There were a few of us standing there; a woman wearing an olive green corduroy cap and a necklace of linking octopuses, three young Italian men with Jersey cow eyes, a couple in matching tennis shoes, me and this girl wearing a Fair Isle jumper, a long butter yellow muslin skirt and white ankle socks. She can’t have been much more than sixteen, seventeen, tops, and she was eating the end of a cheese baguette. I was chewing some gum.
“No food or drink allowed inside,” they told us as we went through a black curtain. The girl and I were side by side and somewhere between the two curtains, I felt her take my arm as we walked into the darkness.
“I don’t like this,” she whispered. “I don’t know whether I am alive or dead.”
I felt her sweet, stewed apple breath on my cheek. I led her gently. Somewhere midway through she stopped to roll up the sleeves of her sweater and then suddenly she was leading. She held out her bare arm and I took it and she took me through another black curtain, out the other side, and into some rippling yellow countryside. It was high summer and there was someone scything hay.
“Stonehenge,” I said and it was then she told me that she was Thomas’s Tess.
“Come, I want to show you Sorrow’s grave,” she told me. “I baptized him myself.”
“And then after that, can we go and meet Angel Clare?” I asked her.
My long dead father has risen up.
He wants me to see him
an earnest, reliable, capable
tall, dark and handsome father.
The one I would have chosen.
So I take down the IKEA box I have marked “old photographs”
and find my father. He is very handsome.
his thick black wavy hair is cut
In the style of the day. It is 1945.
He is perhaps 20 years of age,
wearing a wide lapelled, double breasted
pin striped suit. There is
a precise knot in his tie,
his shirt fits his neck.
Earnest, clean cut, reliable, tall, dark and handsome.
My father doesn’t want to see my fearful five-year-old self,
nor my now self say:
“ she wanted you to come home,
you wouldn’t be told what to do,
she locked the door,
you smashed it down”, and
I don’t want to talk about that.
I let my father see me for the first time
in my wedding dress. I am twenty-four.
He knows about my dream.
The one where I dig a big hole and bury him.
We look at each other.
I am aware only of my breathing,
and my heart.
We look at each other under the spotlight on my table,
then I put my father away.
That evening I eat a bowl of spicy spaghetti
which my husband has perfected.
I drink two glasses of Italian red wine.
I sleep, well.
I wake, nourished.
I walk to the station.
My father, in his wide lapelled pin striped suit,
the earnest, reliable, capable,
tall, dark and handsome father appears.
I am my five-year-old self. He reads,
“Dear Patricia, with love, Father Christmas”,
from the note he must have slipped inside the Doll’s House present.
We walk from the overground to the underground,
and I let him go.
On Tuesday March 25th at 8pm, there was a peremptory ring at the doorbell. How irritating! She was cooking dinner, stirring some garlic in a little olive oil for three minutes to which she intended to add tomatoes and basil for a further one minute and some fish for five minutes.
Answering the door, she saw a young man, sharply dressed but with a noticeable patch of acne on his chin. He had several large parcels at his feet.
Without a pause he said, “I thought you’d want these,” and pointed at the parcels.
“I’m sorry?” she said, “Who are these for and what are they?”
“I’m from Time,” he said, indicating a large blue van parked on the road.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“I have stuff for you. Would you like to see the list?”
He handed her a sheet of paper.
1 pair baby boots, pink and yellow acrylic knit (1960)
1 furnished dolls house (1968)
A collection of Abba LP’s (1970’s )
Various mini skirts (1974)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (date of purchase 1976)
She’d thrown these things out years ago.
“Oh, and I forgot to tell you there’s more on the van. There’s a flat too. The address on it is 157, Cromwell Road, 1978 on the label. “
“I don’t understand what this can possibly mean,” she said. “I don’t want any of it.”
The man sighed. “So, it’s all about today is it?” They told me you might want a bit of 1960. Or 1978. They said ‘She’d particularly like some 1978’ “ He paused.
“So, am I to take it all back?”
“Go away” she said and slammed the door. And time moved on, there was always so much to do.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
Sshh! Put your small hand in mine and let time stand still. Time is three feet high for you and growing. For me, five feet three inches and shrinking. Time’s a spiral staircase, and today I can pretend we’re standing on the same step.
On your wrist, you wear a pink plastic watch. You want to tell the time and for me to teach you. But what could you tell it, and how might it reply?
My other hand holds my phone, fingers curled around my Time Lord Dictator. The King of Surveillance. He will track our exit from this dark space, tapping my life into the void. In this darkness our time’s suspended. You are not yet born, and I am not yet dead. Beckoned inwards by the swaying torches of another place with their come-hither beams. Pushed towards oblivion by the swarming lights that want us gone.
But we’ll walk around again my little one. We’ll stand on the same step and grab this time together like a warm woolen overcoat, tucking us up until we have to go.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
The darkness was broken from time to time by beams from spotlights suspended from some invisible place above, affording glimpses of several figures in the vast space, some moving some stationery. She felt panic rising from her churning stomach into her throat. She could barely breathe. She felt lonely and abandoned even though she could see the shadowy figures of people close to her. She could even see their backpacks hanging from their shoulders.
The air resounded with a sonic persistent hum and she wanted to yell out ‘stop that bloody noise’.
Several times she stumbled as she had known she would and each time she reached out to steady herself on the shoulder of the figure beside her she met only thin empty dark air. She shuffled forward at pains to avoid hurting herself on the walls close by to her left.
She wondered if she was caught in a Nightmare, but knew she wasn’t asleep.
Eventually she emerged into a cavernous dimly lit space,. She caught a movement and and a flash of light on metal. She felt naked and wondered if were the large square pillars were hiding observers, maybe connected to the art installation she had left.
Hearing her mother’s voice in her resounding in her. head “’Don’t be so ridiculous”’ she walked towards the large double glass doors. As she walked through she felt sand beneath her feet, and saw above her vast towering tiers of balconies, populated with excited people leaning forward, pointing at her, some jeering some cheering.
Transfixed she looking back boldly, and then fell to her knees as she heard the grating sound of a metal gate being dragged open and smelt the acrid scent of animal dung mixed with human sweat and above the cacophony of voices heard the roar of a great cat.
FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE
At a specific moment in time I was born. I have no recollection of this event whatsoever …. the most important event in my life and I miss it.
By the time I am one I will have at least two teeth.
By the time I am two I will talk.
By the time I am three, the parents who couldn’t wait for me to talk, will now want me to shut up.
By the time I am five I will have attended big school for the first time.
By the time I am six I will have made a new best friend.
By the time I am ten I will have clumsily kissed my first boyfriend.
By the time I am twelve I will have had my heart broken.
By the time I am fourteen I will have given up on boys and turned vegetarian.
By the time I am eighteen I will be back into boys and eating prawns.
By the time I am twenty one I will graduate.
By the time I am twenty five I will be married.
By the time I am thirty I will have two children.
By the time I am forty two I will be divorced- amicably of course….the bastard.
By the time I am fifty I will be choosing my daughters wedding dress with her.
By the time I am fifty five I will be playing with my first grandchild..who will of course always call me by my first name.
By the time I am sixty I will get my Freedom Pass.
By the time I am sixty five I will be going on my first Mediterranean cruise.
By the time I am seventy I will marry the man I met on my third cruise.
By the time I am seventy five I will kiss him goodbye one last time before the coffin lid is replaced.
By the time I am eighty the court will finally find in my favour and award the house as willed.
By the time I am eighty five I will gasp for breath and squeeze both my daughter’s hands as I fall into an oblivion immeasurable by time – which was always illusion anyway….and I will miss the second most important event in my life.
It was only a few minutes but it seemed like an eternity as I stumbled in the darkness.
Dim, human shapes, partially visible one second, then, gone the next.
Now, total darkness with the eerie sound in the background, a sense of fear and foreboding excited by this sound. I thought “what if one of these shapes invaded my space”? with a sense of vulnerability enveloping me.
Lonely, creepy, lost in time and space. All that was familiar now gone!
Then, in a heartbeat, the light shone, just enough for me to stumble forward
towards the brighter light in the still far off distance.
Another second goes by, I’m feeling better now. The solitude of the moment welcome. This time and space now belongs to me alone. I reach the brighter light and liken it to the “light at the end of the tunnel” and feel better prepared to enter it.
The experience starts me thinking as I make my way back through the capital city that is London. What if there are people in another dimension? Something I’d pondered but hadn’t really wanted to think about till now.
If all we have is right now this one minute, what does the parallel universe have? And can they see me whilst I can’t see them?
I admire the architecture of this fascinating city, the Churches and historical buildings, imagining the people centuries ago that our history books tell us lived there, died there, fought there, loved there!
Where are they all now? I wonder. Somewhere in time and side by side with us in space?
What if, in the long corridor of the time allotted to me and the many doors along that corridor, I had opened another one instead of the ones I had opened? My life most likely would be very different to what it is today.
I can never know this and all I have is now, this minute.