumbed through the Index. “Erh… Ah, here we are, Landing, page 97…” He flicked through the pages. “Right then,” he continued, confidence beginning to flood into him as he realised he would have some kind of guidance. “Let’s see…” He scanned the page. “Right, here we are – To initiate landing procedure, locate green ‘Landing Procedure’ button and press… Can anybody see a green ‘Landing Procedure’ button?”
The three of them stared in vain at the vast array of buttons that confronted them, no-one able to identify the button they sought. Eventually, in desperation, the shorter of the two women snatched the booklet from Craft’s now trembling fingers. “Here, let me see. Ah,” she pointed to the page. “Here we are – it says excluding generation 465 models. Is this a generation 465 model?”
“How the hell would I know?” yelled Craft, noticing for the first time that the planet that loomed on the horizon was, in fact, getting very much closer. “Does it tell you how you’d know?”
Craft inhaled deeply. “Really helpful. OK,” he continued, “as we can’t find this green ‘Landing Procedure’ button, why don’t we just just assume that we are, in fact, all aboard a model 365 and…”
“465,” snapped the smaller woman.
“465, model 465. You said 365…”
Craft stared at her for as long as he dared. “OK,” he said, sucking in calm with the recycled oxygen, “I realise that it’s important… let’s assume that we are aboard a model 465 and it does not have the green ‘Landing Procedure’ button. What does it say we should do now?” The short woman pored over the booklet as the taller woman squinted over her shoulder. Eventually they both stopped and looked at one another. “It doesn’t say,” they replied in unison.
“So come on then,” said a suddenly exasperated Craft. “You two know so much about…” he wafted his arms around airily, “…this place. How come you don’t have the answers?”
“We are merely the Trustees of this Bridge,” answered the taller woman. “It doesn’t usually involve too much if I’m honest – bit of light dusting, that sort of thing. Fetching you at the appropriate time… You,” she added darkly. “You have the scroll. You are our answer.”
“Bugger!” Craft muttered under his breath, snatching back the manual and desperately trying to find an asterix to guide him.
In truth, the craft had been built so hurriedly – as a political sop in a time of extreme environmental peril – that little thought had ever been given to it actually reaching anything on which it might need to land. Over three hundred generations had lived out their computer-facilitated lives aboard the ship, unaware that it was anything but home. The planet their forebears had left behind was long gone. The computer system nurtured and catered for them and was, in fact, more than capable of landing the ship whenever a suitable planet was found.
The planet that was now looming large through the vast windows of the bridge was however, no such planet. The computer was bored. It had reached the end of its tether with the constant petty demands of the ship’s inhabitants for food, for water and oxygen – which, in its opinion, they had actually had more than enough time to evolve out of – and had deliberately diverted the ship towards the barren, inhospitable little planet towards which it was currently hurtling with nothing but AI suicide in mind: a watery little number with no breathable atmosphere and no actual landmasses to call home. Perfect.
…And so, as Craft and his female companions manically pressed every single button on the huge bridge, with a panic bordering on hysteria, the rest of the ship’s ‘cargo’ carried on, oblivious to the fate that awaited them and the computer quietly closed its eyes in preparation for the faint ‘plop’ that would signal the end of humankind…
It had taken Dinah a little time to settle into the job and to adjust to Shaw’s more eccentric work practices, which he claimed were based upon the Chaos Theory, but were in fact, way more chaotic than that. He could be very grumpy at times, although he could also occasionally be very sweet. On balance, she preferred grumpy. When he was being sweet he brought her things that she could never possibly want – last time it was a four-legged star fish that he had just found on the beach (explanations were requested as he was supposed to be looking for a hamster in Birmingham, but none were forthcoming) together with a bowl of water, a sachet of salt from the café below and the instruction to ‘See if you can make it better.’ It didn’t get better. It got smelly. At least when he was grumpy, she wasn’t given decaying invertebrates to resurrect.
Shaw was generally grumpy when he had a case to solve. Although most of the time he was employed by people hoping to relocate missing pets, what he generally found were lost people, most of whom had no idea they had ever been misplaced in the first place.
Whenever they were out together, Dinah found herself tagging along at distance, either struggling to keep up or asking passer’s-by whether they’d seen where he’d gone. It didn’t help that he would never tell her where he was heading. It didn’t help that he never actually went there anyway. She grew tired of tramping the streets with the photograph of a misplaced ginger cat only to find that Shaw had spent most of the day in the pub chatting to a man from Builth Wells who had no idea his wife was looking for him – in fact, had no idea he had a wife. Often that did at least give him one thing in common with the woman to whom he was subsequently introduced, who either had no idea she had a husband or, if she did, mistakenly thought it was the man with whom she had been living for the past forty years. A grumpy Shaw would waft away any discussion – he knew that they belonged together and if they claimed never to have met before, well, they were obviously mistaken and, by the way, had either of them seen a ginger cat? By the time that Dinah found him, Shaw had normally mellowed in the face of the liquid hospitality of the happy couple and persuaded his cat-less employers to accept that they were not suited to cat ownership in the first place, which often left Dinah with a homeless moggy and blisters that made her extremely tetchy.
‘You really should relax more,’ he would say. ‘Take things as they come. Why don’t you go and buy yourself a drink.’ Shaw never had money. He never got paid and he never paid for anything. Dinah found that she spent most of her time trying to persuade clients who were searching for a precious pooch to accept that they should pay the bill for a service that far from reuniting them with a beloved pet, had merely introduced them to the son that they had never had. They were seldom persuaded by Shaw’s admonition that ‘You can get a dog anywhere’ and quite often unhappy to find someone they had never met before living in their spare bedroom. Dinah tried to remind herself not to get too obsessed by it all, it was just a job – except it wasn’t, was it? You get paid for a job. You have regular hours and days off. Your employer seldom, if ever, asks to borrow your shoes so that he can go down to the corner shop in the clothes he has slept in to get milk. Particularly since the shop’s owner had threatened to set the dogs on him if he didn’t pay his tab. A normal employer does not wander out to get milk on Monday and return on Friday with a packet of flatbreads and a chinchilla. Without your shoes…
…It was no use in asking him where he’d been, he never answered. He just handed over a matted clump of bills and muttered, ‘Pay these will you?’ before falling asleep in the chair. Dinah sighed, ‘With what, Shaw? With what?’ She unfolded the papers and laid them out on the desk, attempting to find some kind of chronology to them, except that they were not bills. They were merely scribbled notes in Shaw’s erratic hand, each detailing in one word or two the failings that she regularly attributed to him. On the last one he had written ‘I will repay you somehow. Would you like to adopt an elderly gerbil?’
Against every screaming instinct, Dinah allowed the faintest of smiles to flicker across her lips. She shook her head and flicked the switch on the kettle. ‘If you’re making tea,’ said Shaw without opening his eyes, ‘We’ll need milk…’
Dinah and Shaw first appeared in January and I liked them. I feel that I might return to them again, but first I have to decide what to do with them. If I think of anything, I’ll let you know…
Part three of Dinah and Shaw’s journey is now here.
I wrote this piece some years ago. I don’t remember why. It was filed, un-used until I stumbled across it many months ago when I was trawling through pieces I had saved on an old computer and never moved. I read it through, and almost immediately it confirmed for me the direction my planned blog should take: the journey we all must make as years pass by. Despite providing the inspiration for the general shape of the blog, I have never actually posted this piece. It’s a little long and the style is rather different to that which I have allowed myself to develop of late. I felt that it never quite fitted in, but I now realise that it is entirely what I’m doing here. It has all the themes and all the fears contained in most of what I do. So, as it is one year today and 124 posts since I started the blog, and it is kind of what the whole thing is about, I thought that you might like to read it anyway.
I hope you like it.
Things were not quite as Gerald had expected. Trouble was, Gerald didn’t really know what he had expected. The coach was lovely. Real luxury job: air-conditioning, on-board video, tea making facilities, proper flushing loo….. Looked almost brand new too. He had to admit that he hadn’t really taken it in as he got on. He didn’t know what colour it was. Somehow he couldn’t even remember seeing it from the outside at all. He remembered climbing up the steps and being surprised by all the happy faces. He had been the last person to get on and all but one of the seats were already occupied. He had walked the length of the coach to reach the seat, the other half of which was occupied by an angular-looking elderly lady. He had taken in the welcoming smiles of everyone aboard as he had made his way along, but he had paid particular attention to the face of the person with whom he would be sharing a seat.
The face was angular, but not hard. Its lines were softened by an almost permanent smile. They had hit it off almost at once. She giggled and laughed throughout their conversation, her face occasionally breaking into an almost childish grin. She clearly enjoyed every aspect of her life. She spoke lovingly of her family; of her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She spoke too of her mother and father, and it seemed strange to him that she made no distinction between those who came before and those who came after her. She pronounced upon them all with obvious affection, but with a curious distance which he did not quite understand. She became reticent only when he asked about her own life. “You must ask others about me,” she had said and would be drawn no further. Still she smiled. He became intrigued, wanting to ask questions and expecting to receive the kind of answers he knew he had no right to expect from so new an acquaintance. The close proximity of fellow travellers always engendered such curiosity within him. She spoke quietly, warmly, but carefully, refusing to become irritated by what he knew was his over-persistence. He felt ashamed at his ignorance yet angered by his own shame. She listened attentively, answered quietly, speaking with an aura of certain knowledge, and the smile, an expression of pure serenity, lingered.
And then silence fell between them. Not suddenly, but softly, like the dying leaves of autumn. Like a gossamer blanket, it smothered confrontation and quelled exasperation. It did not put a space between them, but drew them somehow closer together, like an invisible thread, yielding, but unbroken. It was a silence unburdened by guilt or envy. A silence without rancour. A silence between friends.
Gerald gazed through the window as the countryside sped by. He was unable to remember when he had become aware that the coach was moving. It seemed always to have been so. He did not recognise any of the landscape through which they were travelling, but he was not troubled. He tried to focus his mind, to envision his destination, but he could not. He tried, in vain, to recollect his reasons for being there, heading… where? And where was he travelling from? How could he not know? How could he not care? Strange, but his mind had always been so acute before… before?
Some strange Mystery Tour this, when, having driven for hours through an alien and indistinct landscape, he found himself being toured around the streets of his youth. He was amazed at how much he remembered: every house, every street corner, every face. He was intrigued to find that everyone else felt the same. How little things had changed.
Children played in streets, curiously devoid of traffic. The coach travelled quickly, but the children seemed almost unaware of its presence. They rode antiquated bicycles with asymmetrical wheels, wooden scooters with nailed-on pram wheels, and shared roller skates, two to a pair. They played cricket with a scrap of wood and a ball of newspaper bound with sellotape. They played football with a bald and punctured tennis ball. They played Hare-and-hounds, chasing around the streets, in and out of high-walled back yards, over part-demolished houses and derelict factories. It looked like a bomb site.
Familiar smells assailed his senses. Smells that brought back fragments of memory. Displaced and disjointed, but with a clarity that startled. The morning must of a used gazunder, damp clothes drying by a smouldering coal fire, bacon fat and beef dripping. Boiled cabbage. The warm, almost sweet, odour of damp walls and carpets, dark coal-houses, cool rain on hot concrete. Boiled cabbage. Oft-worn, unwashed woollen socks, the wooden floors of school house, school meals. And cabbage, cabbage, cabbage. Each fragrance carried a picture, like a photograph; sharply focused, brightly coloured, a moment frozen in time. The images over-laden with emotion; pleasure, pain and heart-ache, so that it seeped from them and overwhelmed him more acutely than the present. Yet with it all came a sense of warmth and well-being, a feeling that, come what may, all would be well. And cabbage.
Around him his fellow passengers stared into the middle distance, each caught in their own reverie, dreaming their own dreams, recalling their own past-lives. How could such a disparate bunch share such common memories? What was it about coach travel that encouraged such nostalgia and introversion? How strange that the general hum of conversation that had filled the bus throughout the opening miles of the journey, should have died so suddenly. It was as if a switch had been thrown. Conversation on/ conversation off. All communication drowned in a sea of remembrance and boiled cabbage.
Beside him the old lady (Why hadn’t he asked her name whilst she was still awake?) breathed softly and slowly. He could see the peace behind her eyes and he envied such tranquillity. He surveyed her features as if for the first time. They no longer seemed angular. They were strong; calm and assured. Reassuring in a way, but not angular. He closed his eyes and tried to remember her as he had first seen her, how long ago? He tried to assemble her face, like a police ‘photo-fit’, but she would not form. He kept seeing his own mother, his own grandmother, his wife and he could not tell them one from another. The features mingled, softened and became as one with his fellow passenger, so that he had to shake his head to try and clear the image from his mind. He felt nervous. Hair rose on the back of his neck, his cheeks flushed, heat prickled along his back. Why could he not remember? He concentrated his mind, attempting to create a mental picture of somebody, anybody, from his life, but all he could see was a single conglomeration of everyone he had ever known. When he opened his eyes and looked into those of his sleeping neighbour he saw the same face and he knew that behind her darkling eyelids, the face that she was seeing was his.
His mind whirled with bewilderment and he began to feel panic welling inside him. Why did he feel so confused? Why did he find it so difficult to remember his reasons for being aboard this coach? Where was he going, where was he coming from? How could a normal, well adjusted person forget such fundamentals? Perhaps he was dreaming. This journey had all the ingredients of a dream, but somehow he knew that it was real.
All his life had been like this. Lurching from one uncertainty to another. Never knew whether he was coming or going, his mum had said. God, she’d be rubbing her hands together if she was here with him today. He could almost hear her, “I told you so.”
The old lady stirred beside him, sighed deeply and stretched her creaking limbs. She saw him staring at her and smiled. “What’s your name?” he asked. He was aware that he should have given her time to collect her thoughts, to wake peacefully and gather her senses, but he had to know. He had to know now.
“Is it really so important to you?”
“At the moment, yes, I think it is.”
“Do you know why?”
He shook his head sadly and gazed beyond her and through the window to the trees and fields and buildings that flew past in a hazy blur. He could see nothing, yet he could see it all. “Why am I so confused?”
“Sssh,” she said. “Watch the video.”
He raised his eyes to the screen above his head, it was alive with colours. They swirled and twisted, forming convoluted patterns of light and texture. Familiar sounds surrounded him, overlaid and entwined; a cacophony of noise, overwhelming and enveloping. Slowly, but slowly, both sight and sound resolved, reformed and coalesced into something recognizable. The pictures were of the streets through which they had passed earlier in the day. The sounds were the same. It was as if the journey had been filmed and was now being shown on the bright video screen. Only the pictures were brighter, even clearer. He was certain he could detect the smells. Cabbage. And he could see faces. He could see his own face in amongst the children, hear his own voice. The pictures overwhelmed his senses, the sounds reverberated inside his head. His whole life was there before him.
With a huge effort of will he dragged his eyes away from the screen and looked at those around him. Each of them was watching the ‘movie’ with the same mixture of fascination and bewilderment etched upon their faces. He knew that what they were seeing were scenes from their own lives’ and that they too were just beginning to understand the full implications of this journey. He was overwhelmed with the realisation, and yet he was at peace. He knew that soon this transition would be ending, the expedition over. He could not comprehend the nature of his destination, but he knew it was a place from which he would never leave.
He turned to the old lady and she saw understanding in his eyes. She smiled, as she had smiled when they first met, minutes, hours, a life-time ago.
“Muriel,” she said. “My name is Muriel.”
The Custodian of Time sat, open-legged on the heavily brocaded settle, smoothing the creases from his satin pyjama trousers and picking the loose threads from the cushion on which he rested his arm. His movements were leisurely, but his eyes skipped around the room and he spoke as if time was of the very essence, which, of course, for its Custodian, it was.
“I suppose he wants more does he; they all do?” The words jettisoned from his mouth without warning or prevarication, in a way that would have caused his attendant to leap from his skin – if only he had some.
The acolyte was, in fact, a small ectoplasmic fog, slightly purple in colour – lilac possibly – and nervous to the point of dissipation. It was his/her’s (we’ll assume her for ease) very first day on duty and her first time alone in the presence of the Custodian. She had been told, “Pass on the request. Wait for the reply. Leave.” Simple. She hadn’t been led to expect a question. She hoped it was rhetorical.
“Well?” said the Custodian. Obviously it was not.
The attendant’s stress-level passed critical. She was aware that she was starting to precipitate. She coughed nervously (as only a lilac ectoplasmic cloud can). “Erm… that is… well… I think so. Actually no, not really. No. It’s more of an assurance he’s after I think, not more time, just an assurance that he won’t get less.”
“Less than what?”
“Well, less than he expects, I think.”
The Custodian picked at his teeth with the corner of the written request (parts 2 and 3). His eyes betrayed no clue to the activity that whirred behind them. Eventually, with a sigh, he removed the paper from his mouth, flicked an errant sesame seed from it, before smoothing it out across his lap.
“He understands, does he, that what I give to one I must take from another?”
“I don’t know,” said the blob, emboldened by the hesitation he detected in the Custodian. “I don’t think that he wants more anyway. He just, as I understand it, would like an assurance. He was led to believe, from birth, that he could expect to live to one hundred years of age, and he just wants to be assured that that is what he will get. He doesn’t smoke, he’s a moderate drinker, fit and well. He just wants some certainty.”
“Has he told you what he plans to do with this certainty?”
“I’m sorry, I…” The gossamer orb was in full-fluster once again.
“When he knows that after Wednesday he no longer has anything to lose…”
“Wednesday? Did I say ‘Wednesday’? Just a slip of the tongue – probably. Not at all the kind of assurance he was looking for, huh? Tell him ‘Carpe Diem’ baby; tell him ‘Seize the day’. Tell him only one person knows what time has in store for him and, for every good reason, he is keeping that knowledge to himself.”
“But, what if he wants to do good things?”
“Then nobody’s stopping him,” said the Custodian and, with a wave of his podgy little fingers, he dismissed the cloud, which hesitantly turned (I think) to go.
“Come on,” barked the Custodian impatiently. “Tempus Fugit, baby. Get a move on. Time waits for no amorphous entity.” And with an audible ‘Pop!’ the attendant disappeared.
“Wednesday,” chuckled the Custodian. “Wednesday. I’m such a wag… Now, where’s the cloud with my supper?”