Take Your Time
It’s often better if you don’t do things too fast. Sure, a goodly swig is best but over too soon! If you take your time you can make a can go all night and stave off that awful empty feeling when it runs out. Like when offing that swan. Really made it fucking suffer. Yea, really, really fucking suffer. Yep! Soup and coffee at the kitchen gets cold, and quick means more, though, yeh.
Walking in the park in the night was shit really, but what else was there to do? Nothing! Even with a big coat on it was too cold to sleep and everywhere is closed by now. No clean clothes, no bath, for what? A year? What do I care? Itchy, though! For a moment, memories of better times began to rise only to be stamped back down hard. Fuck the lot of them. So what if I smell eh, don’t your shit smell eh, eh, your majesty, eh, eh. Well does it or… Something moved. Off the pathway, away in amongst the trees, a mound of leaves or something was almost imperceptibly rising and falling. Carefully he crept closer. It couldn’t be, surely not. It's a girl! Yep, there really is a girl. All alone. Sleeping. By herself in the forest. This is gonna be good. You know you have to go in hard right off the bat. Hit ‘em hard, get control, keep them quiet. Nothing like a few broken teeth to do that!
The powerful blow landed so hard on to the side of the sleeping girl’s face that her head bounced back up into the air a few inches, haha. She started to scream, but a powerful hand immediately clamped itself across her mouth. He felt sharp teeth against the palm of his hand and wondered, briefly, if she was going to bite him, but realised she was just choking, struggling for breath. Dead or alive’s all the same to me. Suddenly she threw herself up and away from him, falling back against the tree.
Tall? He caught her with a chunky right hook that felled her. All the same height lyin’ down, he thought. Full of joy and anticipation he leapt onto her, but somehow, she just stood back up with him on top of her and fell back against the tree again. He saw the terror in her eyes, but somehow it didn’t please him quite the way it should. Fuck it. He lunged again, but this time he was met by two long arms and his blows fell short.
Suddenly the arms were grabbing, flailing. Something slashed hard across his face and was tearing at his throat. The pain was terrible, confusing, but something deep and primordial within him understood only too well. Now he was the rabbit in the talons, the lamb with the lion at its throat.
Half blinded and with a hand full of nails dug into his neck, he summoned all his strength and desperately tore himself away. Stumbling a few paces he fell, got up, staggered a few more, fell again, got up again and finally able to stand, charged away deeper into the forest. Through bushes, scraping against trees, blasting through anything and everything he ran. Nothing mattered anymore. Just getting away. Strangely, through the pain and the terror, a little voice in his head said, “How the fuck did I get into a horror movie? And err can we cut now ha ha?”
He staggered into a clearing, exhausted. It could easily see you here! I don’t fucking care anymore! Slumped now against a tree he waited to die. He thought about the pointless totality of his life, of the terrible things he had done, and that he didn’t even know why. Even the kids at school, for God’s sake. How his mother had loved him and how he had let her down. How he had ended up here and that absolutely nothing made any sense. He rolled onto his side, quietly sobbed for a moment and then finally, rolling on to his back, he stared up at the stars, but the stars stared back into empty eyes and in his mind, he slowly stood up into a different forest where the darkness moved. Is that her? Has she come after me? His first instinct was to run but which way, and could he run? Think, he thought, but not too fast; take your time, take... your… time. There’s a rock! At least it'll know it's been in a fucking fight this time but found he could hardly move towards the rock, let alone pick it up and something was coming.
He tried to turn but found that he was slowly falling instead, like a stone in treacle. The terror that festered within him then suddenly roared into life and a scream that tore out all of the shame, all of the fear and pain of a lifetime, left his stricken body as only the faintest of whimpers; and as the blood and tears soaked gently into the soft good earth, his life took its time to quietly, slowly, ebb away.
As soon as you have determined your field site, you will be creating your own field notes, analysing, theorising and discussing, in written form, your experiences. As you will write about your field research, you will also be collectively reading and discussing with your classmate’s fieldwork processes, challenges, and debates. Each student’s project will also be the focus of class workshops twice during the semester. So that you can immediately and intensely engage yourself in the field, the amount of reading in the course is limited, but please be aware: although it has many and deep rewards, this is also a very intensive, time-consuming course.
Yea right, he thought, reading the worst part of the lengthy instruction at the start of his otherwise blank notes. Time-consuming it certainly was. Two hours following and observing a drunken bum who had gone off somewhere into the woods and now another twenty minutes watching a female bum doing absolutely nothing. Just sitting, head almost on knees, filthy hair down on the ground.
He knew he should, maybe, have followed him in there, but thought better of it. He could have/should have approached him earlier but, ashamed, knew he just didn’t have the stomach for it.
The bum was a big lad; and now sitting across the pond from him was the creature that had seen him off, apparently! Struggling to decide on the lesser of two evils, he finally stood and began the semicircular walk of dread. It was unthinkable to return with nothing. Especially after all he had said as well. Me and my big mouth.
So this was it, the intensive bit, his first interview and he was definitely, definitely going to do it. After all, she was just a girl! But then again, she was one that had just seen off the dangerous look- ing bum. As he got closer she seemed to get bigger so that even hunched over as she was, her head was almost level with his as he slid in next to her. With all of the hairs on the back of his neck erect, he seriously considered just getting back up and leaving, but he had only just sat down; how stupid would that be? But there was no movement. She was barely breathing as far as he could tell. The seconds passed.
“Hi, my names Matt,” Matt said feeling like a minnow.
She had considered just simply ignoring him, but mindful of what happened the last time she tried that, she decided that this time, she would probably speak.
“Yes, I’m Matt,” he was saying; “to cut a long story short... or at least a bit shorter anyway,” he sniggered briefly at his un-shared joke that wasn’t really that funny and wasn’t really a joke anyway, and probably would have been better left unexplained too. “I – I am an exchange student. A sociology post grad operating for the next six months out of Middlesex Uni’. You know; err near Church road.”
Still no movement.
“I wondered if you might help me with; you see I’m doing this thesis on the... ”
Appalled he hesitated. What could he say? Surely not, the dispossessed, those who can’t, don’t or won’t function in society. Bums, drunks, vagrants? What kind'a arse-hole thinks of this only now?
“I’m lost,” the strange monotone voice just jumped out of her mouth, startling the both of them.
“What,” he said. No reply.
“Lost? What do you mean lost?”
“I’m tired. I need to go home.”
Gently he reached for her shoulders to turn her towards him. The quiet voice assuaging his fears. This was clearly a woman in distress and he was a man, well, very nearly. In any event, it felt good to act like one.
“Home? Okay! Where’s home? I’m new here but... ” His hand had lifted half of her hair to one side so he could see her face. What he saw made his flesh prickle. He didn’t; couldn’t pull away, he just froze. Desperate green eyes, ever so slightly, yet impossibly too large, shone out at him from an appalling mess of grime, mud and blood, a strip of flesh hung from a multicoloured cheek. But no; it was just the pattern of blood and gunk that made it seem that way.
“Hold still." He carefully peeled a flesh coloured leaf from the bruised and battered face. The face of a giant child?
“Are you alright?” he said softly, “do you want me to call an ambulance, the police or some- thing. What’s happened?”
“No... I just need to go home." The thought of being examined, messed about and all that, was too horrifying, and then there was the question of the blood. The blood under her fingernails and stiffening her jeans. It wasn’t all hers!
“Okay," Matt wasn't sure what he should do. Calling the police was the obvious thing, but she had said no! In any event, if he did, that would be the end of it and then he would be left with the mystery of this girl and he might never know what had happened, why she was there or even who she was. Not much use for a thesis then; and he certainly couldn’t just leave her there. The park would close soon, maybe with her in it. Then what?
“Where’s home?” in spite of himself he reached out and removed some of the remaining bits of leaves from the thin veil of hair that now, once again, separated them. This close, the baleful eyes, still just visible.
“I don’t know.”
“Your kidding, right? You mean you don’t remember?” Matt looked at her quizzically.
“Okay, okay... right; you’ve obviously been hurt bad,” he pulled out his Decca phone, “I think
we need to get you some help here!”
Suddenly, she just got up and started to walk away.
“Just leave me alone,” she monotoned.
“Whoa, hey, hey, slow down,” Matt reached for her wrist, but then thought better of it. “Will you just stop a second? You can’t stay here... I mean like it’s not safe... right? You know that right?” shit, “I mean... ”
He quickly leapt around in front of her, which wasn't hard as she was only shuffling along.
“Okay here’s the deal.” What the fuck am I doing, he thought. “You come and meet the guys at our shared house. Two of them are girls, you know! Chat for a bit and if you still wanna go off and die somewhere – whatever; cool! Whad’ you say? We got food, drink, maybe a change of clothes, a shower?” That stopped her.
“Come on, come on, what you godda lose. Trust me, it's safe. You don't like it. You just get lost... err... again?"
She had turned to look at him. He laughed trying to seem as weak and ineffectual as possible. Standing in front of her that wasn’t difficult, he was doing a great job.
“Okay,” her, very English, soft, child-like voice was so quiet that he almost didn’t hear it, but he did. He realised that, as usual, he hadn’t quite thought it all through and had just gone with his instincts, and they had absolutely assured him that she would never say yes, not this creature of the park, no no, not in a million years but; ‘okay’ no matter how quiet, and no matter how unsure; okay was still yes, wasn’t it?! The long silent seconds started to tick. This time he did lightly touch her wrist.
“Okay – let’s go,” he said, and he began the slow journey home with Adriana shuffling morosely behind, his cheeks already flushed at the prospect of explaining this. "Yea it's cool, she's my friend. You're a girl! She's a girl! She needs our help. Like what was I supposed to do, eh?" Yea Yea "What would you have done, right?" But I've only been there a friggin month. Oh my God, oh my God!
Matt was sure that two of his three flatmates, Archibald Mellon, Archie to everyone, and Sophie, Sophie Glassman would be out, but the ebullient Beá would probably be in, and although he was sure her response would not be a joyful one, it was hard to be sure exactly how badly she would react to the arrival of his new found creature. Clearly, he would have some explaining to do; but would he even get the chance?
Beá was sure she could be annoying but how annoying, that was the question. Archie and Sophie were so cool, so easy and ‘Door Matt', he was no problem, unless he’d, ‘had a few', it didn't seem to matter what; then he loved everyone and he could do anything!
Maybe they liked a bit a Black Slate and Marley and ting. Still, she only played them in her room and it weren't like she had some kind'a dancehall sound system in dere or any ting. Not quite anyway. She wouldn't normally light up on her own in the house, but today had been a little too much, and maybe the spliff would chill her out a bit.
Standing best side on, she stepped in front of the full-length mirror in the corner of her room. She took a last toke, just about not quite burning her voluptuous red lips, the now tiny remnant of spliff held expertly by just two glossy red fingernails. Shit, God been good to you, girl?
Not used to seeing herself in a suit she turned full on, twisted and spun around to check out her toosh, beads clicking. Her full figure looked good in a suit. She shimmied a bit and smiled un- ashamedly at herself, but the smile faded. She was 25 and had recently started to wonder what all that would be like after gravity and a couple of kids had done their work. Shame nobody wanted her. Oh they wanted her, and not just the men either, but it was nearly a year since she had left her job at the bank; and still nothing. No job! Is it cause I is black? The smile returned as she slunk over to watch the evening from her upstairs sash window.
Part of her almost envied her parents generation. They always had racism to blame. A sort of guaranteed fall back, though often well justified. But now; bigotry wasn't so assured. Of course, they were still out there, bigots, but no, it was her! There was just too much of her. She was too much, and when she tried to tone it down she just felt stupid, and it showed. Who wants to work a supermarket till anyway!
Then she saw them. Sure, there was Matt walking slowly down the road towards the house, but behind him, there was, she wasn't sure what, a tall blonde thing, covered in God knows what, morosely shuffling along, the face almost completely covered by filthy lank hair. Like some kinda’ duppy.
Okay, Matt was a bit weird, but was this his girlfriend? Surely not. As she watched she could see Matt nervously looking around every so often to check on the creatures' progress, a diminutive figure dwarfed by the insane looking thing that followed behind. But that wasn't all, it was becoming quite obvious that he was bringing it to the house. None of this made any sense. Matt had gone out to interview a bunch of bums, so why on earth was he now bringing one home? One thing was sure. She was not going to allow it, not in her house. Cursing under her breath she stormed down the stairs to the front door, ready for war.
“What do the I, dink you are doin'. You cyaan brin' dat in here.” Beá’s shout brought the pro- cession to an abrupt halt, several yards short of the gateless gate, whilst animating most of the birds in the nearby trees. She always seemed to revert to her native tongue when she got excited, al- though, to Matt, it did seem unlikely that everybody in ‘Lewi Sham' spoke that way. That was in Lon- don, wasn't it? In any event, he didn't need a translation!
“Look Beá,” he pleaded, “look – I know I shouldn't have, you know...” He swung round to indicate Adriana and then back. “But can you please, just this once, can you help me? She's hurt. She needs our – ”
“Hurt?” How you mean hurt?” Beá cut in, her face wrinkled with outrage and confusion. Matt was still considering how to answer that question when Beá simply walked straight down the path- way through the gate and straight up to Adriana. Matt felt sure that he should have stopped her, but it was all too late and now Beá was staring up into Adriana’s face with both her hands lifting back Adriana’s hair.
“Oh my Lord, what in the name of sweet Jesus... ”Beá’s voice choked off, her two trembling hands, almost but not quite, cradling Adriana’s cheeks. “Oh my poor sweet baby, my poor baby, who did this? Who did this to you?” She turned to shoot Matt a look that would have killed, if looks could, tears already welling. He sent back a look that said you're kidding right and Beá responded with an apologetic, though still suspicious, nuff said, nod and guided Adriana up the garden path and into the house.
Seated on the communal living room couch Adriana felt panic starting to rise in her again. If she would just stop touching me! Beá's hands were once again pulling her hair back, her face too close, whilst she sent in a stream of urgent questions. Suddenly it was all too much and Adriana pulled away.
“No police,” she croaked, “no hospital – nothing.” She started to stand, “I’m going,” but felt the room spin.
"Oooh, so you can speak,” Beá's hands gently helping Adriana to sit back onto the settee. Matt started to say something but was stopped by Beá's palm raised behind her, almost into his face.
“Shooosh Matt she’s sayin’ some it, let me hear her. I guess you in some kind of trouble, right?”
Adriana saw her chance and nodded.
"We know about that where I come from,” Beá laughed. “Go if you want, but that’ll mean no chicken soup!”
“Well then, how about some bread and minestrone then?” “No, no meat.”
“Okay tomato then.”
Adriana realised that somehow she had agreed to eat when really all she wanted to do was leave. But then she was very hungry and it was starting to get dark and what if that nasty man came back?
The food was good, really good. Bath time? That was really weird. Being unceremoniously stripped naked by a stranger was not something she would normally have considered allowing for a second, but somehow she felt she just didn't have the will to resist and then there was something strangely nostalgic about it all. Beá had even checked the water temperature with her elbow. Adriana had tried to slump down and hide behind her hair but to no avail. Beá’s strangely leathery hands soon had her pushed up and back, hair all washed and rinsed, washed and rinsed.
“Is that a bit better?” Beá smiled when she had finished.
Adriana tried to look at her but found she was unable to, all exposed and scrubbed like that. It was
so much easier to look down at the bubbles with their little iridescent rainbows, dancing. Beá knelt down, elbows on the edge of the bath.
“Hey did I just see a tiny little smile then? I did, I did, I know I did! You know; so okay, you don’t wanna talk, but you got to tell me something; what happened to you out there? Those marks on your face and your arms look days old to me. How long you been wanderin’ about out there? You not really homeless right?” Adriana hardly moved. Okay, Beá gently lifted Adriana’s chin and turned her head, but when, for the first time, their eyes met, something just slipped away. Beá was suddenly embarrassed to notice her lips quiver, involuntarily, for just the longest, briefest of moments.
“What are... Are you?... I mean who?" “I’m Adriana.”
The couch wasn’t the worst thing, it was the blanket. It was only just possible to get all of her- self under it, but after she fell asleep something would always stick out and get cold. But in a way that made her all the more grateful. What, she wondered, would another night in the park have been like?
Friday nights were always the best nights to be a university student. Long hours of study, tests, and lectures gave way to a chance, minus a few of the geeks, to all go mad, get totally slaughtered and Sophie and Archie were definitely not numbered among the geeks. Archie was a tall broad-shouldered young man, who, but for his youthful rosy cheeks, looked like he might be a rugby player. Not too surprising then that sometimes he was.
His normally sturdy gait, though, now wobbled occasionally as he approached the house, but only because of the rather unsynchronized, repeated impacts from the much smaller framed individual he was half supporting.
Sophie, small, pretty and German all the way through to her plats, could drink anyone under the table, or so she would tell you. It was staying above the table that she seemed to have a problem with. She had started her studies in Hamburg, but when Vater’s job moved to London she found that she had no choice but to go with him. After all, she already spoke decent English and here was her ‘chance to improve', ‘meet new people.' None of which was the least bit appealing and she missed her friends horribly. That was until she met Archie; then she realised that it had all been a wonderful idea. Lining up that last row of shots on the bar, however...
On the way to getting Sophie to the bathroom, they had to walk past the living room and through the kitchen. Sophie noticed nothing beyond the strange flavour in her mouth but Archie hesitated, confused. ‘DON’T GO IN. WE HAVE A GUEST’ was stuck on the living room door? But I thought no guests allowed, thought Archie. Then there was this new strange atmosphere in the kitchen. Both Matt and Beá were sitting at the table. Beá smiling very brightly; Matt looking at his feet. They both said hi at exactly the same time.
“What’s going on?” asked Archie. “There’s this girl,” began Beá.
“Yea she’s been beaten up,” Matt blurted.
Beá quietly hissed through her teeth and Archie, now theatrically confused said, “What? Beaten up by whom? Have you called the police? Have you? Why not?"
“Because,” Beá sighed, "Because she young! I mean really young! What if she runnin' from her yard; I mean her home. What if it her dad done it? What if him rape her or somit'. You know how stoopid the pigs are! Well, I do anyway. What if they send her back? Back into trouble. Cha; me naa check for dat! Seriously, me ask her; and she say no. Nuff said!” she folded her arms resolutely.
“Yes, but you said she’s been beaten up?” Archie was warming to the task. “Okay! You say she’s been beaten up? But, what if she's got brain damage or something and dies in the night and we all get done for murder. What then?"
Matt suddenly looked very concerned. That was until Beá looked at him.
"Listen man. She need our help. I know the rules, but this is... is different. She sleepin'. What? You gonna chuck her out?”
Archie was considering a more forthright, yet cleverly subtle approach when, suddenly, whilst trying to wriggle free, Sophie decided to enter the conversation by growling loudly with a passably accurate rendition of an angry junkyard dog and then preceding to vomit all over Matt’s shoes.
When Beá came down the next morning Matt and Archie were already up and in the kitchen. Matt had his yellow marigolds on and was wiping down the tabletop. She was pleased to see the floor was also clean. Archie was making scrambled egg on toast for himself, but, as she walked into the kitchen, all activities stopped. It wasn't hard to work out who had been selected to face the strange creature in the living room. She knew at a push (and maybe with a bit of a shove) she could, probably, send Matt in there but... onerous though the task might seem to the boys she realised she was almost looking forward to it.
The strange girl was unlike anyone she had ever met before and this fascinated her and the girl needed help, so a chance to be a good Samaritan too. But most of all, this was like a little adventure and probably not the sort of thing that would ever happen again.
Beá thought that Adriana would probably still be asleep when she crept in, but Adriana was sitting up on the couch, head in hands, elbows on knees and hair down on to the floor. This don’t look good. Beá was glad to see that the boys were following her in.
"Hey baby, we need to have a little chat." Beá, kneeling, gently parted the hair and lifted her chin.
"Come now, you ain't no skank, are you! You from round here?" “Yes.”
“So where do you live?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Archie had joined Beá on one knee. Beá nudged him and lifted Adriana’s hair further to the side to expose a two inch long cut on her scalp.
“Maybe she amnee-sic,” she half whispered.
“Or maybe she just doesn’t want to go home?” Archie said, quickly glancing a confused look at Beá.
“I bet she – ”
“I’m not stupid,” Adriana’s voice cut in. “I do want to go home.”
“Are you sure?” asked Beá using her most serious voice, “what if he does it again? I’m not sure ”
“I live alone,” Adriana said.
“And she’s lost,” Matt offered from the back of the room, feeling a little left out. “Lost?” Beá and Archie turned to Matt and then back to Adriana.
“But I thought you said you were from around here,” Archie said, vaguely irritated. “I am,” Adriana’s voice was returning to it usual monotone. This was no fun at all.
“Okay then," Archie was starting to get into the flow, "how is it then, if you're lost and you don't know where you live, that you know that you're from around here. Pray tell?"
Beá was staring up at him with sad eyes, but he didn’t seem to have noticed.
“I walked here.”
“Adriana, this is Archie,” Beá decided this was a good time for introductions. “Archie, Adriana!”
“So why don’t you just retrace your steps then?” Archie continued.
“Just what part of the phrase, I’m lost, don’t you get? If I knew how to retrace my steps I, by definition, wouldn't be lost; now would I?" Archie leant back in guppy mouthed silence as Adriana angrily stood up to leave, but Beá quickly grabbed her by the wrist.
“Get the van.”
Logic, her friend for so long, Adriana felt sure, would not be a great deal of help in solving this problem. Everybody knows where they live so how come she didn’t? What the fuck is wrong with me? What a complete idiot I’m going to look! All she knew she could do was to dismember the problem into its component parts and try to solve it as best she could. Prior to entering the park, the park fence had been on her left and Matt knew where the park was so if they travelled with the fence on the right then she knew she would be at least heading in the right direction, at least for a time. Then, of course, there was the fact that she had turned right into the road with the park on it so that would mean a left turn somewhere along there. Perhaps she would recognise that one but if not, one chosen at random would, in all probability, be taking them closer to her home. Maybe then she would see the fence with the cat in it. Maybe something would just click? There was little hope for success, but logic would dictate, okay Spock, that having been piled into the van with the others and asked directions, this would be the best she could do and therefore that's what she should do, hopeless though it might be. "Captain my calculations indicate our chances of success to be approximately point zero five four seven nine two percent” – 'Shut it!'
The van turned out to be a fruit and veg’ van, at least the Mr Tommy sign on the side of the van declared it as such. That, along with the picture of a very happy middle-aged man with a white cap, holding a large red tomato.
With all of them, except for Sophie, in the front, it was a tight squeeze but, save for the fact that Beá’s knee got in the way of second gear a bit, it was tolerable, although the persistent sound of abused bed springs was less so.
Adriana was staring mournfully out of the passenger window as they began circling the park for a second time. Clearly, it was the same park, there was the wooded bit then the big circular pond, but nothing looked the same. Not the road, not the gates or the fence; nothing; then something caught her eye. It was in the wing mirror. In it was an image she did recognise. She was in the right place, after all, just facing the wrong way!
“Stop... stop the van," she said, "I know this." She jumped out onto the pavement almost too soon and looked back down the road. "That's it; we are facing the wrong way... well, the right way; so I came from there.” She pointed to the next left and jumped back into the van causing Archie, who had been watching with growing amusement, to bump into a peeved Beá as he quickly remade space.
It was a good start, but her optimism soon faded. Even with her head out of the window, looking back behind the van did nothing to help. Driving down road after road made no difference. The roads all looked the same, either way. Faced with another random choice as they approached a crossroads Matt, instead, pulled the van over into a space, but before he could speak Archie turned to Adriana and said, "If it's the case that your amnesia is so bad, don't you think we should just drive you to a hospital or something? I mean, we could be sitting outside your place now and maybe you would not know it! Would you?"
Turned to face her that way, in the van, his face seemed far too close, but apart from sticking her head out of the window, there was nowhere to back away to, so she turned to look out of the side window unable to speak.
“Come on, this is ridiculous," Archie turned to the other two, "what kind of trouble is she in any way? This is getting us nowhere. Apart from a criminal record, maybe."
“It’s got a blue door.” Adriana softly said without turning.
Archie was about to speak, face full of derision, but was stopped by Beá’s hand grabbing his right knee. Her eyes like slits.
“You from the Skinners council place on Fox Lane, opposite the Fox. The Fox Pub?” and then silently mouthed “protected housing” to Archie who only picked up on the subterfuge.
“What?” he whispered back.
Beá looked away, wide-eyed, at Matt, who just looked confused.
The calculation was quick and simple. A no, or no answer, might result in having this same
conversation at a hospital or with the police! Or maybe just getting out of the van and taking her chances alone. There was, however, a way to at least delay the inevitable and continuing the journey would mean seeing more streets, and in any event, maybe Beá was right.
“Yes," was the correct lie. To Adriana's surprise, Matt seemed to know exactly where Beá meant and how to get there. Two minutes later they had gone down the steps and were standing outside the wonderful blue door, but there was a new problem. Someone had been there and the door was now locked!
“Shit, didn’t think of that,” Adriana moaned.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t got a key,” Archie seemed about to cry.
“Yes, well no, it’s inside. It was Bella. I was following Bella when I got lost.”
“Who’s Bella?” Beá asked.
“She’s a cat.”
“Don’t tell me your cat’s in there?” Beá looked concerned.
“No... No, I don't have a cat, she's – ”
“Okay, okay.” Beá interrupted, leaning over a dustbin, her face up against the front window.
"But this is your place. You just locked out right?”
"Yes yes, my key is in there.”
“So what’s that stuff in there, all piled up?”
Adriana paused for a moment. It’s a test!
“You mean that pile of boxes? That's my Mum's stuff.”
“Now hang on,” Archie stepped between them. "I thought you said you lived alone?"
"I do... Oh, I see... She’s dead!”
“Right," said Archie, climbing the stairs to leave. "You sure you didn't kill her. Come on let's go.”
Matt had started to follow, but Beá wasn’t finished
"Woah, just you hold it there. Whatever we doin' we na gonna just leave her here. Jus like dat?"
Adriana leant down to Beá’s ear, “I think we can get in round the back.”
“Round the back?”
"Yes, it's not like the front. The kitchen window is just a sash window and the lock's a bit loose.”
At the back of the flat Matt decided it was time to make a stand. "Hell, I don't know about all this. Looks like trouble to me.” But he was too late. Within seconds Adriana, who could see over the back garden wall, was pointing out the window to Beá as she stood, one foot in Archie’s hand stirrup.
Suddenly Beá decided to go for it and, to her imagined version of the ‘Mission Impossible theme, kicked herself the rest of the way over the wall and onto a neglected vegetable patch some- one had planted on the other side. But, by the time she had crouched her way to the window, she was surprised to turn and see that both Archie and Adriana had both, also, jumped the wall and were strolling across the communal lawn towards her. Matt, however, had decided to go around to the front again and keep a lookout, although what he would do if the police arrived he wasn't entirely sure.
The lock was loose and Beá easily displaced it with her credit card, but Archie could only lift the lower half of the sash window up about half way before it jammed.
“Where’s Matt?” Beá asked the other two.
“I think he went back around to the front,” Archie shrugged.
“Typical!” Beá sighed eyeing the other two; there was no doubt about it, she was definitely the smallest one there. Thrusting her upper half through into the gap she made good progress until her feet could no longer get any purchase on the ground, whereupon she was obviously going no further. Archie gave Adriana a little wink and they, one buttock each, gave Beá a mighty shove that en- abled her to collect one frying pan, two saucepans and a pot containing quite a large quantity of cutlery as she flew over the sink, dryer, taps and all, into the middle of the kitchen floor.
“Aaawww shit,” she screamed. "You damn near tore me anuda belly button. What kynda fucking shit is dat. Bommba clatt."
The swearing diminished a little in volume, if not in intensity, as she made her way to the front door to let Matt in.
“We did tear her jumper,” Adriana guiltily admitted to Archie.
“True," he responded, his attention more on the window that he had just noticed now opened a little more now. Testing it, it became obvious that whatever it was that was keeping the window from opening all the way had now been broken or dislodged by the recent activity. The window could now be fully opened. With mock gallantry, he doffed an imaginary hat, and bowing, gestured to her Majesty that she could, if she so wished, enter the establishment, via the now adequate entrance.
To his surprise, Adriana stuck a long leg into the window and ducking, somehow, just sort of flowed into the kitchen and onto the floor in one smooth continuous movement. He briefly considered trying to follow suit, but after noting the location of the taps, and the damage they might cause, he thought better of it and shimmied his way in, in a sort of slow-motion version of Beá’s more rapid entrance.
Being back in her living room with her new friends was a massive relief. Adriana resolved never to leave her sanctuary again, but then a dull memory flooded back in. She wasn’t going to be allowed to stay much longer anyway. At first, all she wanted was to be alone and maybe go to bed and catch up on some sleep, get out of her washed, but still bedraggled clothes, but the boys were milling around near her mum's stuff and Beá was fidgeting around near the front door.
Suddenly it dawned on her that these people had just saved her and that she was being ‘rude’ and that she knew what to do.
“Tea, anyone,” she gestured to the couch.
Beá and Matt took the cue. Matt, joking in mock English as he sat, said, “two milks and a sugar luv.”
So that’s why Dick Van Dyke sounded like that!
Archie stayed where he was, obviously wanting to pick something up, but bending at the waist, hands behind his back instead, he was clearly inspecting something.
"Some of this stuff is really old you know. Can I?" He gestured to the pile looking at Adriana. She felt herself wanting to dip her head and sort of curl up, but she managed to resist and kept her face up.
“No look I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – ” he stuttered.
“No, it’s okay," she interrupted. "It's just... well to be honest. I don't want that stuff. If you like the books, take them, you'd be doing me a favour, to be honest."
"Adriana. Your mum's stuff?" Beá's eyes were big with sad amazement.
"No, it's okay.” Adriana could feel her hands trying to come up to her face, but she forced them, balled up, back down to her thighs and marched herself into the kitchen.
Beá shot Archie her best ‘don’t you dare look, but he was, book in hand, already pretending not to notice. Beá sighed and sat back in the settee, her eyes naturally drawn to the clanking sound coming from the kitchen. Not my stuff, not my problem. Just as long as there ain’t no duppy in dem boxes. A smile flickered across her face as she briefly imagined Archie’s surprise if a ghost appeared from one of the boxes and dragged him down to Hades by the pecker.
“You want some help in there baby,” Beá’s shout got no reply, so she went over into the kitchen anyway. Adriana was sitting on the floor.
The Angry Peacock
Adriana was relieved when the van finally stopped. The constant movement made finding a comfortable position almost impossible for her since she had to constantly be readjusting. The others, however, didn't seem to be having the same difficulty and, in fact, seemed to be able to achieve quite a deep and restful sleep. At least that was how it appeared.
Matt got very excited when he first looked at the pub.
"It looks like the same place. Yes, it is. The Angry Peacock."
“I don’t understand,” Adriana sat looking up at the sign mystified. “I thought it was supposed to be long gone!”
“Look like it there to me,” Beá said reaching forward to look out of the side window.
“Excuse me, do you think we could continue this inside.” Archie had stretched and stumbled his way around to the back of the van and opened the back doors. “It’s getting dark and I need a drink!”
Sophie was out for the count so Archie just picked her up out of her seat, slung her over his shoulder, fireman style, and started to follow the others into the pub.
“Wow. Don’t think that's a good idea!” Beá turned to say.
“Yea good point,” replied Archie as he lowered Sophie feet first to the ground indicating to Adriana that she should help.
Sophie was as light as a bird, so they could easily hold her there, one hand under each shoulder, without much difficulty, but her head just flopped forward and if they tried to walk with her, they just ended up scraping the toes of her shoes along the ground. Archie pushed her head back so it was almost up to where it should be and then shot a look to Adriana which was meant to say, ‘what the fuck do we do now', but she misinterpreted this, thinking it meant ‘you’re a girl; do something!' Unsure of what she should do, she did the only thing she could think of and bent down and said “Sophie” and blew gently into her face. Archie started to laugh, but soon stopped because Sophie's eyes suddenly just popped open.
"Aaaw I just had the dream," she slurred. “I was dreaming I vas in da van and some c**t open the fucking window and da spliff. Poof... All capoooten!”
“No no,” Archie laughed. “That wasn’t a dream!”
“Oh?!” Sophie managed to twist a bit and look up at Adriana as if she had never seen her be- fore and they managed to walk, like that, into the pub that, to Adriana's surprise, was almost empty. Then they joined Matt and Beá at a table, by the window. Shame about the shoes.
It wasn't clear to her why. Maybe it was the act of helping someone rather than being helped herself or maybe it was just the fact of being accepted as one of the group, but despite the faintest flickering, in the back of her mind, that holding Sophie up was a bit like holding her sister, she felt an irrational sense of joy flowing through her and before it could stop and the terrible images could start, something strange happened and pretty soon that got her full attention.
To cut Beá out, Matt had decided to start a philosophical science debate with Archie. Adriana's attention was initially on the happy smile that the barman had offered when they first entered, and the fact that Sophie had slid over on the settee they were sitting on and decided to use her lap as a pillow. But now bits of the conversation were starting to filter through. Archie was saying that now we know that the great galaxy is turning we also must know that it is changing and therefore must have been different in the past. Matt wasn't so sure that this indicated a beginning to the universe, though, and was suggesting the possibility of eternal change when Beá, who was examining her bicolored (black and red) fingernails (actually there was also some significantly silvery sparkly bits in there too) said, "You know what, we all just stardust anyway."
Initially, Beá was pleased by the confused moment of silence that followed this but was dis- appointed when Adriana said, “Yes, but I just think that's just some strange media thing. These people keep coming on, supposedly to popularise science, but there's something wrong, these days they keep getting it all wrong; it's very strange." She looked to Archie and Matt for confirmation and was surprised to see just blank looks coming back.
"Well, just think about this, it's obvious if you do." To her surprise, the three of them all adopted thinking poses in their respective chairs and even Sophie appeared to stop dribbling for a moment.
"When our ancestors first came onto the land, they didn't really leave the sea behind; we brought it with us," she continued. "So we are mostly water. Water is H2O. That's two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom and so it turns out that 62% of all the atoms in our bodies are actually hydrogen atoms. Stars consume hydrogen. They certainly don't create it. So although some of the hydrogen atoms in your body might have once resided in a star or two and managed to escape destruction, it is also quite possible that most of these particular atoms have never been in or even anywhere near a star at all. Perhaps no nearer than they are now! So the statement, we are all star- dust is obviously... misleading.”
“I can't believe it," Beá laughed turning to Archie and Matt, and then back again to see if they agreed. “You mean when that Professor Colin Dicks look up at the stars with him watery eyes, like him about to cry, and him say, we all stardust, he talking shit? – Really?"
“Yes that's right, of course”, Archie said. "I can't believe I never noticed that. How odd.” “Yeah," Matt laughed. "So when Sophie brings up the contents of her stomach all over Adri- ana’s jeans, will we be calling it Sophie dust? I don't think so! Even if some of the hydrogen that’s in us did get into a star and then got spat out again, it wasn't made by the stars was it! So..."
“I suppose you could say that a house brick or an iron bar was star dust. But why on earth would you want to? And why dust? Are we supposed to think of Tinker Bell?" Adriana continued, quickly checking to see that Sophie was still happily asleep. "But there's loads of this stuff. It's all over the place and to be honest; I kind of hoped somebody might be able to tell me why because frankly, I am a little confused. It feels like something’s changed. Something's wrong – everywhere!"
"Nice song, though," Beá offered.
"Yes, but what other stuff?" Archie frowned.
“No hang on, stop there,” said Matt and he got up to go to the bar.
Sophie decided it was time to roll over and face the other way and Adriana took the opportunity to slip out from under her, replacing herself with a fortuitously available pillow. This action seemed to, momentarily, almost arouse Sophie, who offered an almost intelligible piece of advice regarding, “da window.” This, in turn, seemed to trigger a response from Beá, who in a rather brusque manner, stood Sophie up and started to walk/drag her to the ladies saying, "I'm gonna stick her head under the tap." Archie looked like he was going to stop her but didn't. Adriana thought that she wouldn't really do it and Matt plonked down some more beers and laughed.
When Beá returned with a rather grey-faced, rat-tailed creature that was at least partially walking under her own steam, Adriana was back in full flow. Which meant that she was actually sur- prising herself.
"I even saw an hour-long program that basically said that if we didn't spin, the atmosphere would sort of pile up at the poles making it hard to breathe at the equator! How stupid is that?”
"Yeah, I saw that,” Archie laughed, “took me about ten minutes to realise it wasn't actually a spoof!"
"So-called scientists have started to refer to the ‘primordial heat' at the centre of the Earth as if it was a remnant from when the earth was formed,” Adriana continued. “Even using Kelvin's over- optimistic calculations from 100 years ago you're still left with an earth that is virtually solid all the way through by now. That is, of course, but for the radioactive decay that's the main source of the heat and we've known about that for quite a long time too. I don't remember this sort of thing going on when I was younger, it just seems to have started up in the last few years.”
"You mean because of nuclear testing?" Beá asked.
"No way," replied Sophie carefully lowering a beer glass to the table.
“No, the earth is naturally a bit radioactive,” Adriana continued. “Some bits more than others, but that’s why it is still as hot inside as it is!”
“It is?” Beá was looking around again. “I never knew that!”
“Yea you and a few other people, it looks like,” Matt laughed. “Maybe the aliens have hit us with a stupid ray.”
“That Dicks guy, in one of his programs, actually said that the moon was moving away from the Earth, because of the conservation of angular momentum," Adriana continued.
"Da moon moves away?"
"Yes but only slowly, the point being, it moves away," Adriana nodded to Sophie, "slowly – because of tidal effects and yes, angular momentum is conserved within the system, as usual, but the moon moves away because of the tidal effects that are the cause and not the other way around.”
She turned to look to the boys for confirmation, but their faces seemed strangely blank, even a little confused. This isn't fun anymore.
“What about this then. Professor Dicks has stated that infrared radiation is heat, but it is not. It's electromagnetic radiation that can transfer heat from one place to another provided, of course, there is something made of matter to receive it. Heating is really just the transfer of kinetic energy but at an atomic level. Hot things, like the sun, to some extent, do so with visible light and ultraviolet as well. It is all electromagnetic radiation, you can heat things like food with microwaves or just con- tact with something hot. That’s what heat is!
What is kinetic energy?" Beá asked confused.
"It's movement, in this case just atoms jiggling about."
For a brief moment, Adriana fancied that the pub table beneath her hands was vibrating a little. This and the way that everyone was staring at her filled her with a rising sense of panic, even the other, rather sleepy, customers seem to be taking an interest in her now. She had drunk a lot more than usual and started to wonder if this was something to do with being drunk for the first time. “Something’s not right,” said Adriana, her skin starting to crawl.
“What do you mean, not right?“ said Archie.
“Yes, Adriana,” said Sophie “what do you mean, not right. We think that perhaps you ought to explain yourself. You’re not really making a lot of sense.”
“Rainbows," Adriana felt her voice quiver a little, but somehow the attention was forcing her to carry on. "Everything? It's all sort of simplified! The colours used to fade from one to another in one continuous band, as required by the laws of optics, but now all the books show the colours as separate bands?" She, looking down, placed a hand flat on the table. It was not shaking. "And the sun's rays,” she continued her voice trailing off.
“What,” said Matt
“Ah what?” said Adriana.
"You were saying," prompted Sophie in a clear English voice, "and the sun's rays?"
Somehow there was pressure building.
"They arrive from a hundred and fifty million kilometres away and therefore arrive virtually parallel to one another,” Adriana almost whispered, “but now, like some sort of childish drawing, they break through the clouds as diverging beams. Like, you know, as if the sun was right there, just above the clouds. It’s like someone’s changing things and dumbing everyone down so they can’t see it’s all wrong; and so that they can’t see that their explanations don’t work? It’s wrong, everything’s all wrong?”
“But you can see it can't you Adriana?" Sophie seemed to be studying Adriana even more intently so that Adriana found it hard to look at her but noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that Sophie's hair was now back as it had been when they first arrived.
“You,” Adriana gasped, “you’re not Sophie!”
Adriana did manage to look directly into Sophie's face and noticed that something seemed to be trying to force itself out of her.
The thing that was Sophie, but wasn’t Sophie, looked shocked and amazed and then, rather determined as it said, quietly, the words, “it’s the girl”. “It’s her,” and started reaching towards her. This sent a bolt of terror up Adriana's spine and she instinctively kicked herself back through the wall of the pub and shot, like a shooting star, up into the cold night air, her hair snapping and twisting around her face like a deranged animal.
The sky was cold and clear that night and as she hovered with the wind flapping through her clothes and with a chill boring its way into her bones, she looked down at the distant, almost orange, lights of the lonely little pub and knew it didn't really matter, nothing really matters, because it’s not real, she thought. But then, she wondered, remembering what Banerjee once said, was she, was any- one? Either way, another meeting with that thing in the pub did not appeal to her and somehow she knew that somewhere in the darkness, a darker thing moved. Strangely, through her hand telescope, she thought she could dimly see a giant sideways face imposed upon the starry background, but with fear rising within her again, she decided not to investigate and headed for Alpha Centauri.