This morning began as a perfectly normal autumn working day with, at least from my perspective, no perception that it would become one of the most memorable and sinister days of my life. It was Tuesday, very dark at 6.30am in the morning when we woke to a new catchy French song on the radio. Outside was dank and dismal, with cold wind and some light but biting rain swirling in the air.The sky was grey and angry clouds blustered overhead, almost seeming to touch the treetops with their dark feathered tails.
To the sound of music my wife stirred and gave a little purr that I have become so accustomed to over the years. She snugggled up closely to me and, as always, stroked my tummy while she bathed in the ever present warmth of my body. As is her daily routine she checked my manhood, or at least it always seemed to me as though she was checking. The feel of her light fingers on the soft down of my lower tummy never fails to cause the early morning reaction fuelled by my temporarily raised testosterone levels. I enjoy the moment. At fifty-six I am always comforted to know that things are still functioning well, a sign of good health I always think. I love Susan more than I ever considered possible. She is my best friend, my lover and my lifelong partner. I am forever fascinated by the joy of being with her, and of having her as my wife.
With a little wet kiss on my naked tummy, she slid herself reluctantly out of the bed and shuffled towards the bathroom, leaving me with a need for further carresses. Although aroused to my full extent, I had expected no more. It is a weekday and we must arise and meet the days demands full on. Waking at the weekend is another situation, but this narrative is not intended to be an erotic account of the sexual antics of a slightly-more-that-middle-aged couple, but a tale of something far more incredible, which was soon about to enter my life and change me, my beliefs and cause me to reassess life’s priorities forever.
I leaped out of bed, threw on some clothes from the day before, and started breakfast. I normally rise, dress quickly and make breakfast while Susan showers and dresses. It saves time, and after she is off to work I can see to such things at my leisure. It is now three weeks since we moved here to the little village of Tournefeuille in the south-west of France and I am gently sliding into my long planned early retirement. I work only part-time, mostly from my office at home.
When Sue entered the dining kitchen, our dog Senga, a young golden retriever, jumped up wagging her tail in exitement. We breakfasted quickly, as is usual during the week, after which I walked with Susan and Senga down to the nearby bustop. Taking the bus dispenses with the need of a second car and is much less stressful during the morning rush hour , so Susan prefers it. However on such a cold and rainy morning as this, I think she would have rather used a car.
While ambling slowly back towards the house, feeling very relaxed and comfortable with the world, from a hundred metres or so away, I could hear my phone ringing. I sprinted up the driveway, unlocked the door and grabbed the nearby telephone from its base.
“Bonjour, James Bleckett,” I uttered, mildly out of breath.
“Hello Mr Bleckett. My name is Mioslav Nanovic. I hope that you can remember me.
“Sorry. No! Should I? What are you wanting to sell?” I said displaying a little irritation, quite common in my response to cold callers.
“You misunderstand,” he said. “ I am not selling or canvassing, but I want to give you some important information. You should have remembered me because we worked together for 18 years from 1972 until 1990.”
“Well, Siemens is a huge company Mr. Nanovic. There are more than a hundred thousand people working there. I am sorry, but I cannot remember your name. What is it that I can do for you?”
“It is more a question of what I can do for you,” he said in a rather mysterious husky voice. “I wish to tell you who you really are. You never actually worked at Siemens; You worked with me in the Balashikha laboratories. Your real name is Boris Stark.”
“What nonsense! Look, I don’t know what your game is, or how you came by my number, but I don’t like it; Please get off the ….”
“Just give me five minutes to explain,” he cut in.
I placed the phone down somewhat angrily, even though I thought that I had become accustomed to the persistant calls from sales people or canvassers.
Senga was dripping on the floor from the rain and I fetched her doggy towel to rub her down. I loved her like a child, especially as we were never lucky enough to have been able to have children of our own. I guess she was my best substitute. We went everywhere together. The telephone rang again. “Please don’t hang up, just a few minutes; that is all I ask.” This time he sounded almost frightened, or at least he spoke with enough conviction to persuade me to listen more.
“Ok,” I said, rather gruffly “but quickly.”
“As I said, my name is Nanovic; I worked in the Balashikha laboratories developing a new supervirus which can target specific gene types and, at that time, was considered to be the ultimate weapon. It could be targeted to attack specific illnesses and wipe them out, along with their carriers. More ominously, it could be focussed against such genetic characteristics as race or criminality. We would have been able to create a world of people who would comply only with the regimes current wishes.”
“But that is preposterous,” I countered. “This would be the end of mankind as we know it, and in any case, what has that got to do with me?”
“You, Mr Stark…..er Mr Bleckett, worked with me on the final XT virus strain, which was to be the last test before going into final production of the genetic selection process. There were 6 of us; Me, you, the american Walt Turver, a portugese Andre..”
“You are crazy! Either you are making all of this up, or you have the wrong person. My name is James Bleckett. I worked at Siemens during the period you mention, in southern Germany. I have a wife since 1978 and we certainly have never been to Moscow!”
“Ah! So at least you do know where Balashikha is. It is a small town near Moscow, but how did you know that Mr. Stark if you were never there?”
“Er, I I don’t know. I just assumed,” I said, suddenly very nervous. Where did I know that from? Maybe it had been in some quiz or other that I had heard, but since forgotten.
“I would suggest Mr Stark….”
“Stop calling me Stark! My name is Bleckett.”
“Ok, Mr Bleckett. The name is not important. I would suggest that you know where Balashikha is because it is deep in your episodic memory. They were not able to completely re-program this part of your brain, as this is the most complex.”
“What garbage. You really seem to be from another planet Mr. er… “
“Mr. Nanovic. And in any case, who is “they”?”
“They are the Shiro Ishii Institute for Biological warfare. This was set up in a bizarre secret collaboration between Russia and Japan during the 1950s. During the final tests of the XT strain it was found that the genetic specificity was too difficult to control and also with the end of the cold war it was decided to close the laboratories. In order not to risk the key scientists coming into the wrong hands, they have used the latest hippocampus re-programming techniques to reset your minds; give you a new memory, identity and indeed, a new life. They have even arranged to place you with a new wife, who was previously on their staff. I know that it it incredibly hard for you to believe this Mr. Stark, but it is all true. I managed to escape from the institute before re-programming. The other five all met your fate.”
“Okay, okay, this is now enough! I have listened to your fantastic story and, I must admit, it has had some entertainment value, however far fetched and ludicrous. But enough is enough; I am now going to hang up. Goodbye Mr Nanovic. I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for, but I am certainly not it.”
“But Mr. Stark, Boris…please, you must help me, plea…”
At that moment I heard a huge noise in the earpiece; a little like a gunshot, but more like a small explosion. The phone went dead.
The weeks went by. I rarely thought about the phone call. I told Sue that evening, but she was hardly listening.
“Just some krank, I guess,” she said. “ I wouldn’t think any more about it. There are some very strange people in this world. He probably would have tried to sell you a book eventually. The History of Germ Warfare or something like that I don’t doubt.”
“I guess you’re right.” But I couldn’t stop myself thinking about it that night. How did I know where Balshikha was? And his pleading voice at the end of the call….”please, please!” It seemed too genuine to be faked; The guy was really frightened.
I followed Sue’s advice however, and the following day I let it go from my mind. After all, I had enough to do. As well as the housework and my daily fitness routine, I was also trying to learn French and begin my writing career. I had found a new creative writing group, which I had joined instantly and was eager to get my first entry into their monthly competition. There was little time to think about crazy phone calls.
It was about 4 weeks after the call that I was working quietly in the garden. The sun was shimmering through the light haze, providing the first real warmth of the year. The spring had come into full bloom, but alas, so had the weeds! While I was tugging and swearing at a particularly strong root, my hand slipped and a sharp strand cut the skin on my little finger as it dragged through my palm. “Chyort voz’mi!” I said under my breath.
I went into the bathroom to wash the small wound and put on a sticking plaster, when suddenly I froze. Chyort voz’mi ! Where did that come from? I quickly went to my computer and typed the words into the google tanslator. I had no idea how to spell it so typed “chyort” and clicked to automatically detect the language. The translator asked “do you mean черт”. I clicked again and stared at the screen in amazement. The translation into english is “Damn”. I had spoken Russian.
My mind was racing; My thoughts were replaying the phone call. “Boris Stark” he said. I googled Boris Stark. Too many options; Too many Boris Starks. I tried to remember my old Siemens colleagues. None would come to mind. I googled Balashikha; Just outside Moscow. Was I ever there? No, of course not. Chyort, damn, Balashikha, Boris Stark, “you must help me..please, please.….” my mind was spinning. Am I going crazy?
I knew that it could not be true. Susan has been faithfully with me for over 20 years. We were in love; we are in love. We met at a Siemens business dinner, but who were the other dinner guests? I can’t remember any of their names. What is wrong with me?
I decided to confront Susan when she arrived from work that evening. No, not confront, ask! I would ask Susan if she is really who she says she is and am I an ex-germ warfare scientist. What a joke! She would think that I had totally flipped; perhaps I have. Clearly it would be impossible to ask her straight out, but what could I do? After some thought I planned to write a letter addressed to a Mr. Boris Stark at our address.
I watch her every move, looking for some indication, some small clue that I could be right. She is as always. She is loving, beautiful, even serene. How could I ever doubt her? She is everything to me. I feel ashamed. My eyes water with the emotion of deepest love for this woman. Nothing could come between us.
She notices that something is wrong and asks me if everything is all right. “No issues?” she asks. This is our lovers way of asking each other if all is well. “No issues”, I reply.
After dinner we sit together discussing our day. We open a bottle of Fronton and enjoy the moment. Well, she enjoys the wine. I am far too preoccupied by the Stark affair. Maybe I should simply throw the letter away when it arrives and forget the whole thing. At this moment it all seems so ridiculous. I feel more than ashamed. I feel thoroughly embarrassed over my stupidity. ‘Chyort’ goes through my mind over and over again. Surely…..
That night I can’t sleep. I lay awake the whole night thinking, wondering, replaying the call with Nanovic. It all seems so pointless, so ridiculous. I switch to watching Susans face. We never close the curtains because we are not overlooked. There is enough light peeping through the windows from outside that I can see her smooth, silky skin, her lightly flickering eyelashes, her gentle breathing. A small snuffle nudges her in her sleep. She opens her eyes and sees me. She smiles comforted by my presence. She hasn’t woken, even in her sleep she loves me and knows that she is protected by my love for her. This just cannot be a fake!
The next day it is business as usual. After she goes off to work I try to occupy myself with the daily routine. Writing is out of the question. Mid-morning I hear the hum of the postgirl’s little motor scooter. I walk out to the postbox to check that it is there. One Time magazine, two advertising letters and one marked Boris Stark. I leave all there, and close the box. I am suddenly very determined.
The day is awful. I go for a long walk with Senga along the river bank. While she is happy to find every opportunity to roll in the mud, I can only think of one thing.
At 7pm Sue arrives from work. I didn’t go to meet her at the busstop with Senga, as I would normaly do. I pretend that I am behind with the dinner as I have spent the whole day writing and apologise for the delay. I try, as casually as possible, to say “ Oh! I haven’t checked for post today. Would you mind having a look in the postbox while I finish stirring the sauce? Then we can sit for dinner. Today is your favourite. Sarsuela.”
I watch nervously from the window as she opens the box. She takes out the letters and looks through them. Oh my God! Her face shows it all! I see the horror on her face as she reads the name Boris Stark. She is clearly well aware of my forgotten past. She quickly stuffs the letter marked Boris Stark into her coat pocket.
When she enters the kitchen I can hardly breathe. In a trance I ask “ Well, was there anything important?”
“No,” she replies, already fully composed again, “only a couple of advertisments and your Time magazine.”
I take the sarsuela through to the dining room. We sit at the large oval table and our eyes meet. She hesitates before she says with what appears to be total sincerity “My darling, when we first met I was a little unsure how our relationship would last. We had such different backgrounds. Even after we were married I had some reservations, although I always kept them to myself. I just want you to know that since we have been together my feelings for you have constantly grown and never faltered. I will be yours for as long as you want me and will cherish every day that we are together. I know that now. Whatever happens please promise me that you will always believe that.”
I smile. After swallowing the first morsel of monkfish with a sip of the cool white beaujolais, I quietly answer. “My love, I know and I promise. I will never leave you either. We are so lucky to have found each other. Whatever differences we have from our past, they are well and truly buried. Only the future and our happiness count”.
And you know what? I meant every word!