Be kind, rewind

Wednesday Write-in #52.

 

Sometime later (indeterminate and indeterminable because, as rational as Robin is with things like the passing of time, every day spent with Marie has warped the linear progression of seconds, years, months, heartbeats), after she learns that Marie is dead, they get Robin into an interrogation room for a ‘full debrief’. This consists of a basic memory dump of everything that’s happened since she left the facility back in January.

The investigator is a sweet girl in her late twenties – probably chosen to coax out the learned tendency in Robin to respond to kindness over cruelty. She delicately wipes her brow as they come to the end of another tape. Robin is, of course, able to self regulate her body temperature but the investigator – she hasn’t introduced herself and is unlikely to ever do so – is struggling in the stuffy basement bunker room.

Robin’s been talking for almost four days straight – literally describing every waking moment she’s had from the beginning to the end. This is completely beyond her: her creator foresaw the need for a memory capture function for a number of different scenarios she was destined for and after that, it’s a matter of a few drops of this and that in an IV while she’s unconscious and she wakes up prepared to tell them everything – everything – even the excruciating first moments leading up to and following their first kiss. Three investigators rotate in and out, in and out, tape in, tape on, tape out. They need sleep, rest, sustenance. She is able to function for an entire week before her functions drop to 85% effectiveness. She had become so used to lying by Marie every night, just to make her feel like she wasn’t the only human in this.

Eventually she falls into the pleasant rhythm of it and is only mildly curious when she blinks and wakes up back in the hospital ward, the IV being fed back into her arm. “What is that?” she hears herself ask. The doctor only glances up at her before going back to his perusal of his chart which seems to be telling him something about the dials on the drip.

“It’ll help you to forget. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. You’ll feel sleepy soon.”

Robin blinks up at the ceiling, every drop and lift of her eyelids over her eyes signifying the passing of another level of the last year that she is leaving behind as she descends deeper and deeper into sleep –

-the first weeks, hiding in plain sight and planting misleading clues so they could make a break for the border when they would least be expecting it.

-France and Spain and Italy – eating themselves silly and bouncing around between cash only hostels, paying cash for all of the things they needed for the next steps

– dark nights spent in poor lighting with a bottle of something sweet and intoxicating between them (Robin’s superior liver and kidney function prevented her from losing any motor control at all but Marie had been incredibly beautiful when doing shots of brandy in flickering bare-bulbed light.

– repeatedly and scarcely escaping all the people who had been sent after them, dropping everything and heading in the opposite direction

– fevered admissions, confessions and promises as they hid in the filthiest, grimiest of holes –

The doctor gentle covers her flickering eyes and she slips sweetly, slowly, ever lonely, gratefully and finally to sleep.

Then the hospital door is kicked open.

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Ham & Eggs

Wednesday Write-in #51.

I’m going to go ahead and admit to serialising this story over the past few WWIs. I’ll do the appropriate linking later today and hopefully will remember how to write other things.

 

Somewhere between a tiny Greek island and Turkey, things go very, very wrong.

It’s early morning and they are boarding what they have been told is the safest and most reliable ferry transport between Greece and Turkey (but which, in reality, looks 20 nautical miles away from collapse) and Robin and Marie are about to have a fight. It’s been coming for a while. Robin is muttering all sorts of statistics about sinking ferries, careless crews and unthinkable sanitary conditions and Marie’s disregard for them thereof and Marie’s had enough.

“Have you ever heard of the fable of the Chicken and the Pig?”

Robin replies that she has not.

“A chicken and pig decide to make breakfast for their owner. The chicken lays the eggs and the pig provides the bacon. The chicken walks away without a mark because the chicken is only involved and not committed like the pig is. That’s just like us. I’m the pig and you’re the chicken. When I took you from the facility, I risked everything, I continue to risk everything. I don’t have a convenient control-Z function to use here – I can’t take backsteps. The second we walked out of there it has been my neck, my life on the line but you are the bloody prize hog – all they want is to get you back but they’ll crucify me on sight and it absolutely drives me up the wall the way you keep criticising everything I’m doing to keep us both away from there. Please don’t ever forget, it was you who asked me to get you out. If you’ve got a better plan, then speak up.”

They share long, furious seconds with eyes locked before Robin says. “Technically it would have to be a hen to lay eggs.”

A hen is a kind of chicken you stupid, selfish, ungrateful idiot,”  hisses Marie. She is so angry and feels so helpless and so panicked that this might have been completely the wrong thing to do – teaching a semi-Alien, semi-engineered sentient being how to be human? She must be out of her mind. It’s all she can do to stumble away to the other side of the boat so she doesn’t strangle her with hot shaking hands.

Five minutes later and they are speeding across the Mediterranean Sea when a speed boat pulls up along-side them and a dozen stocky, masked men forcibly climb on board. They’re yelling in a combination of Greek and Turkish and Marie is scrambling for her basic translation book when Robin turns up from nowhere.

“Put it away; put it back in your bag. Don’t speak,” she mouths hotly into Marie’s ear. “They’re here for us, they’re looking for me. Don’t do anything illogical or you’ll be killed. We can both be the chicken.” Marie slowly puts the guide back in her bag. The men produce fire arms and gesture for everybody to line up along the side of the boat. As everybody crowds and screams, Robin takes her hand, skin still so impossibly soft, so impossibly elastic and strong as well, so much so as to be able to stretch right over the Port side of the ferry and drop her into the warm water below.

“Wait,” she mouths, Catherine Wheel of hair flying around her face.

Share and share alike.

recycled  ::  hindsight  ::  manic  ::  pair  ::  button up

via Wednesday Write-in #50.

“I continue to be appalled,” begins Robin haughtily at the makeshift breakfast bar at the cash-only hostel, “by the levels of waste which humanity not only tolerates but perpetrates.” She calmly peels back the skin of her banana before consuming it in five crisp bites.

Marie elects to remain silent.

“Over 75% of household waste can be recycled but only 30% of it ever is. It’s illogical. This planet is living on — borrowed time?” She looks at Marie for reassurance. Marie nods. “Yes, on borrowed time.”

Marie continues to remain silent. Soon after the poetry, Robin had (disastrously) happened upon Critical Theory and in a desperate attempt to bring her back to the real world, Marie had naively introduced her to the concept of politics and national debate.

“It is wholly illogical, therefore, that the inhabitants of the planet would willfully destroy it without any meaningful contingency or regard for the future. And food waste, don’t even get me started.” Robin pops the stalk of a now demolished apple into her mouth and swallows easily. They’re standing side by side on the three foot deep balcony which opens straight out onto a filthy, noisy street. Robin’s arm brushes Marie’s as she drops her arm again.

“Really, waste is part of the overall internalised rhetoric of The West regarding their tolerance of shame and inactivity. If you buy something which is reusable, you should reuse it. If you see a kindness being committed, then repeat it. If you have something which can be shared, then share it. I am fully resistant to inactivity. If I see something which can be done which will bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, I must do it. If I don’t understand something, I must work to understand it. If I feel something, I have to express it. I am, fundamentally, an animal. If I have an urge, I must fulfill it, surely?”

For a moment, they share a look and it seems as though Robin is going to lean a little further in and do something. But then the moment stretches into 30 seconds, then 45 and then Marie looks away, smiling to herself and making a point to teach Robin how rife hypocrisy is in politics.

life runs

Wednesday Write-in #49.

Marie teaches Robin about poetry in July on the train as they cross the border from France to Germany on totally fake, totally illegal passports.

“I find it difficult to understand why you would choose to communicate your thoughts in any other way but the most direct,” says Robin. Marie privately agrees with her but says,

“It’s culture. It’s not about communicating the thought or idea quickly and clearly, it’s about the quality of communication, about being able to share the heart behind your thoughts and ideas.” The Beginner’s Guide to Poetry lies open on her lap as they pull hot air into their nostrils and spill it back out on their upper lips on the overnight train. The weather has been improbable and every time Marie fans her top in search of a lick of breeze, she is met with the moist, vinegary tang of the sweat collecting between her breasts.

Robin is still extremely skeptical and cooly suggests that if Marie really believes that communicating affection for another person needs to be done in more than 20 words at most, then perhaps Marie is in need of a neuro-examination. Marie says, “Remind me to have a chat with you about something called tact.”

Rather than respond, Robin rolls her eyes (still way too far back in her head – she looks as though she’s fitting) and elects to nap to conserve her energy levels for later. Despite herself, Marie ends up doing the same. When she wakes up, The Beginner’s Guide is closed over on her lap but peaking out of the top, next to her Princess Diaries bookmark is a scrap of immigration card. On the back is written:

 

I can do it in 17 syllables

I know the rules, so
I’ve let you sleep. Even then,
Your lips are lovely.

 

 

Bumper Sticker Bravado

toxic  ::  imprint  ::  fluorescent  ::  cream  ::  water pressure

via Wednesday Write-in #48.

The gas in the canister Marie uses to dispatch the virologists on the third floor isn’t what she would call toxic. She is very careful about this. Not toxic but probably, almost definitely noxious. All she needs is  a homicide case as well as aggravated burglary. But it is definitely strong enough to knock them out for the 12 minutes it’s going to take Marie to dress Robin, get her out past the others and, most crucially, past security. She palms the fake visitor’s pass in her pocket. Robin continues to smile blithely at her.

“Robin,” Marie begins, then stops.

“Yes, Marie?” Robin replies, angling slightly towards her, maintaining a suitable – but not quite creepy – amount of eye contact with her. Just like they practiced. 

“I would really appreciate an inspirational quotation or two if you can think of one.”

“Thinking,” reports Robin. Then, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.” 

“A little more positive, please,” Marie says as she taps Robin’s shins. “Up please.” She starts to pull the charity shop jeans up Robin’s legs.

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“Mmm, not quite ,” says Marie, pulling on some socks now.

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Robin pauses then adds, with a slight curve of the mouth – “Supposedly.”

Despite herself, Marie is incredibly proud of Robin who is really picking up on the concept of humour. That lesson took forever. 

Robin beams down at her and then, surprisingly, takes her hand. Robin’s skin is impossibly soft with pearly smooth skin which stretches over thick sinewy ribbons – like arteries but more sophisticated. They carry, amongst other things, the mostly likely cure to the biggest killer in the world: age. Robin has never been out of the facility and Marie doesn’t know how this kind of skin will react  to a bitter January night in Dundee so she checks that she still has the second pair of gloves in her bag.

Robin says, “Whatever you believe in, Marie, I can achieve for us. Are you ready?” before grabbing her hand and opening the door of the sealed incubator space.

Take My Hand and Dance With Me

coven  ::  bermuda triangle  ::  stroke  ::  discovery  ::  moreish

via Wednesday Write-in #45.

Suzanne gets heat stroke on a Sunday evening after spending the entire weekend on her raggedy old Spice Girls beach towel on the tarmac just shy of her front garden gate that feels roughly as hot as the surface of the sun. The sun in question has been glaring great golden globules of heat onto everything in its sight and quite a few things besides and is now responsible for, in no particular order:

– The scorched and withered roses in Mrs Whetherby’s flowerbed; her husband, God rest his soul would never have allowed this to happen if he were here!

Suzanne missing the sixteen calls and twelve voicemails asking for Suzanne to please give me a call back as soon as you get this, please, Suzanne, it’s really important and if ever there was a time I wish you could stop being such a troglodyte – Just make sure you call me  before you talk to anyone, ok? Anyone, Suzanne, I mean it!

– The scramble of eggs all over the tarmac just outside Suzanne’s front garden gate from kids too helpless with the heat to go find a lido.

– The twice hourly whine of the ice cream truck down this end of the street as Ice Cream Man Rob takes advantage of the heat wave and abuses the ‘twice a day maximum’ rule as set by Suzanne, Mrs Whetherby and the rest of the families on Roewick Drive.

-The agonising and humbling ambling by of Mitchell, the alcoholic busker who had devoutly busked old Temptations and Four Tops songs outside Southfields tube station on his three-and-a-half octave keyboard between ten am and seven pm every day, his head tipped to the side to rest on the shoulder of his grisly army jacket either with the force of the music or that of the rum.

-The subsequent discovery of Mitchell’s body in some brambles next to Wimbledon Park Lake, hands at ten and two above his head and clutching the two great loves of his life – body-warm Captain Morgan and his keyboard.

– Suzanne slipping into a drowsy, slipping consciousness with a pool of sweat and one (1) greenfly striving for life in her bellybutton while the sun batters on her eyelids, the tip of her nose, the apples of her cheeks and, embarrassingly, the fleshy mounds of sensitive thigh close to the border of her frilly Primark underwear because she doesn’t have a bikini and her swimming suit is a worse fate than knock-off underwear.

So when Suzanne stumbles into the cavern of her front room later that evening, burnt a violent emergency services red, and contemplating a call to the non-emergency 111 number, she manages to trick herself into thinking that the ghostly pale appearance of Claire sitting in her old chair, head lowered in penance is a trick of the sun. A breath leaves her. A laugh, a regurgitated gasp that she lost a grip on, who knows. There’s a fist full of everything that she’s been through for the past three years swinging heavily somewhere below her diaphragm: she’s bent over with the weight of it by the time Claire looks up, grave but 100% there – not at the bottom of the Thames, not burnt to ashes now indistinguishable form the dust, muck and rubbish of the abandoned waste site in a shell of a Honda civic, not chopped up and hidden in 20 of Suzanne’s favourite lovers’ spots as the police seem to think. Here, in this end terrace four-up-three-down house, in the same front room that they had watched all five seasons of The L Word over the May bank holiday weekend. Here, in the chair they had bought together  five years ago at a car boot sale in Battersea with the ugliest green and brown felt flowers ever known to man which Suzanne had rallied against, only to stubbornly keep after her sister persuaded her to get rid of Claire’s things. Here, in their, her, the house.

Whiter than white, whiter than ought to be possible really, Claire reaches out a tentative hand, as though to calm a wild animal. Translucent, sickly fingernails, the kind of downy hair one grows when one is on the brink of starvation, a frankly alarming buzz cut which gave way to some very soft looking pinkish scars on her scalp. A battered Spice Girls necklace around her neck. A sugar-fevered conversation they’d had after watching Inception comes to her all of a sudden:

“If I was ever in any doubt that I was talking to the real Claire, what secret signal could we have so I know it’s you? You know, doppelganger, back from the dead, alternative dream world which could actually be the real one – the usual.”

Claire had laughed so hard that she’d spilled diet coke everywhere.

“Alright,” she had finally said. “Let’s agree – without going into too much detail so as not to compromise the security of the secret signal. I’ll wear a symbol of your second greatest love, after me of course.”

“What, you mean you’ll wear a cheque for sixty quintillion pounds?”

More laughter and a tangential conversation about what was the figure which they could hand on heart say would be too much for them to spend in one lifetime and indeed, how they would make “a ruddy good go” of it anyway.

But of course Claire would have known – 50 concerts, more appearances than she cared to admit to, silly bits of paraphernalia hidden around the house so that  Claire wouldn’t throw them away, VHS, DVD and .avi copies of Spice World – The Movie.

Still, anybody could have known about that –

Claire’s bony fingers carefully flip the small globe over and on the back, so small that Suzanne has to take a traitorous step closer. In tiny sparkly pink gel pen ink:

IOU £60quintillion

Claire’s hand, cold and fragile on her neck, right over her pulse.

“Sorry, I couldn’t get the cash together in time – who knew quintillion was such a little known number? Okay look, it’s okay, don’t panic. But we need to talk.”