Bad Timing

Bad Timing

“You’ve been reading too many Sci-fi books Bob. Either that or your losing your marbles mate.”

Bob Jordan smiled through his heavy white beard. His deep-set weathered eyes, which gave away the history of his life in the outdoors, were grinning with a glistening sparkle. It was a lively sparkle that gave him instant popularity throughout the village. He thoughtfully replied, “I’m telling you Andy. It’s not just my crazy idea. It’s called relativity. Albert Einstein thought it up years ago, but it’s been proven without doubt since then.”

“Do you seriously expect me to believe that I could sit here get older while you were swanning around the universe getting younger? It just sounds bloody bonkers to me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say younger. I simply wouldn’t age as quickly as you. The nearer I would get to travelling at the speed of light, the less I would age compared to you. Honest Andy, it’s a fact. It was proven using atomic clocks back in the seventies. They flew planes round and round the world measuring the difference on these super accurate clocks compared to ones that stayed on the ground”

Andy began to go quiet. He had a lot of trust in his old mate of thirty years.

He knew that Bob was much brighter than he was, had known it since childhood. Despite this difference they had formed a tight bond, even to the point that they married on the same day in a double wedding ceremony. Their two wives were also close friends.

As he sipped on his third pint of Old Peculiar, he began to think about the possibility of time travel. He’d had children very late in life and knew that the likelihood of ever seeing his grandchildren grow up was small. That is, of course, if his lazy children ever had any.

Andy drifted into a day dream, pondering how much he would love to slow down his ageing process, such that he could live much longer. As his mind wandered Bob could see that his explanation of relativity had made its mark on Andy. He drove the discussion home with, “You see Andy, time is only relative to the person observing it. I would experience time at exactly the same rate as you do, but wouldn’t age as much as you because I would be travelling so fast.”

Andy heard his voice through the dim mist of his daydream. He promptly snapped back to reality with a very irritated, “Okay. Okay. I believe you. But it’s bloody hard to get my head around it, especially after a few beers.”

Bob was in full swing now and his enthusiasm for the topic pushed him to continue. “If we had the technology to travel at such high….”

“Alright, I get your drift. No need to keep going on. Now it’s your turn to get the beers in so why don’t you just zip over to the bar at the speed of light and fetch them cos I’m getting thirsty?”

They both grinned like cheeky little boys, totally comfortable with each other. This is why they hardly ever missed their Friday evening down the local pub together, while their wives went to yoga class, often followed by a meal or film at the local cinema. Friday had been their ‘free’ evening since before they were married.

When Bob came back with two more pints Andy was ready to taunt him.

“I guess that you’re suddenly so clever because of that new book by Professor Dawkins that you’ve had your head buried in for the last two weeks.”

Bob laughed. “You mean Hawking, not Dawkins. Stephen Hawking. Professor Dawkins is someone else. Anyway how do you know Professor Dawkins?”

“Aw, I dunno. It probably came up in one of the pub quizzes.”

That was then the end of the conversation about relativity. Andy quietly mulled over this ageing concept, while Bob was distracted by a long legged newcomer to the pub.

Soon afterwards they were swallowing the last drop of beer, as last orders were called. Bob, on seeing his pal a little subdued, guessed rightly that Andy was still thinking about his age and own mortality. At fifty five they were both well aware of their shortening lifespan. Mainly as a gesture and to help snap him out of it and cheer him up Bob asked, “Are you having another?” He was standing to go to the bar again as he spoke.

“No thanks, if you don’t mind. To be honest I feel a bit knackered and need to get my head down.”

“No problem. I wanted to try to finish that book tonight anyway. It’s bloody interesting.”

They left the pub and strolled up the road together, both still in deep concentration. Stopping outside Andy’s home to say goodnight, they could see that the girls were not yet home. This didn’t matter as five minutes later Andy was fast asleep on the couch.

*****

Jenny and Emma, after their yoga class, went to see the new film ‘Lincoln’ that they had been promising themselves for a few weeks. On leaving the cinema, while it was such a lovely evening, they decided to sit outside the wine bar and have a couple of glasses before walking back home. Consequently it was extremely late when they finally arrived home.

Jenny came in quietly so as not to wake Andy. She could hear him gently snoring on the couch, so went quietly up the stairs to the bathroom.

After cleaning off her make-up she went straight to bed, expecting Andy to join her as soon as he got up for a pee, which was his usual routine. Despite the violent film, the yoga and wine had relaxed Jenny after a hard week in the shop where she worked, such that she went straight off to sleep.

A few hours later she woke with a start. She looked at the clock to see that it was nearly three in the morning. She tutted as she climbed out of the bed, on seeing that Andy was still not there. Her throat was parched. She thought that her thirst was probably due to the wine and decided to fetch some water from the fridge.

She crept down the stairs, again trying not to wake Andy. As she moved across the lounge towards the kitchen Andy shouted out in his sleep. He immediately woke up, groped for the switch and turned on the light.

“Whatever’s the matter,” asked Jenny, full of concern for her husband.

“Oh, hi. Sorry, did I wake you? I guess I was just dreaming,” replied Andy, rubbing his head vigorously with his hands, trying to wake himself up properly.

Without looking up from the floor, sitting on the edge of the couch, he was trying hard to shake away the horrible dream.

“You know what Jenny. That stupid bugger of a mate of mine was talking non-stop about travelling through space and not getting any older. He went on and on about it so much, I guess I must have dreamt that I was whizzing through space. It was like a dark void and I thought that I would never return to see you and the kids again.”

As he spoke he looked up and saw Jenny, who was smiling at him lovingly, but had momentarily forgotten that she didn’t have her teeth in. She always kept them in the bed-side table in a glass, taking them out after the lights were off. She wanted Andy never to see her without them. Although she was still a very attractive woman of fifty, without her teeth she saw herself as ugly and at least twenty years older.

The look of horror on Andy’s face forced them both to freeze for some seconds, before he screamed, “My God, I wasn’t dreaming.”

He ran out of the front door and down the road towards Bob’s house.

All Jenny could hear, fading with the distance was, “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him!”

Three Minutes

Three Minutes

The thick mist hung over the grave like a ghostly cloak, waiting to surround the cold, rigid body of Jane Powers. As she was gently lowered into the dank hole, which would be her final resting place, or so we all assumed, her husband once more held back the tears, just as he had for the last five days since Jane died.

Jane had been diagnosed with a brain tumor almost exactly one year before. She was thirty-five, full of life and trying for their first child. At a moment in her life when she believed it could never be better, she soon proved herself to be right. It began with the headaches. Migraine was diagnosed by her doctor until a month later when the pain became so bad that she pleaded with him for stronger pain killers. Once her short term memory began to falter she was quickly assessed and the MRI scan showed a tumour in the temporal lobe, which turned out to be malignant and untreatable.

Peter did all he could to make her last few months as comfortable as possible. There were days when they laughed, days with tears but most of all an unbearable ache in both of their hearts with the knowledge that soon they would be separated forever. They played a sort of game where they would treat each day as though it would represent a year. In the evenings they would discuss that day as though it had been much longer and try to imagine that they were having a full life together. Sometimes it worked but sometimes it didn’t and they cried, holding each other until they slept. Now it was over. No more pretending. They were now separated forever.

*****

The following weeks drifted into months with hardly a murmur. Peter lived in a psychological bubble; where only eating, sleeping and work played a part, except for the long nights awake remembering his lost love. He had been told that the heartache would recede over time. He had been told lies. If anything his loss became more painful as the year slid from winter through into autumn.

It was in late autumn when he lay in bed one night in an extremely depressed state. He had begun drinking heavily to ease the pain, but knew that this would not help him in the long term. He lay thinking about the future. Did he even want a future? Should he simply end it now? It all seemed so pointless without his Jane.

That night became a turning point for him. His own logic and strong personality were telling him to pull himself together. Move on. Be positive. Listen to the birds singing again. Return to his hobbies of running and hiking. He decided to get rid of the car and buy a motor bike, and during the last October week would travel to South Tirol in Northern Italy, hiking on some of his favourite mountain routes. He would shake the tiredness out of his limbs and get going again. She would have wanted that.

*****

Cruising through the Brenner Pass on his way to a hotel in Sterzing, Peter felt the calm throb of the Triumph 650 Bonneville resonating through his spine. He glided easily around the bends, feeling the warm October air in his face. He had made the right decision; this felt good.

Parking the bike in front of the hotel Peter hefted the bags from the back and entered the reception. He stopped abruptly at the counter, realizing in an instant what a fool he has been. The hotel ‘Schwarzer Adler’ was where they had stayed before. They had even taken a holiday in the honeymoon suite for a week after they were married. Peter, on seeing the same receptionist, and anticipating the first question, felt the hot sweat begin to build above his brow. He turned to leave but in the same moment changed his mind. He couldn’t just simply run away from the memories. He would focus on the good ones.

The question came as anticipated. “Hello Mr. Powers, how are you today? Are you travelling alone this time? We had been hoping so much to meet your lovely wife again.”

During the last sentence the receptionist realized that something was dreadfully wrong by the expression on Peter’s face. Her final words tailed off, hardly audible.

Peter choked on the words as he said softly, “my wife died a few months ago. She had a tumour which…..”

“Oh! I am so sorry”, she whispered. “Please forgive my clumsiness. I just wanted to ….”

“Please; it’s all right. You have no need to apologise. I am coming to terms with it slowly.”

After checking in and unloading the bags he decided that he could fit in a good afternoon hike up to the Jaufen Pass. There was a hut at the top where he could soak in the high mountain air and blow the last cobwebs away. The next day would be a big one up the Hochfeiler, where at 3500 metres he could test his stamina again.

The walk was exactly as he remembered the first time with Jane. The sky was blue and the autumn clarity of the air allowed some tremendous views. He climbed strongly, taking each step with vigour and breathing deeply, enjoying the punishment he was giving to his body with the effort of the ascent.  He sat at the pass enjoying a cool Weiss bier and although still burdened by a longing for past times, he considered those events and fond memories with a good heart. Repeatedly he thought that he had made the right decision; this felt good.

The walk back down to his bike was fast. Despite the beer in his stomach he began to trot, stepping between the rocks with nimble alertness, as he had years before.

Prior to leaving for Italy he had still been prone to emotional troughs which would leave him weary and drained. Since setting off on the holiday he had somehow managed to keep this buttoned down, until it drifted into him again like an unwelcome storm though an open window. He was not ready for the sudden onslaught of memories and pictures whizzing through his brain as he tackled the sharp bends on the road back down the valley to Sterzing.

He saw Jane smiling at him from the hotel doorway. He felt her soft caress as they lay together dreaming of their future life and family. He had taken his mind completely away from the road.

As he came round the last bend, banking steeply rather than easing off the throttle, he overran slightly onto the oncoming lane at the same time that a two cyclists were heaving their way up the steep slope, chatting side by side. It was over in a flash. He banked harder to avoid them; the bike dropped; he was off sliding down a track with the Triumph still slowly pumping its powerful tone. Bike and rider collided into a small wooden hut.

At once the two unhurt cyclists ran to help and it was clear that Peter was unconscious. His head was twisted at an angle which could only mean a broken neck. One of them tried to talk to him and provide some rudimentary comfort while the other called the emergency number from a mobile phone.

Within minutes the air mountain rescue helicopter was rushing Peter away to the hospital. He was still alive, but breathing was sporadic and the injury was life threatening.

In the emergency room, with cables and tubes all around him and a host of doctors and nurses Peter stopped breathing. His body shut down. His brain began to die. He became clinically dead.

*****

Jane held his hand and smiled lovingly. He was confused. How could she be so real? His mind must be playing its old tricks again.

“My darling, I have waited. I knew you would come, but not so soon. The time here is so tranquil and bearable that another seventy years would have passed in a moment. I could have waited that long without fear or regret until you arrived. I love you so much and now we are together again”.

While Jane spoke her husband slowly realized that he was also now dead. The tears ran down his smiling face and his happiness at their reunion almost smothered him.

“Are we truly together again?” he said disbelievingly. “Can this really be happening?”

Jane laughed. “It’s true. We are together for always.”

They lay together, holding each other, barely daring to breathe in case the magic would be broken. They didn’t speak any more but just clung together.

Eventually Peter moved to place his arm around her and on seeing his left hand he promptly froze in horror. He could see right through his own hand, and as he stared in disbelief the hand became even fainter. He quickly checked and saw that his whole body was disappearing. He looked at Jane with the awful realisation that she was fading too.

“Oh God! No! Please don’t take her away a second time. Jane, what is happening?”

She continued to smile. She was calm and reassuring. “Don’t worry my love. We will meet again. I am here and will wait for you. Never be sad for me. Go now and enjoy your life.”

“No, please!”

Peter’s words drifted, as he did, into nothingness.

*****

A team of medical professionals surrounded Peter. The scene was chaotic but somehow very controlled. A nurse continued with chest compressions while another connected him to a heart monitor. A young trainee doctor checked his airway under supervision. A senior male nurse connected a drip and the consultant pondered what caused the arrest and if there was something they could treat specifically and immediately.

He reached for a defibrillator and shocked Peter. There was no pulse. He tried again but still no pulse. He looked at the clock. Almost three minutes. One last try.

He raised the charge and asked everyone to stand back. Bumph! The pulse was back. He still had a chance.

A nurse wiped the sweat from the forehead of the consultant. He breathed deeply.

“My colleagues, today I think we should pat ourselves on the back. We have just saved a life.”

A new momentum energised the team. They finished off the remaining details. Peter would live, after being clinically dead for three minutes.  All functions quickly returned to normal and although his dislocated neck would hurt for some months, he should make a full recovery.

*****

Lying in his hospital bed three weeks after the accident Peter had a permanent smile on his face. He had told no-one about the reunion with his wife. They probably wouldn’t believe him. He played her words over and over in his mind.

“…….another seventy years would have passed in a moment”, she had said.

Peter considered this deeply and decided that he could now live his life to the full. She would be there when he was ready. He pondered the idea of visiting her immediately, and giving his life for that. No, he would continue and spend his time as fruitfully as he could, in the knowledge that she was there, watching and waiting.

The three minute reunion had changed him. He was serene in the knowledge that there is more to life than he had originally thought. There is another place. A place where there are no illnesses, no wars, no killing. There is a place where people can just be, once they have lived this life.

He would spend his life trying to make the current place a better one for everyone and would always look forward to the moment when he would be reunited with his love forever.

Lying in that bed he made this a firm promise to himself.

“But not yet”, he said to himself smiling cheekily.

Problem Flitting

Problem Flitting

As usual I was up making the breakfast while Ruth took a shower and prepared for work. Glancing out of the window at the dull glow of the street lamp, it was satisfying to realise that working at home as a writer has at least one great advantage. It was pouring down outside and more felt comfortable to be staying in the warm on such a horrible day as today. Outside was still quite dark, with almost horizontal rain and temperatures only just above freezing.

Normally Ruth takes her bike to work, however today would be the bus for sure. The bus stop is very practically at the end of the street, only a hundred yards from our house, and running every ten minutes makes it very convenient. It also drops her only a few yards from her office building.

During breakfast Ruth was extremely preoccupied with a crucial presentation that she needed to deliver that morning, so I didn’t want to break her concentration and therefore just quietly made her porridge with oranges, the way she likes. I enjoy this new life of looking after her, after so many years where I was the one who disappeared away on business trips on a weekly basis, early in the morning. She always made sure that I was cared for and hadn’t forgotten anything important. Now, in my semi-retired state, working from home, I enjoyed the ability to return the love and care that she has shown for so many years.

As usual I was still in my pyjamas as we sat at the breakfast table quietly enjoying the warm Earl Grey and gently supping the steaming porridge. Suddenly her mobile phone rang.

“Morning John, wow you are up and about early this morning. What’s up?”

I assumed that it was her boss, John Spencer, although it was most unusual to hear from him during out-of-office hours.

“OK, I will be there as quickly as I can,” Ruth ended the call with a slight look of consternation on her face.

“I’m so sorry love, I must dash off. John has stressed the importance of my presentation this morning and wants to have a final go through with me before the customers arrive at ten o’clock. He says to apologise to you but he needs me there right away. There are millions riding on this contract.”

“Ruth, are you sure that you want to go out in this rain? I can drive you, honestly it’s no problem.”

“Thanks, but I must hurry. By the time you have got dressed and the car out of the garage I will be on the bus.”

While she quickly collected her laptop and handbag I went through to our integral garage in my slippers and pyjamas, opened the garage door and was on the drive tapping the horn before she was out of the front door. “Come on,” I said with a cheeky smile that I know that she loves. “I thought that you were in a hurry.”

“But sweetheart, you are in your jimjams. What if…?”

“Aw, come on. It’s only ten minutes’ drive. I am ok. I’ll be back before my tea is cold. No risk, no fun.”

Ruth climbed in saying something about her crazy husband.

As we pulled out of the driveway she said, “Well, you be careful that no one sees you in those pyjamas. You have no pants on and they are so loose I can even see Mr Wiggly from here. Watch he doesn’t get a chill.”

Our eyes connected lustily and we were both smiling. It was a cheeky, but very pleasant moment between us.

“Ha. At my age I don’t think people would take any more notice Ruth. There’s not much to look at these days.”

“I know you’re just fishing for compliments, but hard luck,” she returned grinning from ear to ear.

The rain really was awful. I dropped her outside of her office, where the lights showed that John was already there.

“Well, good luck with the presentation. Text me if all goes well and I will put a nice bottle of sparkly in the fridge for when you come home,” I offered, kissing her full on the lips as she climbed out of the car.

“Thanks sweetie. You are a real darling. I won’t be too late home. Love you.”

She slammed the car door shut, which always drives me mad. Why do women always treat mechanical things as though they are the enemy? I smiled as she dashed to the office doorway to get out of the rain. “God, I love this woman.”

I knew that it would take me slightly longer to get back home as the direction to Ruth’s office was heading out of town and against the general traffic flow in the morning. The route back home is therefore with all the traffic going into town. As expected, it was stop and go most of the way.

As I edged my way around the Roundtree Roundabout my engine stopped. This is one of the main junctions onto the ring road, and is nearly always heavily congested at this time in the morning. I thought that I had just stalled and tried to start it up again. I was halfway around the roundabout and people were already honking at me.

After a couple of tries I knew that the car wouldn’t start. It was like an early premonition. I came to that absolutely clear understanding that it was bound to happen. In six years this car had always been one hundred per cent reliable. On the one day where I take a risk by leaving the house in my pyjamas, without my mobile phone, without even any bloody underpants on…..on this day when it is pissing down of rain, in my slippers. On this day when I am going to feel like the biggest pillock this side of the M5, my car is definitely not going to start. The heavy rain had gotten into the engine somehow.

I tried a few more times but to no avail. By now the traffic was jockeying for position and many angry motorists were blasting on their horn. After what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably less than a minute, someone rapped on the driver’s door. I wound down the window with one hand while holding the flies of my pyjamas closed with the other. “What the hell are you doing?” a guy in a green rain jacket shrieked at me. “Get out and let’s push your car off the road otherwise you will cause chaos.”

“But…..but….I can’t,” I stammered. “I have no clothes on.”

All of my bravado with Ruth from twenty minutes earlier was now gone. I felt totally vulnerable. Of course, I was responsible for my own car and had to do something, but how could I? What a stupid situation.

The guy took one look at me and grinned. “Boy, have you blown it? Do you normally drive around in your pyjamas? This is some kind of fetish that I have never heard of before” He was now laughing and thoroughly enjoying the situation, waiting to see what I would do.

I became angry, more at myself than him. I was not going to shy away and hide, but brave it through. I stepped out of the car and asked him to help me push it off the road. It was difficult with all the traffic and rain. It was still raining as hard as ever.

As we reached the curb we had to give an extra shove to bounce the car over onto the grass verge. I was steering and pushing from the driver’s door while my helper was pushing from the rear. Luckily he was a big strong guy who took most of the weight.

At the moment the car bounced over the curbstone I slipped on the wet grass verge, thereby losing my grip on the car and falling flat on my face in the mud. The momentum of the car, still under full force of my helping “friend”, rolled on across the grass verge and pavement, finally coming to a halt against a lamppost, which was now leaning over like the Tower Of Pisa.

I lay on the grass, feeling the cold wet mud against my soggy little penis. I remember thinking that this would be a good time to die. I had no more dignity. I had no idea what to do. I turned to ask my assistant to ask if he could phone for help, and maybe lend me a blanket or something…anything. He had gone! The traffic was buzzing by with people waving at me, laughing, as they drove past. I stood, dripping wet, covered in mud, still clinging onto the soggy crotch of my pyjamas to protect that one last little bit of self-esteem.

I knew that I had to remove myself from this situation. I couldn’t simply stand there like this, hoping that something would happen to put me out of this misery. I locked the car, left it exactly where is was and headed for home. It was nearly two miles in the freezing rain, but I supposed that walking along was better than staying.

After less than a hundred yards I suddenly realised that I had only one slipper on. My feet had become so cold that I had been walking barefoot, without knowing it. The situation surely couldn’t get any worse. I seemed to be just flitting from one disaster to another.

I wouldn’t go back for my slipper. It would be more humiliation than I could have taken. Instead I broke into a slow jog and decided that I could be home in fifteen minutes if I kept going. It was really hard. Every now and then my penis jumped out of my pyjamas and I had to quickly put it back in. It was also now starting to become light and I was extremely worried about being reported or caught for indecency.

I almost fell against the door of the house when I arrived, so relieved to finally be home. My feet were completely numb with the cold. The bare one was bleeding in a few places. I actually began to laugh, almost hysterically, as I realised that all would be ok and I could be in a hot bath within minutes. I could smell the bath foam already.

As I lifted my key ring to put the right key into the door, I saw that the house key was not there. Somehow it had come free and was lost. I almost broke into tears. I remember thinking that you couldn’t even make this story up. Such a run of bad luck means that surely someone up there is against me. I began to take it personally.

In this condition it was all the same to me whether I smashed a window to get in or not. I was beyond caring. I just wanted to get into a warm safe place. I was just about to push through the door window with my elbow, when I remembered that the bathroom window was usually left open at the back of the house.

I hobbled round the house to confirm my thoughts and sure enough it was wide open. I knew that if I could climb up I would be able to reach through and open the bigger window. Ruth is always complaining that I leave this window open, but I argue that we are in a very safe neighbourhood.

I bravely walked down to the shed, by now oblivious to the rain and thorns underfoot, as most of my body had reached a state of complete numbness. I collected the ladder and placed it against the house. It was easy to climb up and reach in and open the main window. The difficult part was to climb in, which I did head first, sliding my body through bit by bit.

As I was half in my pyjama bottoms caught on the window latch, but to be honest, by this time I didn’t care anymore. I pulled myself in, landing in a messy heap directly into the bath, and remember thinking, “Well, at least I have landed in the right place for once!”

I spent at least an hour basking in the warm water and replaying my nightmare over and over again. I decided to play it down when Ruth came home as it was far too embarrassing to let her know what happened.

Once I was warm and dressed again I called the local police station to explain what had happened. Surprisingly, they were very understanding and although they had initially treated the accident with the lamppost as a hit and run, they would not be pressing any charges. I think that they thought I had had enough for one day.

I also called the local garage to rescue my car. They offered me a courtesy car which could be collected later.

I sat back and grinned to myself that all is well that ends well.

*****

Ruth sent me a text later that afternoon to say that the presentation had been a total success and that she was looking forward to the evening at home with a good meal and nice bottle of wine.

I prepared something special for her and even lit the candles to create a romantic and warm atmosphere.

During the meal we chatted about her presentation. She said that John was so excited about this contract that she thinks she could be in for a hefty bonus this year. She asked me what happened to the car as we had a different one on the drive. I just casually mentioned that I had a small problem with ours and this was a courtesy car from the garage, which we could keep until they repaired it, in a couple of days time.

We had a lovely evening. After the meal I put some soft sensual music on and we cuddled together on the couch. As Ruth lay in my arms she asked me if everything had gone well this morning after I dropped her off. She had a look on her face which told me that she had something else on her mind. I answered as nonchalantly as I could, “Of course darling. It’s like I said this morning; no risk, no fun.”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said determinedly, “Roger, if I ask you just one thing, do you promise to answer me truthfully?”

“Of course,” I said, “what is it?”

“Why are your muddy pyjama bottoms hanging outside from our bathroom window?”

I gulped. My bad day wasn’t over yet.