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Love On The Springs Of My Time-Travelling Bed


by


Richard Happer






























Published by JonesCat Publishing Limited

Edinburgh


Copyright © Richard Happer 2016


ISBN 978-0956242860


Cover artwork by sangsterdesign.co.uk


The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.


All rights reserved.


This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.















If youve ever made a terrible mistake

and been very glad that you did,

this book is for you.




Thursday, 21st January 2016



Invented a time-travelling bed today. How else could I shag Lucy Sugar? She’s a Hollywood star. Absolutely gorgeous. White hot property. Just won an Oscar for playing that four-fingered concert pianist. Whereas Im living in a brewery in Edinburgh, 5,161 miles away. So its not going to happen now, you see? But there was a time when we were very much on. She completely fancied old Freddie. She’d have plonked herself on his bobby and ridden him home like a champ. If only I hadn’t . . . hang on, don't think like that. No point in going there. Besides, I'm engaged as well. So I really couldn’t shag her now. Hence the time-travelling bed.

Engaged.

Shit, sounds weird when you say it. Weird when it happened too. Just last night. And doubly weird cos the Penster asked me.

Five o’clock in the afternoon and I'm down in the lab working on the wind-powered photocopier. Thorny problem very. How to stop the paper blowing away. Ideas not flowing, so I was having a little refreshment. To stimulate the synapses, you understand, when . . .

RING RING

What the hell?

RING RING

Scrabble for the phone.

RING RING

Find it behind my bottle of Merlot. In an empty sweet and sour King Pot.

Hello?

Hello, honey! bubbles a female voice.

Hello, my love, I say. Good day?

Oh, ups and downs, you know. That little wretch in 3B threw up in the sandpit again.

“Aha,” I grunt, cradling the phone in my shoulder as I pour a top-up into my S Club 7 mug.

But then, in the afternoon, I was chatting with Mr Greaves over lunch and-

Listen, honey, I’m at a really important juncture right now. Can we talk about this later?

That’s why I phoned, Freddie!

What?

Come and meet me in Ambrosetti's, she coos. Hanover Street. Below that bar where the footballers go.

Um . . . why?

She giggles. A real high-pitched wobbly giggle. Like she’s nineteen again or something. Just come, Freddie. Half an hour. Another nervous giggle and she hangs up.

Have to say, I’m not pleased. Do my best work in the early evening. My breakfast has settled, the wine has kicked in and my levels are just about right. So it’s with a few huffs and puffs that I get up from the drawing board and search round for some underpants.

An hour later I’m walking down the steps into Ambrosetti’s. Open the door. Sublime smells hit me like a wall. Noises too clinking of cutlery, raucous sizzling from the open-walled kitchen, shouts from chefs and heavy, heavy chatter. Place is full. Crammed, in fact. Difficult to get my bearings. Stand just inside the door feeling very awkward. Diners begin to clock me. Look at their eyes. They know I feel awkward. Which makes me feel even MORE awkward.

Smarmbag waiter approaches. Gives me the once-over. Yanks his nose in the air. Doesn’t like the look of my Teletubbies T-shirt.

Yay-ess, sarr?

My girlfriend’s here, I say.

He looks blank.

Yay high,I add, lifting my hand to the level of the chest hairs visible through the largish hole in said T-shirt. Mousey hair.”

Smarmbag waiter raises one eyebrow. Its a tiny expression but it manages to convey the following: How remarkable. I cannot possibly imagine someone who looks and smells as you do being allowed to walk the streets, let alone having a girlfriend. Nevertheless, I do remember seeing a respectable-enough girl sat at a table on her own, so, considering the possibility that you are some rich eccentric, I will lower myself to serve you on this one occasion.

Zees way, sir,he says, and spins on a leather heel.

Past the really nice tables, through an arch. A sharp left and down a steep stairway into the basement section. Ceiling very low. Practically have to bend double.

Whole things making me feel very uncertain.

But theres my old gel. Little face buried in a huge menu. Gnawing on a breadstick like a hamster. Bless her.

She looks up.

Hey hun!she squeaks.

Hey you,I say, leaning down.

Kiss kiss.

Take my seat. Right beside the desert fridge. Not much room. Have to shuffle my tiny wooden chair. A gang of tira misus looms evilly over my shoulder. There's a yellow rose in a glass vase on the table in front of me. My hands reach for it. Start fiddling. Don’t know why.

Smarmbag waiter puts a menu beside me. About to glance down at it when I notice . . .

Theres something different about the Penster. Shes not looking at me like she usually does. And theres something else. Something fuzzy . . .

Its so hard!she says. Therere so many nice things.

Can’t think about food, though. Still trying to work out the fuzziness. Its making my skin prickle.

Um . . .”

Smarmbag waiter coughs.

Look at it, Freddie!

Huh?

Your menu, honey.

Right.

Glance down. Oh bloody hell. Beckon the Penster towards me. She leans forward. Whisper:

Have you seen the price of this shit?

Don't worry about it, Freddie.

Twelve pound fifty, I say. For a fish.

The smarmbag waiter bends at the waist. Leans his head down between us. Swivels to look at me. Swear I can smell his moustache.

Eet a-comes on eets own salver wita saffrrron anda why-ate trrruffle soce,says the waiter.

Dont care if it comes on its own bloody yacht,” I mutter, I’m having the soup.

Oh, Freddie, come on! laughs Pen. My treat.

Your treat. This is definitely weird. Theres something bigger in the room here. Bigger than this menu. Than the waiter. Than both of us. Something so big and so close and so fuzzy that I cant see what it is.

Alright, I sigh. I’ll have the fish.

Me too,” smiles Pen at the smarmbag waiter.

The smarmbag waiter bobs and takes our menus. Slithers off to the kitchen.

You okay? she asks.

Fine. Cool. Just not sure what the hell we’re doing here, is all.

She swallows. Pushes a stray lock of brown hair away from her face. Takes a breath. So the thing is there for her too. She cant look at me.

Freddie.She swallows again. I sat with Mr Greaves at lunch today, and he-she looks around the restaurant. -he told me a secret.

Her mouth twitches. She looks down at her gnawed breadstick.

Old Dr Stephanou is retiring . . . ”

She pauses. Pushes the breadstick to one side. Takes another breath.

“ . . . so they're after a new head of department. And . . . ”

Still she isnt catching my eye.

“ . . . theyre going to offer it to me!”

She smiles.

Then she does something very odd. Pen reaches over the table and takes the rose from my fiddling hands. Looks at it for a second. Then she passes it back to me. Puts it in my hands and clasps her fingers round mine. Everything goes very, very quiet.

Then, finally, she looks directly at me.

Freddie, will you marry me?

And thats when I see the thing. Its in the lines. The tiny lines around her eyes that I never noticed before.

My little mouse is looking old.

She gulps. Says in a croak:

Did you hear me?

But I cant think straight. No way I can take this in. All I can think about is the hugeness of those wrinkles round her brown mouse eyes.

Marry you?my mouth manages.

Why not? Its always been our plan, hasnt it?

Of course, of course,” I mutter. Its just that now isnt the best time, cash wise-

But thats the fabby thing. Ill get a raise with my promotion!

No, this isnt right. Everythings going even fuzzier. Like Ive put on someone else’s glasses.

M-m-maybe when Ive sold the patent on the Unboiler-” I stammer.

Oh, Freddie, youre always about to sell something-

What do you mean by that?I snap, sitting upright.

Nothing, nothing,she soothes.

And its speeding up too. Like Ive put on someone elses glasses and then got on a rollercoaster. Need to slow things down. Words. They can slow it. Got to say something, anything, get that tongue moving . . .

Weddings cost a lot, you know, I say.

Pen leans right forward. Grips my hands even tighter. Cries:

Oh, sweetie! Youre all thats important to me. I dont care about a big do. Well, of course it would be nice, but not every girl can get married in a castle with hundreds of guests and champagne. We could do it our way. Find a beach up on the west coast, a little hotel. Dairloch maybe. Fish and chips and our family and friends and . . . the kind of fun you dont have to pay for . . . oh, Freddie, say we can do it!

And she just hangs there. Her face furrowed to all hell. Looks in pain, like shes maybe stubbed her toe under the table. God, those damn lines. Like little bunches of cuts. What the hell are they? Not just age. What? Shit. Now I really see.

Mouses face is full of fear.

Soon as I notice that, my heart lurches in my chest. Eyes twitch. Forehead goes tight. Hot all over. Cant bear to look at her. Drink the entire jug of water. Still cant look.

Well?she says, her fear eating her up.

Whole of my back goes itchy. Flick my eyes around the room and realise that EVERY FUCKER IS WATCHING ME!

The pressures unbearable. Want to yell, want to tear my clothes off, want to flip the table high in the air with mighty paws when, to my own astonishment, I hear this coming gently from my mouth:

“Okay.”

Pen looks confused.

Okay what?

Okay, Ill marry you.

Her eyes shine.

Really?

Absolutely, my little potato wedge. My idea of fun.

Well, the poor creature literally explodes. Tears, hugs, ice-cream kisses, hell of a mess. Chorus of cheers from paying punters. Clapping aplenty. Smarmbag waiter tries to sell us champagne. Not falling for that one.

Apparently we eat the meal, but I dont remember it. Realitys a blurred reflection of itself. Next time I come to, were in a cab. Mouse more like an electric octopus. Promising.

Barely in the door back home and were at it like bunnies on Benzedrine. Filling the house with love. Magnificent. First blowjob in nine months, would you believe. Followed by hot, close, loving rumpy. Very much felt like the right thing. Went to bed not unhappy. But then this morning . . .





Friday, 22nd January, 2016



Pen’s bounced to work. Kiss kiss, love you madly my husband to be, theres so much we have to talk about, cant wait to see you later. More kisses, smile a mile wide and shes off. Mouse floats out the door and down the canal towpath past the brewery.

Ten minutes later Im fixing a relaxing breakfast in my underwear. Shreddies. Shit, no milk. Going to the shop would involve putting on clothes. Arsed. Cant be. Decide to use cabernet sauvignon. Sorts the hangover out nicely, but does make cereal look a bit like afterbirth.

Watching Richard and Judy. No Im not. Only manage to stick it for five then reach for the remote – Finnegan’s starting to freak me out again when up flips a report about the Oscars. Ceremony was last night. Actresses flashing parts of the body I didnt know existed. Maybe Ill watch this a couple of minutes more.

Smiles and legs and cleavages and more smiles and legs and Toni has come with Tom and who is going to win and who cares Im bored again so grab the Frank again and-

There.

She.

Is.

Fucking look at her. Like sunshine poured in a dress. Heart flips in my chest. Lungs spasm. Brain seizes.

Course, I knew she was an actress. Who doesnt? Shes been famous for a couple of years now. Broke through in that horror movie about the boss from hell The Zombie in Pinstripe Just Ate Daniellas Brain. Played the cute little photocopier girl. Didnt get her brain munched until the sixty-ninth minute and stuck it to a couple of zombies with the staple gun. Top effort, I say.

Been quite a buzz to see her up there. Often tell people in the pub I nearly shagged her you know. Catch up with old friends you see Lucys doing well for herself? Yeah, shes up there all right. Hey, Freddie, didnt you nearly shag her once? Thats right, dude. I nearly shagged her once. Had that conversation a fair few times. Fun. Feels good I nearly shagged a star. Very much the man.

But today, it tears my heart out.

Yeah, I nearly shagged that girl. But more importantly now I never will. Pen was my first and she will be my last. That is that. I will die having shagged only one woman. Because

I.

Am.

Getting.

Married.

Of course, its not like I was ever going to shag Lucy now. I mean, what did I think? That shell be on location in Scotland one time, doing a thriller about fucking oatcake farming or something and shell be winding down having a drink or two only she wont go for a cocktail in some posh bar, shell keep it real and go for a pint of eighty in the Diggers where Ill be butchering a Sudoku as I sip my Deuchars and shell come in, golden sunlight suddenly flooding the high windows, and the place will stop, all the guys like totally focused as she scans the smoky room, head high, savouring every devouring stare and then our eyes will meet and shell walk up to me not you, pal, me, me, me her incredible breasts swaying like caramel puddings, and she wont say a word, shell just lick her ripe lips, wink one insanely blue eye, toss her superblonde hair and stick her hand down my North Face zip-offs-

Okay, so maybe I did think that. But only for a moment. And like I say, thats past now. Had my chance, blew it. Twat that I was I fucked it up. Ended up copping off with Pen instead at the Midwinter Beach Ball and that was great here I am, about to marry the girl. College sweethearts. Almost as romantic as it gets-

But look at her!

On the telly there. Look at her breasts, her legs, hair. Her perfectly glamorous features taunting me from the screen. They were inches from mine once. Centimetres. Millimetres even. Naïve, cocky, idiotic young TWAT. If only I’d . . . I dont know. Done something different . . .

And then the strangest thing.

The air gets fat and still. Only sounds the squelch of disintegrating wheat lattices.

It drops into my brain. Complete and perfect. The best idea I will ever have.

Fling the remote to one side. Got to move fast. Got to get to B&Q.



A six-armed monkey god couldnt have got as much in that trolley in as short a time as I did. My hands fly, sweat pours, trolley groans, fathers pull children from under my speeding wheels. Out of breath, get to the checkout. Girl in the orange dungarees looks a bit scared when she sees me. Strange thing must have been served by her a hundred times, but never really noticed how nice she is. Boss eyed and spotty, sure, but theres something about the way her eyebrows are hoisted in fear. How her lower lip droops open, quivering. Breasts so pert they make her nametag sit squint. Tempted to pull my trousers down and show her the old boy right then and there. Bad idea. Police involvement not helpful to plan. So I hand over Pens VISA card and blow that joint.

Outside in the carpark and a wind is getting up. Starts to rain a little oily, clammy drops. Trolley skids old man with a hydrangea shit, out of the way, you fool!

Uh oh.

Help him up. Apologise keep it brief. Got to get going. Rain thickens on drive back, traffic abysmal. Frantic to get back to the lab cant let this one get away. Jesus, now only one wiper working wrong one, of course have to drive with my head out of the window like a lobotomised labrador. Not good for barnet. Plus, car not performing, get home and smoke pouring from bonnet. Rain hissing into steam on the screaming metal. Silly arse, Ive gone all the way in first gear.

Hah! Who cares? Genius sings in my blood.

Rain thickening rapidly. Abnormally dark for this time of day. Not that theres much light in our flat at the best of times we live behind a vast brewery in an old lockkeepers cottage on the canal. Cottage is dwarfed by angry chimneys spouting vapours. Pen wants to move but the place has magnificent cellars. Used for storing barrels some centuries past. Now make a perfect lab, connected to the basement of our cottage by a little tunnel that no one knows I know about. Besides, I quite like the smell.

Drains outside the cottage full with scum from the brewery overflow. Slip, slide, skid, flip flat on my back narrowly avoid cracking my head open. Above me the sky growls a warning. Growl all you like, pal, I got work to do.

My legs are going like pistons as I ferry the kit in and down to the lab. First major question - what am I going to back in time in? My shaggy brown armchair? It would be a nice ride, but it's practically falling apart. The kitchen table? Sturdy, but difficult to hang onto if I hit any megamagnetic waves. I’m all set to go for the bath, until I remember I have never worked out where the stopcock is. Flooding Pen’s cork tiles would get me in serious hot water. What can it be . . . ?

And that’s when I realise. Not only will the brass frame give excellent nucleic stability in the temporal vortex, but it's damn comfy too. So comfy in fact that I often find it hard to get out of. It's perfect for my purposes. Our bed. One problem the thing is an heirloom. Pens great great Aunt Bazouki brought it all the way from Tangiers in a herring smack. Never mind, I have no choice. Think of something to tell the mouse later.

Dash up to the bedroom and wrestle our bed downstairs on its side, only taking out a handful of banister struts. Clatter down into the cellar and through to the lab. Severe difficulty getting the damn thing in the door. Have to bend the frame a little.

Lab is a shitpit of deconstructed consumer electronics, empty claret bottles and Pot Noodles. Halves of hoovers, tubes from tellies, widgets from washing machines, all randomly mating in the half darkness with several of my own aborted creations . . . my digital golf clubs, the atomic dog neuterer my machine for making tartan shortbread (what a market that would be). So many ideas, so many lost and lonely hours.

All got to go.

Gather up a tarpaulin and haul the whole lot outside into the dark wet yard. Rain even heavier now, big metallic drops hurting my skin through my sopping clothes.

KKKRASH!

Length of gutter smashes to earth beside me, shattering into rusty shards on the paving slabs. That was close. Sure that guttering was secure .. . Nevermind, cant hang around. Back inside quick to stand panting, my breath hanging in the air before me in icy puffs. Catch a view of myself in a broken piece of mirror. Physically, I may resemble a six-foot-six cat that just got flushed down the lavatory, but theres an intensity, a true fire in my eyes that thrills me. And I stop for a second-

-and just pause-

As a terrible confidence surges through me like a wave, and thats when I know for sure.

This is my time.

Inspiration’s pouring through me like the rain in the gutters. Pull the bed into the middle of the room. Throw open every toolbox, empty every cupboard around the central space and start to build. Circuits, motors, tubing, solenoids, resistors, crystals: I dont see them, I sense them. My hands frantically trying to keep speed with the pace of my creation. My fingers are covered in oil and dirt and blood from a thousand plier nicks, but I don’t care. Haven’t felt this good in a long time. A long, long time.

And my baby is coming to life.

Every idea sends an atomic shot of adrenaline surging through my system. Whats the time? Is it getting dark? Who cares? Fire up the sodium burners.

Pen comes home from work at some point and calls down to me. She's made coq au vin and wants to talk. Probably about wedding dresses or something, but I really don't know, because I barely hear her. And as she knows better than to come down to the lab, I can work undisturbed. Scoff half a donut that I find in the spanner drawer and continue.

What are you doing with the bed, Freddie?comes a plaintive call.

Building a time machine, my little feather duster,” I reply.

Oh, Freddie,she says with gentle impatience. Do you have to do that now?

Ah, most definitely.

Where am I going to sleep?

The bath?

But-

Use the sponge as a pillow. Be comfier than you think.

Sssmasch! Tinkle!

A windows blown in. Swirling rain whips in through the jagged hole. Wind howls round the room. Knocks me sideways. Bash my head. Painful, goddammit.

Honey, I have to bring these ideas to life before its too late!I yell up the stairs, then slam and lock the hatch. Put some Green Day in the stereo and Pen fades away. The rain is muted. Were rocking again.

And through the night I go.

On and on I work, fuelling myself with Chilean pinot noir and Starmix. As the rain outside gets harder and the night deeper, I begin to dance as I work. A spin here, a head bang there. Fun, but hot work. Take off everything apart from my underpants. Then they too have to come off.

Hours fly. The sun comes up, Pen goes to work with a faint Bye, sweetie. The only constants are the rain and my inspiration.

Everything is possible now. How to modulate the temporal magnetism? Not a problem attach a proton extrapolator. What about the possibility of a charmed quark surge? Easy, just reverse the flux through a zeiss gate. Wont that polarise the gravitational overspill? Forget it! Run a pair of tronic conduits in parallel, increase the quantum flow, change the sheets and voila!

One inter-era double divan.

Can it really be? Have I created a time travelling bed? Yes. Am I really a genius? Double yes.

Arms windmilling, I run out into the street to tell the universe.

I am the spawn of da Vinci and EdisonI sing, the rain thrilling my cavorting limbs. And that cunt Dyson is history!Roll my eyes and dance and sing some more, forgetting I am naked. A commuter looks at me fearfully from beneath his umbrella, but I don't care.

And then, disaster. With an almighty fucking KABLANNNNGGG!!! the sky over our house is ripped in two by a crazy scar of white-hot fire. The lightning bolt blinds me for a terrifying moment. Stagger, bashing into parked cars, cracking my shins on the curb. Then I curse as a creamy skid tells me my toes have connected with dogshit. When my sight returns I see the chimney pots are shattered, the TV aerial is melted and all the lights are off. Dash inside.

The lab is dead black. The air is thick with the acrid tang of burning plastic and roasted glass. Gag on the stench as I scrabble for the fusebox. Lights back on. Frantically check the bed. It can't be - it seems fine. The UV diodes are sound, the catalytic corkscrew is undamaged - even the sheets are still clean. I turn it on and -

FUCK! The lights blink on once and then dim to black. Power is good, but the readout screens are dead. The motherboard is fried.

That was the only computer I have. Even Pen's Switch card can't afford another one. This is a complete disaster . . . Its not fair. So close and its taken away from mewill things ever go my way? Not again. Please, not again.

This is the worst possible news.

But theres nothing else for it.

Going to have to go to work.



Ballantrae’s is an astonishing labyrinth of a bookshop. The size of a department store, its six floors of crumbling gothic stonework have grown over the centuries to occupy a whole city block opposite the university.

Should have been in two hours ago. Impressive lateness even by my standards. New personal best, in fact. Sneak in the fire escape, up the back stairs, grab my timecard. Cut through the canteen, dispose of timecard in a large pan of hot custard. Stow my bag in my staffroom locker, walk along two passages and up three twisted staircases to very confidently slide onto the sales floor.

Ancient History section is where I work one of the dozens of sections up in the Cunninghame Loft, the shops many-levelled maze of attic floors. Aisles here branch like veins in a cadaver. Rooms have sprouted their own warrens of sub-passages and hidden nooks. Who knows where half of them go to. Found a dead law student in here once, turned out the lad had passed away in 1878.

Aisle upon towering aisle of creaking tomes press in on me from every side. My chest wheezes with the dust. Pick up a stack of books for shelving and head off to find Dougal. This is not tricky, he runs the Poetry section and is always stuck deep down his aisle, snout in a dusty book. Im halfway across salesfloor 6F when a fierce hand grips my arm.

Excuse me, young man,barks a metallic voice in my ear, can you tell me where Id find the Harry Potter section?

Turn. Customer is a fat woman in pale coat buttoned very tight. Dark brown scarf and hat. Customer looks very much like an enormous sausage, complete with HP sauce. She has a child, correspondingly upholstered. Child resembles chipolata.

Havent got time for this.

Drop to my knees and take portion of sausage-skin coat in my teeth while making noise like lion.

Chipolata bursts into tears. Sausages eyebrows shoot up and disappear inside HP hat. She loosens grip of my arm and flees in shock. Ha hah! Tactic successful. Jump to feet and nash off to resume my search.

There he is! My rotund quarry perches on a high stool staring vacantly at The Bell Jar. His too-small shirt has popped from his waist, freeing up a hefty baguette of doughy flesh that hangs over his straining polyester belt. Theres a look of incredible sadness on his pudgy little face. Old boy needs cheering up. A quick recce and I locate a bulldog clip lying beside the nearest till and quietly palm it.

Can you direct me to the Tennyson section?I say.

Certainly, sir-he begins, and before he can turn round I reach across and attach clip to aforementioned baguette.

Yow!

Poor Dougal jack-knifes rapidly forward and headbutts the shelving, book flying from his pudgy fingers like a crazy bat. Customers pull their noses out of books to get a good eyeful.

Hello, my hairy little pudding,I say, how the hell are you?

That hurt,he says, slowly standing up and rubbing his nose. His voice is slow and heavy. The tiniest trace of a highland accent but the lilt and sparkle it once had are long gone. Big brown eyes that look so mournful, like a spaniel thats just soiled in your slippers. Used to look very different. Quite a livewire. But hes been like this for so bloody long now, I cant possibly feel sorry for him.

Just keeping you on your toes, Dougalicious,I say. Listen, I need your help-

He bends down and picks up the dropped volume.

Freddie, can we do this some other time? I dont feel well.

Now he mentions it, he doesnt look at all well. His cheeks are drooping even more than normal. He looks like a dormouse thats eaten ball bearings.

What is this?I ask. International Moping Day?

He sighs. Smoothes the pages of poetry flat.

Its the anniversary. Of when she . . . went.”

Not that again.

Oh right. Shit. Well, thats very sad. Really. And at any other time I would talk to you in great depth about this. But Dougal, this is urgent. Need your laptop, dude. Right now.

He sighs. His little bushy brows droop.

What for?

Can't specifically tell you at this time, but what I can say is that you won't regret it.

He stares at me. Brows droop even further.

No, Freddie.

Son of a bitch. Check left and right and then haul him into the darkest corner of the Alternative Religion aisle.

How long have we known each other?I ask, stabbing my finger in his face.

A very, very, very long time,he says, sighing.

So you know you can trust me.

“Hmmm.”

Gave you your stereo back the time I borrowed that, remember?

Yes, you did give me it back,he hisses, filled with glue.”

Super-conducting resin-

For Christs sake, Freddie, cant you just consider someone elses feelings for a change?

And he turns away again. Why do they insist on pushing me? Drop one knee and launch myself. Good tackle. Not in the first XV at fourteen for nothing. Eventually get him to the floor and manage to pin him down.

Give me your flat keys,I say.

“Mmmmppffff!!” He's resisting. Fine. Go for his pockets. He wriggles like a ticklish anaconda in a feather factory, almost throwing me off, but I sit on his head and pull his hands away. Theres a crack and a muffled yelp and I manage to thrust one hand in the front pocket of his cords, my fingers closing on the cool steel keys when suddenly I’m ejected vertically into the air.

Crunch down kidneys first on a stack of Russian philosophy textbooks.

Oooooooo.

Forgotten how strong the little fella could be.

Dougal stands up, dusts his corduroy trousers down.

Youre emotional, I can see. As is that mother over there. Have you been upsetting people again? What did you do to her?

Just took a little bite.

Good god, man, why?!

Not eaten in twenty-four hours. Been inventing. Damn hungry. Customer resembled sausage,I explain.

In slow motion, Dougal covers his face with his hands, fingertips on eyes, palms on cheeks. He squeezes.

After a moment, he says:

Calm down. Slow down. And explain, in as few clear words as possible, the reason why I should lend you my laptop.

Take a deep breath. Feel a bit shakey for some reason. I say:

Disappointment with the Unboiler. Ran into Clive. Got engaged. Invented a time machine. Sort the whole thing out. Hence laptop.

Okay, so youre going to need to give me just a few more words than that.



Probably should have explained this at the beginning. Whole storys a bit muddled up, sorry. So this happened yesterday . . .

A beeping thing is drilling into my brain. Thick fingers scrabble for tiny buttons. Peer at my phone.

Noon.

Why the hell would I set my alarm so early?

Look around for more data.

Slept in the lab again. My body is slouched in a swivel chair and my feet are propped up on a half-dismantled instrument panel in front of me.

Hell of a fog in the room, like I slept with contact lenses in. Dont wear contact lenses. Fog is in my head. Empty wine bottles lounge rakishly on my workbench. No sketchpads or notebooks around, so I cant have been using the wine to fuel an inventing session. Why was I in here?

The email!

Remember receiving it and getting very excited. So excited that only a large amount of wine and loud rock music could exhaust me enough to induce sleep. I think. What if my naughty brain made it up? Got to check the email. Wipe a couple of wine splashes off my trackpad and open my inbox. Nope, there it is, as real as my hangover:



To: freddiekeddie@gmail.com

From: t.fox@foxco.com

Date: 12.13pm 18 January 2016

Subject: Your prototype


Mr Keddie


Thank you for the prototype of your latest invention, which you sent to

our Kitchenware Team.


We are extremely keen to discuss the future of your idea with you.


Could you please come to present your device to our technical assessment board tomorrow at 1pm. Sorry to give you so little time, but this is the only day in the next month that our Managing Director will be in this office.


Most sincerely yours,


Marissa Piper

pp. The Managing Director

The Foxco Corporation



You beauty. World fame here we come. Sir Tom Fox, the founder and MD of Foxco got rich and famous for inventing the first washing machine in the world that doesnt judder like a motherfucker. Then one genius gadget after another. Today I get to pitch my invention to his den of dragons. No problem.

First, need to look the part. Cant go as I am peach dressing gown with the rabbits on the back and the front burnt out. Eccentricity has always been an accepted part of an inventors personal style; indecency might be frowned upon.

Head back through the tunnel and up from the basement into the cottage. Root through the few clothes I have for something interview-worthy. Theres my Einstein-with-his-tongue-out T-shirt not exactly formal, but it shows I have a role model. Man like Sir Tom will approve of that. Its winter, though, so Ill need a top layer and some trousers. Something on the smart side.

Of course! my dinner jacket! Jackets generally okay, if a bit tight around the shoulders, back, sides and front. Pull on the trousers. Damn moths have launched an assault on the left leg. Large area of my pasty thigh is visible. Dammit, what sort of brewery has moths? But I own no other breeks even half as dandy. What to do. Aha, a genius notion! Fossick in a sideboard drawer, find a chisel-tipped marker pen and use it to blacken a four-inch square section of my leg skin. Pull the damaged trousers up again and the illusion is perfect! Well, the raggedy rim of the hole flaps a bit, and the marker ink is more green than black, but Sir Tom Fox wont be looking at my damn thighs.

Finally footwear. Well, this really is a Hobsons choice as for several months now the only shoes I have owned are the pair of over-sized yellow duck boots that I found in the brewery pump room.

Gulp some leftover Greek merlot for Dutch courage and head to the bus-stop.



Steel door. Set in a glass wall. Door is in the shape of a ‘T’ and an ‘F’ mating in an earnest logo. As I approach, the letters slide apart. Step through into an atrium four floors high. A waterfall pours from nowhere into a fish-filled pool. Apparently hovering above the pool is a large glass desk with a girl behind it. Theres no one else about, so I figure she must be the receptionist. As I walk towards her, stepping stones rise up from the pool to meet my feet.

Pretty girl in glasses. Scythe of black hair slashes her face. Eyebrows by Picasso. In a vase on the desk in front of her is a large bunch of creamy magnolias.

Hi there-” I start.

We already have a window cleaner, thank you.

Here to see Sir Tom.

The artistic eyebrows take off like two Harrier jump jets and disappear beneath the scythe of hair.

Freddie Keddie,I say.

Looks me up and down. Checks her smartwatch.

Youre very, very late,she says at last.

Moths.



Glassy, classy room. Big windows looking out on the snow-cloaked Pentland Hills. One blackout blind drawn down against the low winter sun.

My metal invention shines on an even shinier walnut desk. Other side of the desk are the girl in glasses and what seems to be a five-foot owl stuffed into a suit. In a chair set away from the desk, in the shadow of the blind, sits another figure. Must be Sir Tom. Famously secretive.

I am Marissa. This is Dr Feldspar, our head of new technology. Our managing director is at the end. You have two minutes to tell us why we should invest in your invention.

Okay. So . . . ah . . .Feeling a bit hot in this damn dinner jacket. Odd itching tells me there might be some previously undetected moths about to emerge from my crotch area. Words arent flowing as normal. Better step things up a bit. Stand up and throw my arms open wide. Yell:

Embrace your privilege, mortals! For ye three be the only three humans to yet behold . . . the Unboiler! This will be a boon to cooks, chefs and ordinary households throughout the world! It will save energy, cut waste, reduce effort.

Silence.

What does it do? you ask. And Im glad you asked. So, you madam. Housewife. You know how when youre cooking vegetables you somehow always cook too much? No matter how carefully you follow the recipe theres always mashed potato left in the pan. Or some turnip that nobody wants. And sprouts. Jesus. Endless fucking sprouts. Too many for little children to eat. Am I right?

More silence.

And that food those precious, if less than tasty vitamins - it all goes to waste. Which is money in the bin. Gas you neednt have used. Preparation time you can never get back.

Raindrops suddenly dapple the windows. As soon as they hit, they slide clean down the glass and leave no trail. Surface must have been treated with some revolutionary new coating . . . electrostatic polymer perhaps, or . . . Got to concentrate! Must sell this!

Well, my device will do away with all of that. You see, it takes that boiled food and, by passing it through a molecular field matrix and reversing the ionic polarity, returns your dinner to its raw, uncooked state. I call it, THE UNBOILER!

Feldspar the owl gives his feathery head a little shake and leans forward from the waist.

Thank you for your pitch. Mr Keddie,he says. Most informative. But we must now be honest with you we were so intrigued by your idea that we have already tried it out.

Could this really be? After all these years - success?

And . . . it worked?

Yes indeed. A kilogram of boiled carrots was returned to its pristine state.

Fantastic!

However, this displacement only lasted ten minutes and three seconds. Then the carrots once again assumed their boiled state. Mushy state, really.

Great start. Not an insurmountable problem.

Youre right. But what is insurmountable, however, is that fact that when it unboiledthose carrots, your device shorted our main fuse, melted our transformer and blew a promising employee into the Royal Infirmary.

So the Unboiler needs development. We can work on it.I nod to the figure beyond the table. Tom Fox started off small.

Yes, but he didnt start off mad. Mr Keddie-Feldspar throws his hands up in the air-I dont know what to say to you.

Now comes the voice from the shadows.

Did you know . . . did you know that Paul McCartney left the Beatles when he was twenty-seven?

My skin shrinks a little relative to my body, because I know that voice. Far-off but also hatefully familiar, like the shout of a bully from the far end of a school corridor.

Funny thing isnt it, this time lark,continues the voice. No ssssooner do you have it-the voice extends his Ss, not in a lisp, but in a savouring hiss - than it slithers away from you.

And the managing directors chair somehow slides noiselessly out of the shadows on unseen wheels, bringing into the light a slippery little codfish of a man.

Clive.

Ever-wet purple lips that when not talking always rest half-open in a hungry pout. Cold wet eyes that seem to be looking at a point behind the back of your skull. A sheen to the skin.

Clive may be the same as ever, but his togs have certainly changed a bit. Rolex strangling his bony wrist. Shiny silk tie. Suit as sleek as the back of an iPad. Probably cost the same as six months of my mortgage payments. Not that I pay the mortgage, that’s Pen’s bag. Still, you get the idea.

Hi Clive,I say.

Sssuper to see you again, Freddie.

He drops his wet hand into mine. All that money. Still couldnt buy himself a decent handshake.

Have to ask,I say, pulling my fingers out from the inside of a slug. What happened to Sir Tom?

Where have you been living for the last six months?Clive sneers.

“A brewery.”

Is that sssso? Well, Sir Tom cashed in. Sold his company to a hedge fund. My hedge fund. One of my hedge funds.

Clearly wants me to ask how many hedge funds he has. Make me feel small when he tells me the answer. Not going to play that game. Best avoid the subject, particularly as I dont have the first idea what a hedge fund is.

Which brings you here,I say.

Oh no. I dont normally get involved at this level. But when I heard about this invention - and the incredible mess it made of my beautiful new facility - I had to come and see you. Catch up a little.

Ever get the feeling that youre in a conversation where the other person has a script and you don’t? Me. Now.

Came here to talk about the Unboiler,I say, deepening my voice.

You look older, Mr Keddie,Clive continues in exactly the same tone. Older than when I saw you last, obviously. That is to be expected. But also older than one ought to look at thirty-three. Perhaps its your lifestyle.

Isnt listening to me. Has a point to make.

I remember you were religious once, so youll know that Jesus was crucified at thirty-three. Young, but he’d managed to accomplish a few things.

He’s been thinking about this for years. Got to stop him making that point. Going to try going left field.

Broccoli definitely works.

Clive pauses, purple lips pouting open. Got him! Oh yes, if were going random, I can fig otter with the best of them.

But Clive recovers, swimming on.

Einstein, who I see you are wearing on your undergarment, elucidated Special Relativity when he was just twenty-five.

“I’ll accept that boil-in-the-bag curries occupy a greater volume when unboiled-

Clive wafts a fin-like hand in the air and moves it in time with his syllables.

However, thirty-three, the age we are, is a handy measure. Its a time by which a man ought to have made at least one leap along his chosen career path if, I feel, he is to get anywhere. Scientist, artist, tradesman; this rule holds true for all.

-but they still taste okay.

Did you know that Sean Connery was James Bond by our age? Being the hero. Getting the girls. Tailored in the best suits. Flying hither and thither. And here you are. Dressed like a refugee whos wearing the clothes the other refugees took off when the Oxfam truck rolled into camp.

Question now is how hard I can hit him by the time I get over the desk. Thinking about the angles when-

Do you two know each other?asks Marissa suddenly.

Clives cod lips part in a futile attempt at a smile.

We had a friend in common.

Now I see where this is going. Well, hes not going to get me there. Too close to home. Stand up. Shove my chair back. Turn towards the door and take a step towards it but my foot freezes in mid-air because somewhere an unseen button is pressed and a huge image is suddenly projected on the internal wall to my left.

My heart leaps in my chest like a salmon.

It’s her.

Shes on stage, clutching her Oscar, a split turquoise dress revealing the lines of her breasts and reflecting the magic of her eyes.

This is going to sound odd, because God knows I love the Penster, but just a glimpse of that picture causes a physiological short circuit in me. Short circuit in my cock, if Im totally honest. Cant help it. Just can’t.

Clives mouth splits in his non-grin again.

I see you still feel for her,he says. Not surprising. She is - was - is still - quite, quite magnificent.He goggle-eyes the picture up and down, up and down, his slimy little tongue pinned between his fleshless lips like a flap of kelp. Suddenly occurs to me Clive might be happier in the ocean. Make mental note to take him down to Portobello beach sometime and shove him in.

Look at young Marissa here. A beauty is she not? Yet nowhere near the equal of Lucy, you must agree?

Streak of sadness blemishes Marissas face.

Dont agree to be rude,I say.

Look at the way her lips hang open,he continues, pointing at the photo projected on the wall. Like theyre waiting for something . . . Reminds me of the time those lips were waiting for me.

Marissa’s eyebrows disappear under her hairline again. Clive turns to her.

Oh, didnt you know? Its true. My friend here will verify. We were at St Marys university together. Lucy Sugar spent a term with us before she went to LA. Incredibly, this princess of the film world actually had quite a thing for Keddie here. It looked very much like he was going to make it with her. Wouldnt you say, old friend? It was in the blesssssed bag.

Clive slides one fin-hand into the other.

And then, at the Midwinter Beach Ball, to the complete surprise of all concerned, he made a foxs paws of the whole thing. Ended up with a girl called Penelope, I dont remember much about her, a ssssweet sort of creature perhaps, but Im sure even Keddie would agree, not fit to lace up Lucys six-inch strappy sssssandals.

My heart stops pumping blood. Starts ramming white hot steel through my veins instead.

Clive leans forward on the desk, steeples his fins, licks his purple lips and says:

So anyway, I fucked Lucy Sugar-

Marissa shifts her weight in her chair.

-and she was absolutely phenomenal.” Clive slowly brushes imaginary dust from the lapel of his jacket with his left fin-hand. It was really rather remarkable. Her breasts, for example, were ssssimply superhuman.Marissa crosses her legs. Leather squeaks as Clive eases back in his big chair. But I shant bore you with the sordid details. Im sure youve imagined them yourself, Keddie, many times over in the past. What you may not realise, though, since I havent seen you for so long, is that from that single electric moment on, Lucy Sugar became something of a lucky charm to me. She took me with her when she went to LA, if you remember. I was a producer on her first movie. That success brought more movies. We parted on the best of terms to focus on our careers. You can do more . . . interesting things . . . out of the limelight, I found. I moved into finance. Became an investor. And here I am. In front of you. After all these years.

He leans forward, stares right at me, his cold wet eyes wide open.

You know what? I think my firm will buy your Unboiler. For £2.40. The price of a pint of cider in 2002.



One thing I dont understand,says Dougal, is if you managed to get across the table and land a punch on him, how come youre the one whos been beaten to a bloody pulp?

Security guard. Built like the rock of Gibraltar but somehow didnt see him. Bastard was hiding right in the corner by the blind.

Dougal looks at me. Finished filling him in. Don’t know what the hell it is, but my eyes smart. They start to water. Hayfever, maybe. Odd in January, but there you go.

It's really important to you, isn't it?

What?

He sighs.

You can borrow my laptop if you like.

Hoist myself onto my elbows. Wince with pain.

Really?

As long as you let me watch the experiment. And theres no glue involved.

Superconducting resin,” I murmur.

That too.

My ducts are definitely filling with liquid.

Are you serious?” I manage.

Come on,he says, I’ll buy you a coffee.

He puts his arm round me and lifts me to my feet. Feels so good I let it rest there, even when the pain stops.



Back at the flat and Im hoping the Penster isnt home from work yet, so I have time to make preparations for Dougals arrival and my departure into the past. Alas, just in door and I get hit by a supersonic love-crazed fiancée. She moves so fast down the hall I dont see her until shes three feet away at which point she launches herself at me, clamping her arms and legs around my torso like a grippy koala round a pencil. Flattened against the door, breath knocked out of me, smothered in kisses, hard to breathe – very.

Mmmmggeegghhh Ffffffff!

Its good to see you my darling husband-to-be. Ive missed you so much today. Oh, kiss, me wont you!

She hugs me hard, unfortunately twisting my throbbing shoulder.

“Ow-ow-ouch!’ I yelp. Much as I adore cuddles, my elegant little cover drive, I dont really think I have the time for this right now.

Long pause. Very pained look.

I was only saying hello,she says quietly.

God, she suddenly looks old again. Wish I could come back in the front door and do that one again, but I cant. Best press on. Move away towards the cellar.

Where are you going?

Work.

She moves round in front of me.

Could we talk for a minute first?

What about?

Come into the kitchen.

No time-

Please Freddie, Im only asking for two minutes,she adds with her little brown eyebrows raised in hope.

Bloody hell, I feel like Im ten years old again. Its Christmas day and Ive been given a Meccano set. The best present ever. Unbelievable excitement. No sooner do I get it unwrapped than Im summoned to go to Grandmas house. Have to leave the Meccano set agonisingly unplayed with under the tree as Im whisked off for an afternoon of oversized sweaters and pan drops. Come back later and weve been burgled. Meccano set taken clean away. Hard lesson learnt very well: never ever, if you can at all help it, go to Grandmas house.

Glance eagerly down to the lab as Pen leads me through to the kitchen. Be with you soon, baby, I whisper.

What?she asks, turning her head.

Wasn't talking to you,I say with a reassuring smile.

In the kitchen and a wall of hot sweet air flattens my nose as I enter. Fresh pastries cram every surface. There are acres of apple pies, bomb-heavy fudge brownies, empire biscuits dripping with jam and icing, donuts piled like treasure, and more scones than you can shake an éclair at. She loves her baking, but Ive never seen anything like this before.

I thought wed have a little party,she says, crossing her hands in front of her pinny like a schoolgirl caught talking in class.

What kind of party?I say, a wake for our arteries?

An engagement party, silly. Tomorrows Friday, we could just have a few people over after work. You could make some punch, you like doing that.And she smiles at me.

What few people?

I was thinking, Phil and Ruth, Pete and Clare, Mark and Jill . . .”

See a pattern here.

“. . . and my parents would love to come.

Oh God, no.

Come on, Freddie, their only daughter just got engaged. Mummy is practically bursting with excitement. And Daddy wants a word with you.

Bet he does.

“He’s over the moon!

Look, can this not wait? Im at a crucial stage with my latest invention. You throw a spanner in the works now and it could put me years behind.

But- but- people are happy for us. They want to share. And Id love to-

BRRRIINGG!!!

“I’ll get it,I say, stay here.And I dash out of the door.

Sprint down the hall, open the front door. Its the potato-faced wonder himself. Hes depressed again. Can tell that because hes wearing his tracksuit. Shabby chocolate-brown number. Used to wear it when wed run on North Sands together. But that was fourteen years ago. Fitted him well at first, but as hes got fatter over time its stretched and frayed. Now it makes him looks like a big jobbie. But he always goes back to it when hes stressed.

Got it?I ask.

Good to see you, too, Freddie.

Come in!I hiss, and bundle him through the doorway.

You said come fast, so I didnt stop for tea-

Who is it, honey?comes a plaintive voice from the kitchen.

“Oh, Pen’s here. I’m glad,he says.

“Shush,” I whisper, clamping my hand over his mouth. Quick! Get down those stairs,and start bundling him down to the cellar. Too late. The kitchen door creaks open.

Oh, Dougal!Pen claps her hands together a few times. How lovely to see you! Have you come for supper?

Smile breaks over his pudgy face.

Dougals not here to get fatter,I say. He’s here to help me with my latest invention. Testing stage. Most important. Critical in fact.And I recommence shoving him down the trapdoor.

“He’ll have some tea, though?” smiles Pen.

Wine downstairs.

Surely a little cake?

No.

“I’d love some cake,says Dougal, tearing my hand from his mouth with a vicious little swipe. I’m sure Freddie can spare me for five minutes. And I want to give you these.

Little pudding only goes and pulls out a bunch of flowers!

Oh, Dougal, theyre lovely. How sweet of you! Come through.

Glare at the son of a bitch. Make it quick,I hiss. He pretends not to notice as I follow them into the kitchen.

Here, have a plate. Help yourself to cakes, Ill put these in some water and get the kettle on. How are you? Youre looking well. Hows your mum? Gosh, it seems like ages since we chatted.

I know. It must be five months, Penelope. Too long.

These flowers really are lovely Dougal. But you know, you should have given them to Freddie. After all, I asked him!

Pause. Dougal looks confused.

Asked him what?

Pen looks confused.

Asked him to marry me, of course!

Longer pause. Yet more confusion on the face of the rotund one.

Youre getting married?

Of course . . . I thought . . . didnt Freddie say?

She stares at me, eyes wide, hair going wild, panic rising.

Of course I told him, my little Chelsea boot. He just forgot. Didnt you, Dougal?

Dougal glares at me. Then sees the creased lines of hope in Pens face. Good old boy wisely decides to lie.

Sorry, Penelope, its been one of those days.He looks at me with black eyes. Why else would I have brought you flowers?

Its a slim lifeline but Pen grasps at it. Poor girl really is desperate.

Thats okay, Dougal darling-

Well, time waits for no man,I say and push him fat paws still clutching a plate of cakes towards the door.

Oh. Yes. You boys have work to do . . .

See you soon, Penelope,says Dougal simperingly.

Finally. The door is shut and were heading down to the lab. Excitement jolts through me. Suddenly there she is again, peering down the trap at us.

I almost forgot. Dougal, I know its short notice, but were having a little gathering tomorrow. To celebrate, you know. Nothing fancy. Just drinks. And some cakes, obviously . . .”

Penelope, I wouldnt miss it for the world.And he winks at her like hes Cary fucking Grant or something. She smiles, and they wave. Christ.

Shove him off the step. He lands with a yelp and a crunch and I slam the trapdoor shut behind us, shutting out Pens squeaking concern.

Youre not making this any easier for me, you know,I say.

He dusts himself off slowly.

I'm not sure this is the right time for this, Freddie.

You saw what shes done with the cakes,I say, holding out my hand for his computer case. He hangs on to it. What better time could there be?

Penelope's so excited about your engagement. I think she wants to chat. You know? Make plans and stuff. For the party, for wedding.

Spin to face him fully and jab a finger in his face.

Listen, Dougal, you have to get a little perspective on this. She has baked some cakes I have invented a time machine. Okay? All this cakes and parties bullshit can wait. And if youre so fucking keen on flowers, here . . .” Reach over to the mantel. Reach in between the stacks of empty Pot Noodle pots. Pull out the yellow rose Pen gave me last night. . . . have this.And I open his mouth with one and jam the rose in with the other, then clamp his jaw shut. Now come on, give me your laptop.

With hugely annoying slowness he takes the rose from his mouth. Looks at it very carefully like its something precious. Then he places it carefully on the mantelshelf, clearing a little space for it amid the clutter.

Youve invented a time machine?he says at last.


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