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Unwanted

The city spun and leant around her.  Lunchtime crowds filled the pavements, elegant young women with jobs to go to and money to spend, good-looking young men with mates and mobiles.  The chilled breath of air conditioning sighed out from the big shops and offices.

Stella and David fumed at the hotel manager, laughing and grumbling.  Don’t you ever come back, he’d said, when they picked up their bags.  It wasn’t as if they’d trashed a room or thrown a tv out the window.  But the hotel only allowed two to a room and they’d been three, packed in a bed together,  Beth with her back turned in stubborn sophistication while David caressed Stella’s enormous buttocks.

Beth was tired.  The banter of don’t touch me, keep your hands off, I’m not doing anything, can you hear me doing anything Beth? had gone on late into the night and checkout in this cheap hotel was early.  Now she felt cross with them both.

What shall we do now, asked Stella.  They hadn’t come to Sydney just to sleep (or not to sleep) in a fleabitten hostel.  It was sunny, there was Circular Quay to visit, the art gallery (Stella’s idea of fun, as a girl who could appreciate both slumming and the fine arts).  I think we should go to the Cross again, said David, who was bad, so he felt.  We should go and see a peep show.  That’s too expensive, said Stella, and anyway, you’ve been peeping at us all night.  I could steal someone’s card, said David, I’ve done it before.

Have you really? asked Beth.  She hadn’t met many thieves before.  David was also a would-be mass murderer, at least so he said, and she hadn’t met many of those either.  He seemed nice enough though.  Stella’s tame criminal mastermind.

Yes, said David, but sometimes I use my friends’ cards to buy things, don’t I Stella.

How? asked Beth again.  Stella laughed at David’s boastfulness, proud of him.

I’m a genius.  I can remember any number, give me any number, I can remember it.  I learn all my friends’ pin numbers and then I memorise them, it just stays in there – he tapped his gingery forehead – for ever.  Tell me your pin number and I’ll memorise it – doesn’t matter how long it is.  I won’t use it though.

Sometime maybe, said Beth.  She was getting sick of their company, and hungry too.  She had a strong feeling suddenly that she didn’t want to be here, with them, having this conversation about stolen credit cards and angry managers.  The sun and the strangers made it all worse.

I have to go, she said, there’s someone I have to see.

Who, asked Stella, stopping dead, and David like a lean mastiff at her side.

Just someone I used to know.

Can we come?

Better not.  It’s, you know..

A private thing, guessed David, smirking, and Stella smiled you go girl though she didn’t want Beth to leave, it was fun baiting her innocence.

Ok well I guess I’ll see you later then, and Beth made her apologies abruptly and turned on her heel, hiding herself from their teasing following eyes in the stream of people.  Sick at heart, such a good term and so true, was what she was.

She got herself a coffee and a donut and walked down towards Liverpool Street, where she’d used to work, long ago, when Sydney was her home town.  She wondered if he’d still be there.  He used to be kind to her.  That was when she was a shy filing clerk with no one to talk to but him.  Now, of course, she was much changed.  Shy no longer, beautiful and desirable, he would look at her and perhaps want to take her out.  He would marvel at how different she was.  She wondered if he was married.  She’d never asked him.

She went to the floor marked Personnel, to the receptionist sitting behind her smooth clean circular desk, typing.

Can I help you, asked the woman, middle-aged, neutral like the walls.  Beth felt like an exotic butterfly.

I was wondering if I could speak to Roger.  Does he still work here?

He certainly does, and she sat down to wait, and wait, in the cream plush chair in front of the desk, with people coming in from the lifts and walking past into the forbidden doors.

He came, and she stood up.  It was immediately clear that he didn’t remember her.  He stood there half smiling, still the same little soft beard and moustache, a sensitive man, politely nonplussed.

I’m Beth, she said, remember we used to work together, three years ago?

Beth, he said, oh yes…you used to write to me, didn’t you.

Well yes, she said, and to other people I guess…

You used to write to Eric, he said.  Eric liked your letters, he said they were interesting.

She knew he was saying that he didn’t think so.

That was a while ago, she said.  When I went overseas.  I came back and I’ve been at uni for a year and…

You should go and see Eric, suggested Roger, coolly.  Eric always liked getting those letters.

Those letters, posted when she was so lonely, posted from parks in the evening full of chattering strangers, and hostels where everyone else knew so much about life, she felt like one of the flowerpot men.  No one to tell all these things to, but Roger, and Eric of course, and Mum and Dad, but she couldn’t tell them because they were flowerpot men too.

I was wondering if you wanted to have a coffee, Beth said, conscious of the receptionist typing away, her eyes looking and not looking, thinking things no doubt, with a little grim smile.  It was like performing on a stage with just the two actors, and one audience member, who already knew the ending.

It’s been a long time, said Roger.  I don’t have time, really, I’m quite busy.  He looked at his watch.  It was ten thirty.  She hadn’t thought of that, in her bohemian fantasy.

Oh, ok, never mind, I’d better go then.  She wanted to weep then, but that wasn’t in the play.  None of this was, come to think of it.

But you could go and see Eric, he said encouragingly.  Eric likes you, I’m sure he’d like that.  He looked at his watch again.  Eric is on the fifth floor I think, isn’t he Shirley?

Oh, yes, I think he is, said Shirley, quickly, looking back to her typing again, she wasn’t the type of audience to want to participate in the scene, but curious anyway.  She felt sorry for the girl, in her tarty rags.  Some kind of stalker, evidently.  The corners of her lips were indented, though, she could see the funny side.  Poor Roger.

Beth smiled and said that she might go to see Eric.  She wouldn’t, because what if Eric had forgotten her too, and anyway, it was Roger she liked, with his kindness and mouse-like facial hair.

How was the secret lover, asked Stella, back at uni.  David had gone off for a spot of armed robbery, or so he implied.  Good, said Beth.  And how would Stella, with her prettiness, her wantedness, ever understand?  That Beth was not beautiful, not interesting – in short, not changed at all?  But if she didn’t tell Stella, she would never know – she might guess of course.  Let her guess.  Pretty boring really, added Beth, I won’t bother next time.  And she didn’t.

Rose is the author of Deeper (a dark modern fantasy based on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid) and A Warm Wind. 

Why the Great Wall of China is made of rice

It’s made of rice.  Not many people know that.  It’s very useful, says Hilda, because if the Chinese ever run out of food, they can eat the Wall.  There’s a lot to be said for edible buildings.

Hilda is eighty five years old, though her estimate of when she was born varies, and frankly, it’s irrelevant.  She has the playful, slightly macabre and mischievous imagination of an eight year old.

When I suggest that, given how many Chinese there are, the Great Wall might not last long in a famine, Hilda says they can eat the herbiage growing on top of it.  Because, she says, all the bodies buried in the Wall have composted into excellent nutrients.  She’s philosophical about human tragedy, real or imagined.  She says with some relish that in China, girl babies are thrown in the river and ‘drown along with all the other rubbish’.  Then the fish eat them.  But ‘fish have to eat, don’t they.”

She reminds me of another old lady I met in a ward once, who asked my brother where she could get blackbirds.  When he asked her what for, she said she wanted them to put in a pie, of course.  Hilda prefers strawberries, which she puts under the mattress to avoid sharing with the carers and fellow-inmates.  Better squashed than gone, she says.

And yet, the book hardly exists that Hilda hasn’t read, from Dostoevsky to Robert Fisk to Germaine Greer.  She doesn’t like to socialise in the nursing home – the other women talk only about their health and the staff make her play silly games, involving balls and bingo.  Other people’s grandchildren bore her.

Her memories have become a story read long ago and half forgotten.  Did she spend twenty years in a Russian gulag? Was she a British prisoner of war?  A slave in Byzantium?  A spy?  She says she was.  Who knows.  She talks of many admirers, doing the hokey pokey when it was fashionable, flirting with the handsome victims of motorcycle crashes as a nurses’ aide in some hospital, somewhere, singing anti-Russian songs in Finnish, and her mother, a Polish aristocrat’s concubine.  It would make a better novel than most, if she could be bothered with the details.  “Of course,” she says impatiently when I ask when and where, “of course! Don’t you know that!”.  I’m trying to put down anchors in this plot, Hilda is floating free as plankton.

When I get home from visiting the nursing home, I google rice and the Great Wall of China, and guess what, she’s not wrong.  Well, not entirely, the bricks were stuck together with rice and sand, a kind of mortar.  Hilda’s little joke, not so confused after all.  Never underestimate old ladies.

The Car Park

I’m parking and there’s this chick looking at me, late model, gold hubcaps, polished curves like you wouldn’t believe.  So I slink into the spot, maximum cool, wheels turned just so, mirrors catching her eye in the morning sun.  I’m just, like, hanging.

She’s parked just opposite.  We double take in each other’s rear vision.  Man she has a nice butt.  Hope she notices the central locking, slick click as Him Inside jams the remote.  Maybe she’ll go for the anti-theft system.  I can make a lot of noise when I want to, babe, I can really party.

Him Inside disappears and we’re alone, the sun already beginning to beat on my hood.  I feel real hot.  But inside I’m going to stay cool.  I’ve got those windscreen shades, see.

Her brake lights wink at me.  It looks like a come on.  I’d come on alright, if only I had those damn keys in my ignition, I’d bump her ass.  She knows I’m stuck where I am.  It’s look but don’t touch, always.  The old problem.  You look, you like, but you pass them by.  Unless of course you score a hit, but then there are so many fucking bystanders and cops around there’s no way you’re going to get it on.  I need some privacy.

And then it happens.  Like a dream she moves slowly backwards, curvy little ass and all, out of her spot, and sashays up towards me, across the black tarmac.  I can hardly believe my lights.  She’s coming, she’s coming…quick look in the mirror, did I wax recently, sure I did…and I smell like Vanilla Heaven.  Went to the carwash yesterday, no flies on me.

Come on baby come on.  I’m ready for you, my bumpers are waiting yeah.  And like the sweet little machine she is, she backs right up and comes to rest, nice and cosy up against my front, and there we are.

Hey honey you feel good, steel against steel, rear lights to headlights, paint to paint.

Yeah she says, my brakes are all off baby, how about you and me do a little accelerating..

And I think, this is my lucky day!

From a friend

“Is this Casual Dress Day?”

Head of Youth Services blinked innocently.  Corporate swallowed a titter.

“Not as far as I am aware.” said the CEO, tipping his head back for a better look.  His tone was chilled, a snow-wind from the heights.

“I thought it must be something like that.” muttered Youth Services to Corporate in an apologetic undertone.

Communications crossed her arms over her cleavage and glared.  Another would have run from the room.

“I can’t help it!” she hissed furiously. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.  It’s not my fault.  You don’t think I’d come here on purpose dressed like this, do you!  What I want to know” she continued, pitch rising,  “is which one of you did this!  It’s a conspiracy, that’s what it is…you all hate me, don’t you!  Just because I’m blonde and female and powerful…you can’t bear it, can you!”

As Communications stared about her in wild defiance, the board considered this proposition, and considered her.  Apparently, she was well put together.  Her black g-string bikini was flattering, if inappropriate for the occasion.  She was cold.  Over it all, the blonde corporate bob hung politely to her well muscled shoulder blades.  All in all, not a bad looking woman, thought Youth Services.

“Are you trying to make some sort of point, Elena?” asked Human Resources, helpfully.  She was the only Board member not dressed in a suit: instead she wore an angora cardigan and soft curls.  She was famous for her empathy.

“And exactly what point would that be?” asked the CEO, bringing his gimlet gaze back to the swim-suited offender.

Communication’s face twisted, as if she were making up her mind between a final defiant stand or a dive under the boardroom table.  She began to shuffle her papers in a blind, pointless sort of way, and with amazement the board noticed her eyes glistening with tears.  It was unsettling, like seeing your father cry.   Communications was a hard woman.

And then a funny thing happened – as if enough funny things had not happened already.  From the crown of her head, Communications began simply to melt into the air.  First the glossy fringe, then the laundered eyebrows, then slowly on to the short, pugnacious nose, the matte cheeks and lifted neckline.  Finally, we were left staring at a headless torso, upright in its plush chair – and then that, too, finally disappeared.

Corporate bent down to peer under the table.

“She’s disappeared!” he said unnecessarily.

There was a silence.  Community Liaison broke it by screaming, loudly.  It was the signal for the entire room to run, pushing and shoving each other, in panic out the impressive oak-panelled doors.  I was left alone, staring at the spot where Communications had so recently sat in her black string bikini, thinking.  I am used to dramatic situations, in the course of my work, and so am not easily moved.   I was, rather, curious.

It all began when Communications, otherwise known as Dr Elena Sharp, arrived in the office wearing a large red nose.

“Red Nose Day? But that’s not till…”

Quite.  When the startled secretary looked floorwards in embarrassment, she realised that Dr Sharp also wore, instead of her usual high-heeled courts, outsize, striped, clowns shoes.  She immediately assumed that Dr Sharp was making a joke, and laughed with as much genuineness as she could muster.  Dr Sharp, who had no sense of humour, did not.

During that week, Communications began to exhibit other strange quirks.  One day it was pantihose trailing from the back of a carefully ironed linen calf-length skirt, another day, a spiky dog-collar and tampon earrings.  People began to look askance.  Dr Sharp took to locking herself in the toilet.  No one said anything.  Most of us  thought she might be going through a mid-life crisis.  Most people thought she was in for it, presently.  Most people were pleased, because Communications was not a popular woman.  Some people called her Madame Lash.

Then, the bikini episode.  By this time, the CEO had had just about enough.  Five minutes longer in that boardroom and she would have been handed her notice.  But me, I was thoughtful.  There must be more to it, I thought.  Even if mid-life crisis, people don’t just melt.  I, you see, am Head of Personnel, and so I ought to know.

I caught up with Corporate in the corridor.  He was breathing heavily and looked as if he might be sick.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Oh my God, oh my God!” he said. “Do you believe in witchcraft?”

“Not really.”  But it did seem possible, in the circumstances.  Were we dealing with the paranormal here?  Or was it some strange bio-mental disease which would be presently diagnosed and explained rationally as a collusion of hormones and antimatter, viral in origin and treatable through a course of regular medication?

I left Corporate mopping himself in the corridor, and headed to Communications’ salubrious office, past her secretary who was sobbing unconvincingly on the keyboard.  I don’t know why I went there.  The investigative impulse, perhaps.  Maybe I thought I’d find a box of pills, or a threatening letter from a black magician laid out neatly on the desk.  I flipped through some papers.  Nothing there, just a pile of emails printed out zealously to cover Communications’ back, and some artwork.  I glanced at her screen and typed in her password to override the security screen saver.  Of course I knew what it was – I know everything in this organisation.  Almost everything.

There was nothing there.  A page full of emails – just the usual, “About Lunch”, “Free Seats at Fashion Show”, “From a Friend”.  From a Friend?  Which friend?  I took a closer look.  Open for a good laugh, it said.  It had a large recipient list.  I never open emails like this on principle: they usually contain viruses or, if not, pathetic attempts at humour which I would rather avoid.  I saw by the formatting that she had opened it.  Unwary of her, I thought.  I hoped the joke was worth the risk.

I was curious but stumped.  Police came and went.  No trace was found of Communications and mourning, I have to say, was perfunctory.

It was a difficult time.  We were being downsized.  As head of Personnel I naturally had a reluctant role to play in all this.  I am not, perhaps, so empathetic as Human Resources (the human face of our staff management team) but I like to think that at least I am objective.  With me, it is not always last on first off.  In my experience, the last are much more efficient and less complaining than the first.  I am all for youth.

The calls on Human Resource’s store of empathy were heavy, but she coped calmly as always.  Her office was a virtual meeting place of retrenched or about-to-be retrenched malcontents.  Corporate, who still had a nervous look, was kept busy analysing cost overruns and finance sheets.  He was an introverted man, an accountant by trade, and rumour had it that his had been the inspiration for the recently installed coin operated company toilets.

One day he walked into my office with a cappuccino in his hand and sat down opposite my desk.

“How are things?” I asked politely.

“I love you.”  he said, looking desperately into my eyes.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I love you.”

“Well, that’s very flattering, but –“

“I adore you.”

I looked at him.  He looked anxious, as well he might.  He took a quick gulp of his cappuccino and coughed.  He must have burnt his tongue.  He stuck it out and as I watched, it sailed right out of his mouth and hung in front of me like an obscene gesture.  Presently, his right arm detached itself and floated slowly to the ceiling.  It was quite cleanly done, no mess at all.  His left leg followed.  Body parts began drifting about like party balloons.  The head landed on my desk mat, still gazing at me with confused passion.  I noticed that Corporate wore a hairpiece, something which had escaped my usually vigilant eye.  It must have been a good one.   I wondered when he would get himself together again.  Just then, the head turned into a small inkpot, and the other body parts went effortlessly up the ventilating strip, as if made of smoke.  It seemed that he had been well and truly downsized.

I sat there, bemused, then rang the police.  Naturally the company tried to hush it up.  A note went out that Corporate had been eaten by a shark on the Gold Coast, as he had been attempting to swim with the dolphins.  Tributes flooded in, mostly from consultants and other accountants.  The police dropped by again, and began to hunt around the offices.  By this time, there was no need to downsize.  People were leaving anyway.  For some reason, our company was beginning to acquire a bad reputation.  I led the officers to Corporate’s computer, and we looked through his emails together.

From a Friend.  There it was again.  I pointed this out to the officers, and they hmmed.

“Common enough.”  said one, who went by the name of Superintendent Parkes.  “I got something similar myself last year.  The Love Bug.  Crashed my entire hard drive!  You should never open those things.”

“Perhaps”  added the superintendent   “somebody is pursuing a vendetta against your company.  Can you think of any reason for that?”

No, I couldn’t think of any.

Still, I wondered.  From a Friend.   I wondered even more when I opened up my computer one morning and saw it there, in bold.  From a Friend.  I sat there, looking at it.  Was it some sort of bad joke?  What could it have to do with these mysterious happenings.  There was only one way to find out.  I double-clicked.  It was against company policy of course.  Then it occurred to me, what if something happened to me?  I needed some insurance.  Of a kind.  Some time ago, I had arranged for a programmer to set up an email program for my exclusive use, through which I could send emails to staff.  These emails would open automatically, playing a short tune to alert the recipient (since I had found that often, when emails came from Personnel, staff tended to delete immediately).   I amended the title of “From a Friend” to “Staff Circular – Virus Warning.” and clicked on “All Staff”.   Just then the door to my office opened.

“Peter, could I just have a minute of your time?”

She stood in the doorway, stroking her cardigan as if it were some sort of needy friend.

“Sure.”

She came in and pulled the only chair round from in front of the desk to the side of it, the better to have a confidential chat.  I glanced at her stonily.  I was busy.  I wanted to see what was in the email, but she’d come at just the wrong time.  She leaned round to see what was on my screen.

“You shouldn’t open those things, you know.  It’s against company policy.” she pointed out, in her soft, warm voice.

“I know.”  I was feeling sick.  I pulled at my pants, which were suddenly too tight.  To my surprise they were white satin, with gold appliqué.  My head hurt.

“I always liked the sixties, Peter.”

Peter.  Was that my name?  I looked down at my hands and saw that they had turned into rabbit’s ears – a white rabbit, soft and fluffy and pink on the insides.  I can’t type with rabbits ears.  Or phone for help.

“They were days when people really cared about each other.  Peace, love.  In this company, people don’t really care, do they.”

“I care!” I mumbled, trying to remember the emergency phone number.

“No you don’t.  Any more than Sharp did, with her bobbed hair and her corporate priorities.  Thanks to her, I had to leave my kids in full day care.  She said part time work was for go- nowhere wusses.”

Funny, she still looked empathetic.

“And him.  He said I talked too much to staff.  He said what they needed was a good kick up the backside, not a fireside chat.  Do you agree with that, Peter?

“Certainly not.”  It was no good, I had forgotten the phone number.  What is a phone, anyway?  Peter, she said.  Who’s that?  Was that supposed to be me?

“And you.  I was next on your list, wasn’t I.”

I don’t know, I wanted to say.  I’ve forgotten.   What list.  I opened my mouth to speak and realised that I couldn’t.  As if the memory of how it’s done had gone.

Something’s happening to me, I tried to say.  She smiled, comfortingly.  I can’t remember, I mouthed.  Help me.

“Corporate memory.” she said, soothingly.  “You see, it is useful sometimes after all.  But of course, we don’t have any now, do we.  All the old ones went first.  Tell me, are you fifty three or fifty four this year?”

I looked at the thing sitting beside me.  What was it?  I had seen it somewhere before – but perhaps not.  Its mouth was opening and shutting, speaking in some language I could not understand, but perhaps I had once known.

“You’ve crashed.” she said.  “Your hard drive has gone troppo.  I’m afraid you’re losing your memory, and in another few minutes, it will be all gone.  Pity you didn’t keep it backed up on a floppy.  Another breach of company policy.”

I waved my rabbit’s ears.  There was one last thing…if only I could remember it.  As my vision went blurry, I pressed the keyboard with one soft ear-tip.

“You should never open emails with subjects like “From a Friend.”  she advised, leaning forward.  They were almost the last words  I registered as my mind went dark.   But not quite.  The last thing to pass through my emptying mind was “Send”.

The Seneca Scourge: a little fan fiction

Fired up by reading The Seneca Scourge, by Carrie Rubin, I decided to write a small tribute in the form of fan fiction…(with apologies to Carrie – but really, read the book, it’s better than Michael Crichton and much less right wing).  Only, you may want to start building your millennial hideout now.  The pandemic is coming!

The Scene: Dr Knight’s flat.  Dr Knight (tall, blonde, brilliant) and Dr Jones (tall, dark, yummy) have just stumbled in after a night on the town.

Dr Knight: Oh, Casper..! Your kiss is divine..just like I knew a GQ model’s would be.  Tell me…

Dr Jones: Anything, my darling!

Dr Knight: Do you believe in time travel?

Dr Jones: Well, technically (as his hand creeps down the back of her skinny jeans) time only goes in one direction.  Or so it appears.  Einstein said that the faster you go, the slower time goes. So if you go at the speed of light, which is the fastest possible speed, there IS no time. For you.  See what I mean, darling?

Dr Knight: Yes! Yes!  Your dimples are entrancing.  But what if you went FASTER than light??

Dr Jones: Then I guess…you’d go backwards in time.  Then when you wanted to start moving into the future again, you’d put the brakes on.  (Your buttocks are delicious.  Do you jog?) You with me?

Dr Knight: Can I be? (by this time she has unbuttoned his shirt and is stroking his short, tightly curled chest hair)

Dr Jones: Forever!

Dr Knight: But how can that be? What’s the speed of light got to do with the price of eggs anyway?

Dr Jones: (struggling, as all men do, with bra clips) You know when you look out at the stars – say Alpha Centauri – the reason you can SEE them is cause the light from THERE has come all the way HERE and hit your eyeballs.  Right?  But by the TIME it gets HERE, things have moved on THERE. So for all you know, Alpha Centauri could have disappeared a million years ago, but the light wave doesn’t know that – it started out way before.

Dr Knight: I..totally…see what you mean…Here, let me do it! There, that’s better.  So time travel is really information travel.  It’s like..beating the postman to the mail box? (struggles with Dr Jones’ massive belt buckle, as women often do)  God this is so BIG!

Dr Jones: Oh, yeah baby!  That’s it.  But hang on – what IS time anyway?  Watch that zip, sweetheart – awful things can happen when..

Dr Knight: Time? (mmm…ahhhh) It’s, ah, change, isn’t it?  And change  is, umm, motion?  So maybe motion is time…(much heavy breathing) and everything else is just information….and time travel is just information in motion…what do you think?

Dr Jones:  Um…maybe.  I may have to bring in a colleague on that one.  (rolls over and reaches towards the bedside table, while Dr Knight admires his rippling pectoids – is this a real word?)  Just hang on a sec while I blow my nose…

Strange Stories: Nurse Goldilocks

Just as she’s in the middle of telling him about Steve’s promotion, the communicator abruptly falls out of contact.

“Dad?”

When she connects again, the automatic voice-over tells her he’s busy.  She pictures her father fallen slack-jawed on the thick pile carpet, clutching vainly towards the alarm button set into his chest.  She calls the manager, heart thumping.

“It’s my father – I was just on the communicator, and it dropped out.  I thought maybe – he’s not picking up.  Could you go and check on him?”

The manager was back in less than a minute – not long enough, Judy thought, for him to walk down the long corridor that led to her father’s courtyard apartment.

“He’s fine.”

“Can I talk to him then?  Is there something wrong with the system?”

A long pause, a cough.

“Look, Ms Higgs, it’s difficult to know exactly how to put this but..he doesn’t seem to want to talk to you.  I’ve asked him, I’ve told him it’s his daughter calling – and he just says ‘later’….is there anything we should be aware of?  Have you two not been getting along recently?’

Judy’s hand trembled with indignation. ‘It’s her, isn’t it.  Nurse Goldilocks.  It’s not natural.  She’s turned him against his own daughter!   I’m going to come and see him, that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll take him away from that place and HER and everything, and I’ll look after him myself.  That’s the way it used to be in the old days!  Back when FAMILY mattered!”

She set the phone down, leant both hands on the kitchen bench, dizzy with emotion.

At the nursing home, Nurse Goldilocks and Albert Higgs gently counted the bubbles in the bath and stroked each other’s long locks, buttercup yellow and bone white.

“It’s time for your pills, darling.  Now how would you like them?’

“The usual way,” he grinned, the deep lines from nose to jaw softer in the bathroom mist.  With a mischievous expression, she leaned forward and kissed him, transferring three tiny tablets from her tongue to his in the flick of a baby pink tongue.  He swallowed them, holding a heavy breast in either hand.

‘Maybe you should talk to her.  She gets lonely.  She loves you, you know.’

He sank chin deep into the warmth of the water, the aches that science hadn’t yet conquered drifting from him under the glow of her coffee coloured eyes.  So deep, so sweet, you wondered where the wiring was.  Back when he was young, they would both have been electrocuted.  Robots had got a lot more sophisticated since then, thank god.

‘Maybe tomorrow.  Tonight, I just want my little fairytale..”

Strange Stories: Boy meets Girl

Yep, this is a love story like any other.

He first saw her at a cocktail party.  She wore a black dress, short, and pearls. So did all the others.  She had long, corn-gold hair and blue eyes.  So did all the others.

He knew she was 25.  In that year, the year when she’d been born, Griselda Dansk was Bollywood’s number one screen goddess.  All the girl babies born in that year had golden hair and blue eyes, just like Griselda, and small cup sizes, which Griselda had made fashionable in her classic role as a flat-chested, gloriously naked Virginia Woolf.

He got there late, and tripped on the hostess’ welcome mat.  As Debonya held out a pale hand to help him up, and waved with the other for a maid to clear up the mess, all the women looked at him, and looked away again, embarrassed.  All except one.

She smiled, then, and there was no trace of mockery in her joyful grin.  She held his dark, long-lashed eyes – born in 2062, all the boys had them – and winked, slowly.  He grinned back,  let go Debonya’s hand, and came to her like a cat comes to sit by the fire.

He told her she was beautiful, in bed, later that night.

“You’re so warm, I could lie beside you in the snow and not feel it.”

“Flatterer!” That wink again.  It was entrancing.

“I’m not!  And you’re so gorgeously clever.  I bet you’ve got a PhD.  Tell me, you have, haven’t you!”

She nodded.

“Historical anachronism, from Harvard.”

In the morning he woke up to find her awake already, her windows wide and open on the world.  He searched for last night’s scene within them: she continued as if they’d never moved from there.

“Do you find my intellect attractive, then?”

“Of course!  Doesn’t everyone?”

She wrapped a long, lightly tanned thigh around his waist.

“Some men would rather make the jokes than laugh at them, you know.  And then, some men ARE the joke.”

He smiled uncertainly.

“Do you know, in my grandmother’s day, THIS would have been the candy to attract the flies.  THIS is what you would have found beautiful.”

She ran a hand over her peach-like behind, flicked the golden hair in disdain.

“Yes but everyone – I mean everyone from 2058 – looks the same.  It’s just a shell – why would I be interested in a shell?  It’d be like falling in love with your dress!”

She sat up.

“Did you say ‘falling in love’?”

He brushed the glossy, careless curls from his eyes.  Was it his imagination, or was he starting to feel the cold?

“I only meant..”

“I don’t do love.  Come to think of it, you’re not really my type.  I prefer the 2040 crop -much less naive.”

He looked into the sea-blue windows of her soul, and saw that he had mistaken the fires of lust for abiding warmth, and cleverness and superficial charm for a complex intelligence she did not have.  She was not, after all, beautiful.  He was not the first man who’d woken up to that conclusion.