Jack woke up as a rhino – that in itself was strange but it was made stranger still as he had often wanted to wake up as a giraffe. But that is the way life goes.
After the initial shock, Jack thought he would try to make the best of it. He got out of the bed gingerly – he was surprised the bed had survived. He had been in the doghouse yesterday – he had come in late and had to sleep in the spare room as Jackie, that was his wife, was pretty mad with him as he had completely forgotten that they were meant to go and see her parents.
When Jack came down to breakfast Jackie totally ignored his new physical form as a rhino. To make his predicament worse, putting his fragile relationship in further jeopardy, he stepped on a crumpet and flattened it. Jackie knelt down and peeled the flattened crumpet off the floor and slapped it down on Jack’s plate. It was a medium sized plate but the crumpet was so flat and thin it nearly covered the entire plate from side to side.
Jack cleared his throat to speak. However, when he tried to speak nothing much happened, it seemed that human speech was not going to be possible in his rhino form. All he wanted to ask Jackie was if she had noticed he was a rhino. When he thought about it he guessed she probably had noticed – but would she have realised that the rhino was him? He ate the crumpet thoughtfully. She may have seen him in the spare bed – and worked out from his split clothes barely covering any of his body that he was now the rhino. They had all fallen off him as he got out of bed.
From her actions of putting the flattened crumpet on his plate, it seemed certain that she knew he was the rhino. The plate had on the outer circle “Jack’s plate”, it was one of the few things that Jack had retained from before their marriage. The main reason it had survived was that it was virtually indestructible. It may even be able to withstand a rhino standing on it – but he did not think he would put it to the test. The plate represented his individuality which had otherwise been rather swamped by Jackie.
Maybe his waking up as a rhino was due to a deep-seated need to express his individuality. He did not know much about rhinos but he could not imagine a male rhino being swamped by a female rhino. He seemed to remember that a rhino’s horn is made from hair. His own thinning hair was a reminder of the power of the rhino and he stamped his foot. The kitchen flooring, which was quite recent, had managed to remain unscathed by the compression of the crumpet, but now showed signs of a large round indentation. Jackie lost her temper and picked up his plate and hurled it at the floor. It bounced and Jack caught it in his mouth and calmly placed it back on the table.
Jack came to the realisation that Jackie was still in a bad mood and was pretending that everything was normal.
The decaying splendour was all around him as he wandered through the sprawling building, faded fabrics and age-speckled panelling lining the walls of the grand rooms and halls. The onset of the ageing process had affected different rooms at different rates – some aged with disuse, some with wear. Very clear that the age of everything stemmed from the unstoppable – from time, unseeing and unseen, seeping into every corner, spreading systemically throughout the whole structure.
It creaked around him as he moved from room to room, from floorboard to door. He entered a great dining hall, arched ceiling rising up around and over him. The thought hovering on the edge of his mind refused to go away – he was on the inside of a woman, this room was the womb. The faded arches of red and gold gave every sign she was once fecund, bursting with life and vitality. The purpose of which was to procreate.
He could not help himself grin as he wondered how often she played away from home. He looked up and saw a very neat mend high up in her arches. Then further down a rather crude mend with little or no attempt to blend in. Probably done later, when the money started to go.
He felt himself inexorably drawn to her – to restoring her to her former glory. He pulled his pockets inside out so they stuck out from his trousers like empty ears – to show her there was no money to restore her. He moved down the hall looking at the beautiful carved panelling. Behind him as he walked a large section of the ceiling fell, one corner rotten crumbled to dust on impact, setting him off coughing. No money and no time left to save her.
The only sensible thing for her was demolition – stripping and demolition. They could build a new maternity wing on this site.
Tea at Last
The last thing I expected was to see him again. Least of all in my normal boring life. It was a whole year since I had seen him – I had made it clear I never wanted to see him again. And now on one of my regular long distance train journeys he came, stooping slightly as he entered the carriage. He sat down opposite me without speaking, without asking if it was ok, without blinking.
‘I thought I would find you here,’ he said, still without blinking.
‘How dare you!’ I started but he replied, interrupting.
‘I have nothing to lose, nothing to gain. I regret nothing I have done.’
Just then the tea trolley came by and he said.
‘Perfect timing, just what I need is a cup of tea. Allow me, would you care for one?’
I sat back speechless and he passed me a cup of tea. Between the trolley and me he added two roses, one red and one white, in the saucer. I saw the same in his saucer too.
The tea was never that hot and he drank it down. I held my tea and watched as he slowly died in front of my eyes. Slumped to one side.
I looked down at my tea and thought about my last year. Would I drink my tea? Should I carry on my life without him blinking? Lost in thought the tea cooled more.
Finally, I sipped slowly at my tea. I will drink it all.
Stream of Time
In the time it took me to wring out sleep from my body my mind had travelled an epic of mythological proportion. The phone was ringing but why at this time?
Plotless I stumble from slumber through the seaweed of time to see light above me and round circular images of the clocks of a brave world fighting against time, slowly or is that quickly backwards the great arches intersect with overlapping time so clearly depicted there is no one time, there is good time, there is bad time, time that stands still but never enough time and there is telescopic time, not time seen from a distance but rather telescoped together so that birth is close to death and all jammed in between.
Telescope time happens all the time but mostly in those few moments before you die, not just die at the end but also when you die from embarrassment or laughter or surprise or time of course.
Overlapping time only happens sometimes, good or bad, joyous and sad, birth and death but also unexpected like finding a flower on a bend or scarecrow down below, coming over a brow of hill and giving birth to twins, taking a wrong turning into a wheelbarrow as opposed to becoming a wheelbarrow which could be overlapping time too.
There is much that can be frustrating with time not least of which is inexorable time however elastic and plastic internal time is there is not much we can do about external time the time of ageing and the sound of hair turning grey.
Treacle time can be sweet but is more often frustrating, I come up towards the surface wondering if my breath will hold out that long and finally break through to gasp the air just in time to pick up the phone after it stops ringing.
The Last Autumn
You might be forgiven for mistaking the first part of autumn as a final throw, a final extravaganza of summer, if you had never seen autumn before. But you have seen autumn many times before, in its decaying beauty. Like some monster lizard moving through the undergrowth, a torpid creature colourful in its final journey towards winter. Down its dry back gentle colours changing to reflect the death throws of the plants all around. Deep yellows and browns but also blood red.
It seeps into your mind that this autumn, in its spectacular glory, might be the last autumn. Slowly as the end of autumn is reached and it turns to winter you think that this time there will be no rebirth in spring. It worries you what we have done to the world, is it too much this time and that come the springtime there will be silence. No songs from the birds; not even the quiet of new growth bursting forth.
You feel a shadow fall across you and out over the landscape in front of you, a shadow of darkness and fear that grips your heart. So with the passing of the last autumn, as the last leaf falls your hope will begin to die.
At first you think to yourself, ‘After the winter the spring will surely come.’
But as winter progresses and stretches out to when spring should arrive, you will say to anyone left to listen,
‘I had a feeling that was the last autumn.’
A Visit to A&E
Roy struggled awake at 2:15am as his work phone nagged him out of his sleep. He worked for Global Oil and was “on call” as medical advisor for the night.
They were calling him from offshore to tell him that one of the men had gone berserk and also fallen. They had him in a straightjacket, sedated, and the chopper was ready to leave if he and his colleague could be at the airport to meet him.
Roy was on his way with his colleague within 20 minutes. Roy had been working for Global Oil for a couple of years and had done this a few times now. They picked up the offshore guy and took him to A&E.
Roy saw a woman at A&E he had never see there before. He felt the hairs on his neck rise. He could only see her face. He said his name, of course he gave his adoptive name, and for some reason he said his date of birth. The woman looked longingly at him – she could remember that day so clearly over twenty years ago. She was Roy’s birth mother. That day their life changed forever.
“Hello son” she said.