From… The Circle
The hair on Shelagh’s arms stood on end as she stalked across the damp grass with her colleagues. The chopper hovered high above, capturing the opening shots and cutaways. Distant traffic hummed competing with bird calls from the surrounding hedgerows, but in her head, the show’s iconic music played. It was early but the day was already going well. Wiltshire had really come to the party, putting on a spectacular Autumn day, the sun bright dazzling in the cloudless sky. The digger had started the first trench, the soft ground yielding easily to its claw, and the cast and crew were relaxed and either supervising the dig or readying their gear.
Much of the calm on the set was attributed to the absence of Eden Bentley. His call time was the same as all the on-camera cast, but no one had seen him. After weeks of planning, the shot-list had already been changed twice to accommodate his absence. The Full Circle was a science show and Eden Bentley was definitely not a scientist. He was superfluous, window dressing, and he knew it. He was always difficult to work with, but to pull a no-show for the most important episode ever…
Perhaps the rumours were true.
The director called hold and Shelagh shook her head as if to dislodge thoughts of Eden. The first trench was ready and considering Eden’s no-show, Shelagh would introduce it. Another change, but it was a great opportunity to but it didn’t matter when she looked across at her smiling colleagues. This would be the day all their lives changed if they managed to find something, anything at all, but if she was honest, she was hoping for human remains.
From… Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer
Except for a scratchy grey blanket, Alia Henry was naked in the most famous food hall in London and it wasn’t a nightmare. A young police officer led her towards the lifts, the throng parting like a Red Sea of camera-phones. Someone called her name and Alia looked up to see the crowd filled the floor above and the one above that. She smiled and lifted one blanket-covered hand to wave. Somewhere in the crowd a woman called out, ‘I love you, Alia,’ and a cheer went up. Alia grinned at the frowning officer, who only nodded at a hidden walkway behind a raised display of mannequins showing off the latest summer fashions. Alia turned to smile at her audience, clutched her blanket, and walked to the locked security door behind the display. The policewoman turned her back and shielded her hand as she punched a code into a keypad. The door swung wide on an automatic hinge and they started down a linoleum corridor with cage covered bulbs on the ceiling. The door swung shut with a metallic thud, leaving behind the vocal and disappointed crowd.
The bare floor was cold underfoot. In all the years Alia had been shopping in Knightsbridge she had never suspected anything so utilitarian was hidden behind the elegant facade. She smiled up at a winking security camera at the end of the corridor. What a lark. She was about to be let off with a warning. Again. That would make it seven for the year.
‘We have permission to film here,’ she said as they arrived at a service lift.
‘Not in the buff, you haven’t, have you?’ the officer said. It was a rhetorical question, but Alia felt she had a right of reply.
‘It didn’t specify…’
‘Of course, it didn’t, it should have gone without saying.’ The officer spoke softly and shook her head sadly as she pushed the down button and looked at Alia. ‘I’m worried they’re going to throw the book at you this time. I think you should have given it a rest after the show at the Fringe. It was hilarious. That thing with the shopping trolleys.’ She stopped and looked up at Alia. ‘I follow all your stuff. You’re an icon for a lot of young women and girls, so this looks really bad.’
Alia wanted to say something, but the lift doors opened. The call button didn’t make a fun dinging sound and there was no cheeky, uniformed attendant in this lift. Just two huge cops who made even Alia look petite.
‘Mind your step, Lady Thalia,’ the young officer said. She was smiling slightly, her eyes kind, but as she turned to greet her colleagues, the sweet face became a mask. As Alia stepped carefully over the gap in the floor of the old service lift, she suspected she might have taken things a little too far this time.
The once-magnificent mansion, bequeathed to the publishers Whitehall International as an artists’ retreat, is under repair after years sitting derelict but Alia begins to see it in a new light once she meets Braith.
Old Houses and Time Travel again feature in this story. What can I say? I’m obsessed.
I have been working on and off on Remembering Paris, the creative non-fiction memoir. You can listen to my Remember Paris playlist on Spotify, a bunch of songs that remind me of my visits to Paris over the years. The list is eclectic to say the least; Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, anything from The Division Bell by Pink Floyd, 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour asnd Nenah Cherry. Staying on my own in Paris all those years ago, I let MTV play day and night so I wouldn’t feel lonely… Even though I am going to keep it to memories of Paris, I will have to provide some context by mentioning things about my life at home, so it is something of a memoir, but limited only to Paris. Like what happens in Paris, stays in Paris – but it doesn’t stay there – it’s written down for the world to read!
From across the street, I could see that the woman in the cherry-red-beret was also wearing a striped fisherman’s top. At first, I could only see the beret, her dark hair, the cigarette in her mouth…but after the airport shuttle bus moved away I could see her more clearly. It had Paris scrawled across the front in a glittery script. The fisherman’s top, not the shuttle bus.
“I love this city, completely,” I heard her say to no one in particular, her voice carrying even over the din of the traffic.
I grinned as I looked right and left, crossing the street. Casting her gaze about, she enthusiastically sucked on her cigarette. As I approached the group, I knew that this woman was going to be the ‘fun one.’ The group was what the boss called a ‘mixed assortment’. Rather than a package-tour group who had been, or would be, spending a couple of weeks together on the road, these were individuals and couples who had booked a day tour; a whole different beast. Along with the ‘fun one’ (she’d be keen for a wine after the tour, or even during…) there would be the ‘arguing couple’, the ‘lady with the headache’, ‘he who forgot his camera’, the ‘armchair expert’ (who really should be leading the group, let’s face it…) Throw in some eye-rolling teenagers, a pair of elderly sisters and a couple on their honeymoon and you can picture the standard ‘mixed assortment’ tour group assembled for a half-day mini-tour.
I smiled at the eager faces and took out my list. After a quick introduction and a roll-call, I waved to our driver who made his way over to the curb.
‘Everyone, this is Jean-Pierre, our driver for the day. You can call him JP, pronounced zshay-pay. Say bonjour to zshay-pay, everyone.’
They all say bonjour more or less in unison. The lady in the cherry-red beret, Jen from Arizona, preferred Jean-Pierre, obviously, her greeting ending a few moments after the rest of the group.
‘I was French in a previous life,’ she said.
I smiled and nodded enthusiastically. I was about to say something about ‘all good Americans…’
‘I have a French aesthetic,’ she said, gesturing to her outfit like a game-show hostess. I noticed the blue, white and red-painted fingernails. I felt bad, suddenly, for wearing my usual uniform of jeans-t-shirt-blazer instead of something more…French.
She stood beside the bus, allowing the rest of the passengers to clamber up the stairs while she finished her cigarette. The ‘arguing couple’ were the last to board, leaving Jen and me on the sidewalk.
“I could get used to Paris. People smoke in the street here!”
Blowing smoke over my head she threw her head back and laughed. She ground the cigarette out with the pointed toe of her black boot and smiled up at a worried looking Jean-Pierre.
‘Permission to come aboard, captain?’ she said. Winking broadly at him she swung into the bus. The arguing couple and the elderly sisters had claimed the four front seats so Jen sat in the next available row. I took a deep breath and climbed aboard, carefully avoiding eye-contact with J-P in case we started laughing.
‘Let’s get the party started, Jay-Peee,’ she said. Her arm in the air she let out a muted woo.
‘Indeed, let’s…’ I said, as the bus door hissed shut and he nosed the mini-bus into the early morning traffic.
For Camp Nanowrimo July 2020, I will be (attempting) to finish Mae and June, a Hotel Deja Vu story.
‘You thought I was going to propose? Why would you think that? You hate me.’ Paul sat back against the leather seat. The countryside blurred past the train window.
June took a deep breath and began to protest but clearly decided anger would get her further. ‘You think you can just do anything you want, because you have money. Although you wouldn’t know it with the get up you’re wearing.’
‘You’ve never complained about the money before.’
‘But what you’re suggesting is insane.’ She sat back suddenly and barked out a laugh. ‘I don’t even know why I’m getting so upset. It’s a delusion.’
He rubbed his forehead. He’d had a week from hell, tying up loose ends, and he was tired. Tired of arguing with her. Tired of her. He shook his head. Why she would think he was going to propose was a mystery. Why would she want him to? He let out a breath and looked up at her. Aah, he thought. I know why she wanted me to propose. So she could turn me down. That’s settled then. He had nothing more to say to her but, as usual, she seemed to be just getting started.
‘You know, this is madness. You should be in a hospital for crazy people but I’ve just realised what a terrible insult this all is. You wish you’d never met me.’
At this point, yes. He shook his head. She was about to go there, she always did.
‘You wish we’d never-.’
There it was, the little catch in her throat. June turned in her seat to face the window. She knew how to hurt him. He leaned forward and reached for her hand. ‘You know I don’t regret meeting you, and I don’t regret what we had.’
She pulled her hand away so fast her long French manicured nails flicked his fingers painfully. ‘You regret our baby. You blame me for losing it.’
And cue the tears. He sat staring at the floor, his old Doc Martens looked strange even to him, accustomed as he was to hand-made Italian footwear. The tears and accusations were the usual consequence of them spending more than fifteen minutes together, but there was something new in her voice. An edge. Was it fear? ‘It,’ he said, not looking up at her. ‘You said “it”.’
She stopped crying for a beat and sucked in a short, sharp breath. ‘You know what I mean. Her. You blame me for losing her. God, you’re such a prick.’
That she thought he was going to propose was comical but said everything about their relationship in one, odd moment. He smiled. ‘Okay, that’s settled then. Let’s just get the work done and we’ll be back in London by ten.’ He looked at his watch. ‘It’s going to be a challenge for the builders but seriously, the design we can base on the Berlin guesthouses. Couple of hours work, late lunch, then head back to the train.’
She was studying him from the corner of her eye. He’d caught her off-guard. Usually when they fought, which they did, spectacularly, every couple of weeks, it would start like this, with him letting her down. The pattern had formed very early in their relationship and had grown like mildew since. He would do something she’d label thoughtless and it would spiral into what the staff called the ‘shit storm’ with her slinging accusations and dredging up the past. Eventually she would storm from the office, not showing her face for days on end.
Things were going to change. They had to. His mother had begged him. Working with a new doctor, he’d learnt how to interrupt her, introduce a circuit breaker, kill the storm before it started blowing. This was the first time he’d had the strength to use it and it had worked a treat. He flipped open his laptop but she could only stare out at the rolling green English countryside as it sped by.