TIME IS YO-YO (THE DIARY OF A PESSIMISTIC TIME TRAVELLER) By CHRIS SOUL Robert Wilson has discovered a strange document, written by his brother. His brother, John, is a young man in a rut, to put it mildly. One day he sits down to write. It’s not a diary or a story, but strange things are happening to him. After nearly being hit by a bus and suffering concussion, John meets a man who looks surprisingly like Charlie Chaplin. Together they go back to 1897 where John questions his sanity and the reality of what he sees. Slowly John begins to learn the truth of his family’s history as well the devastating reason why he is writing at all…
TIME IS YO-YO PROLOGUE Dear Reader, This book was written by my brother. It’s his diary. I found it in his flat, sprawled across his desk. I hadn’t seen John in years, and now I doubt I will ever speak to him again. John writes at one point: ‘Words can’t express all my thoughts.’ That’s exactly how I feel now. It is not that John has disappeared, but what he has done. If he has gone from us, leaving his empty shell, then he would be in a place I could never imagine. It is a mystery to how John wrote this diary. Maybe to call it a diary is a bit misleading. I’ve been trying to make sense of what happened in the best way I can. Is John mad, schizophrenic or just telling the truth? Maybe I will never know. I was sat next to him today. It’s been two weeks since the horrible thing happened and since I discovered his strange diary. I sat with a woman who witnessed the whole final incident. In fact we have become quite close which makes the whole thing even more bizarre. I had not seen John for two years. I regret that. He had become a loner and I only discovered what he had written after I had received the terrible phone call. Although at times my brother appears to be an angry, miserable young man (despite his strange, amusing look at the world) what he has written is something of an enigma, a miracle. John changed too. His bizarre diary led him on a journey that would change anyone. I’m sure of that. But, regardless, I’m not superstitious and I don’t believe in the paranormal. After all I’m a policeman and I simply don’t believe in things like that. John studied Art at university. This book is full of his drawings. He always found solace in his art. I only hope that I will one day be able to speak to him again, my brother: the hero of this book. Robert Wilson
JOHN’S MANUSCRIPT 1 I’ve just got home and I’m writing. I’ve decided. I’ve seen something very strange. Or at least I feel as if I have. It must be deja-vu or perhaps it’s true. I have this feeling, in the pit of my stomach that something horrendous is going to happen. What happened? At first I thought I was going to be attacked, or at least the feeling of its promise. Then from nowhere the weirdest man appeared, morphing from the air in front of me like a glitch in a roll of film. He looked just like Charlie Chaplin. I thought it was just the concussion, but something else happened. So now I am writing. I came home to ‘think’, about life and all that. Life is worthwhile, I’m sure. So I’m taking some time out. I need to; to ‘think’, as the man says. I mean seeing Charlie Chaplin must be a sign you need to take time off. There’s never enough time to think, though. Time is such crap. Maybe I’m a Scrooge, but it’s true (my name’s John by the way). I’ve just managed to scrape together enough time, with a capital ‘T’, to write something, and evidently it’s about not having enough time. Time: what a thing. People are so busy, though. What’s the rush? No wonder the world’s falling apart with carbon emissions and climate change. It’s like the Earth is wiggling under pressure and crying out: “Help! There are all these ants crawling over me and it hurts like crap!” All us ants keep going, keep working, keep accelerating into the ground that at some point everything will implode into a tiny crack of space. It will. I’m sorry. I’m not usually this negative. Maybe it’s the concussion. What happened to me? I felt horrible today, as you can probably tell. I was rushing through crowds, squeezing my way through the empty spaces between people. I had on my dark coat and a bag across my shoulder. Rain splattered, cars rumbled by, high heels clattered, traffic lights beeped, buses halted and hissed, you know, all that modern city sounds and sights. A rolling sludge. Sometimes you feel a part of it, and other times it feels like you are wandering through a zoo.
But, there I was, part of the moving zoo, rushing to get somewhere. Until, quite unexpectedly, I tripped. My foot got caught in a crack in the pavement. It was quite a big crack, big enough to open up over the dark depths of Earth. It was a dramatic trip too, like Charlie Chaplin might do. I fell flat on my face into dog shit. It wasn’t funny. My forehead seemed to recede and crush through my skull as I hit tarmac. It echoed through my brain like the skin of a drum forced inwards. My face was bristling with sharp pain, as if the gritty tarmac had shaved my face off. I heard a bus screeching past, but the noise and the ‘thud’ of hitting my head sounded like I had fallen to my death. I pulled myself up very quickly, cursing, and swiped at my face. I was concussed. I wanted to vomit. Instead, I spat into my hands and walked to the side of the street. No one cared. No one even offered to help. I don’t really want to talk too much about it, for fear of grinding my knuckles into my desk here. I moved out of the crowds, stumbling with concussion and found a toilet in a shopping centre. I cleaned my face and hands and sat under the blow-dryer for the warmth. I must have gazed at the taps, slowly dripping, for a few minutes. If consciousness is one thing, then it’s like a dripping tap. I wondered why I had even come to town. What was the point? Why? Drip. Drip. Drip. I could have stayed at home, wrapped in bed, and avoided landing in an animal’s undesirables. I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror. I was a wreck. My eyes were bulging. My forehead was red and grazed. My hair was like a scarecrow. My skin was deathly white. There and then I decided that getting older meant gravity was pulling down but time was working horizontally too. Time, though, had caved in on my consciousness with all the impact of tarmac.
I’m still quite young. I’m here only once, I thought (except for all those wisecracks about reincarnation and going to parallel universes.) I don’t need to rush. I don’t have to merge into the mess of crowds and life like an ugly duckling. The decision is mine. I’m going for a drink. Perhaps the drink would ease the pressure in my skull. I grabbed my bag and stormed out of the toilet, like I was on some holy mission. I could sod it all and go to the pub. Perhaps we are all fated, destined to be somewhere at a particular time. Perhaps deja-vu helps us know. When I left the shopping centre and headed off down a back street I had the oddest feeling. What was it? Like my mind was on screensaver setting, on stand-by, for the next expected event. I must contemplate deja-vu. Anything I write could be relevant. As far as I’m concerned consciousness never joins any stream, otherwise how could it account for the mess that is our minds? I think it’s more a rolling pile of sludge. So what happened? In that back street I was confronted with the most unusual and surprising sight. Perhaps we all desire to live in some peculiar fantasy, but this is true: The back street became a mirage, as if I were looking through mist.
The red bricked buildings were turning brown. The sky twisted. The street lights curled and melted. My hands were elongating. The air grew thick. The sound of cars faded like distant winds. The sun flickered and the street became familiar as a recurring dream or a nightmare remembered from childhood. I grabbed my head. It throbbed. I tried to make out what I was seeing. What happened? The man in front of me was sinister, dangerous looking with a flash of gritted teeth. I thought at first he was twitching his hands for an object in his pocket that glinted with light, dancing in the light with a strange temptation, a dread in object form. Was it a knife? I think it was. To his left were a woman and her child slipping cautiously down the street. I gave them a quick look, not registering who they were, and they glanced back terrified. Then my eyes cleared up. The mist dispelled. The man leaning against a lamp post in front of me looked instead exactly like Charlie Chaplin. Like this: He had a cane in
his hand. He wrapped his white knuckled hand over it. He had a small, black moustache. He wore a timeless black suit just like Chaplin. He had a fashionable black bow tie. He had a sly smile. He saw me approach and walked out into the middle of the street. He asked me my name. I said: ‘John.’ He said: ‘Good.’ It was one of those moments that time really did slow down. The moment was significant; with a capital ‘S’. Everything had been leading to this extraordinary meeting. He sensed I was twitchy and confused, and tried to smile his way through it. “I need to give you something,” he said, tapping the tips of his fingers on the top of his cane. His moustache fluttered. I said: “I hope it’s a pint.” He shook his head and slowly opened his black suit jacket. For some reason something filled me with an uncanny feeling of dread; that deja-vu feeling, rising from my gut. His fingers twitched as he pulled out an envelope from a pocket. “Read this!” he ordered. I didn’t say anything. I was so blown by the meeting that I didn’t know what to say. If time stops, then maybe consciousness stops too. I grabbed the envelope from his hand and slipped it into my coat pocket. As I turned, I noticed the young woman and her little girl standing to one side, as if frozen. Their faces were blurred. I thought I recognised the woman briefly. Who was she? Time stood still. That strange feeling of dread returned with the drill of pain in my head. I was opening up onto some unfathomable hole. I turned back to Mr Chaplin who twitched his fingers curiously. Suddenly my concussion flew away.
2 I didn't go to the pub in the end, which was a shame. I found myself trundling home instead, taking the long route. A lot of thinking takes place when you're walking somewhere, although often it's just about the boring crap you see on the way. I lamented a couple of times at unruly drivers. Cars are a huge waste of space. One day they will be relics of a time when the Earth was choking to death and imploding to stardust. Cars will be a symbol of how humanity raced ahead without thinking. Thinking: what a thing to do. That was yesterday now. I got home and threw off my coat and bag. I had a shower and sang some songs, like you do. It was evening already and I felt odd. I sat at my computer and opened the envelope Mr Chaplin, or whoever it was, had given me. The feel of the envelope was peculiar. It felt almost like papyrus and it stank of damp. It was as if the envelope had been left in a loft or a damp garage for about fifty years. It had a rough, almost sandpaper quality to it. There was something comforting about it. It reminded me of Egypt or some old country cottage. It felt like a secret page from a library of letters, memories and history. As I turned my plastic computer on, I read the letter inside the envelope. There was one word written in aging black-red ink. It said: 'Think.'
It was startling, quite amusing, actually. It was like someone had given me some pretentious conceptual art. If someone had given it to me when I was rushing like a maniac to work, I probably would have torn it up or not even registered what that word meant. 'Think.' Think of what? I sat back in my swivel chair. Car lights were flashing through the blinds and rolling across the ceiling in fat blobs. I heard the hum of cars and the odd beeping of traffic lights. When I had entered my flat I had turned the television on without realizing. Behind me some ridiculous advert about car insurance was blurting out with all the joy of a Christmas jingle. 'Think.' All I could think of was how I had tripped up and fallen in shit. And, to top it off, I was given a stupid note from Charlie bloody Chaplin. 'Think.' Sod off! 'Think.' I'm hungry! Let me be. I got up, went to the kitchen, and poured myself a beer. I turned the oven on ready for my ready meal. It was some synthetic, potato meal. I gulped down half the pint without realizing and eyed up the old note lying on my desk. I finally conceded and sat back at my desk. Without a moments hesitation I began to write. My fingers twitched above the keyboard. I wrote ' I’ve just got home and I’m writing. I’ve decided. I’ve seen something very strange’. At which point the phone rang. 'Hello?' I answered. 'Did you get the note?' 'Yes.' 'So, did you?' 'Did I what?' 'Think.' I thought I was going to hurl the phone receiver at the wall. 'Well, actually,' I replied. (It's great to be sarcastic.) 'I had just sat down to begin writing, as an act of thinking, when you called and stopped me from doing it!'
'But you are about to begin?' 'Yes!' I slammed the phone down and stood there for a moment. It was as if a quiet day had been interrupted. It wasn't until I sat down again that I slapped my forehead in complete frustration. I hadn't thought properly! I didnâ€™t' think! How on Earth did Mr Chaplin get my phone number? Now, this must sound like complete rubbish. But, I'm not lying. It's true. This is really what happened. I got a note from Chaplin telling me to think, so I started to think and write all that you are reading so far. Today, though, I went to see my counsellor. I skipped work again. I work temps at the moment. I've been working in a call centre, ringing up people to ask if they want to buy this new broadband package. The language-package bores me. 'Broadband', 'High Definition', 'Bytes' and 'Servers.' No wonder most people shout down the phone 'I just want a fucking television with the Sports on! You complete waste of fucking time!' I should feel like I'm in touch with a lot of people, the beautiful human race, with the amount of phone calls I make. But I donâ€™t. I feel like a robot spouting out a reel of data and the human element, normal communication, has been replaced by corporate sloganeering. I'm alone. I'm miserable. My flat may as well be a showroom. My friends are all busy or getting married and buying pets. I don't talk to my family. My diet consists of microwave disasters. I'm alone, bored and fed up. Plus, the Earth is up shit creak. I'm not usually this negative, or maybe I am, but today I really did 'think.' I went to see my counsellor and opened up. I cried more than I ever realized I could. The counsellor listened. She has a lovely smile. Despite all my crying I had this real desire to kiss her. She told me that I should take a few days off to think about my life. She explained that nearly being hit by a bus after falling in dog shit should be a wake up call. So, I am. I'm thinking. Right now, as I write, the man who looks just like Charlie Chaplin is stood at my door. I don't know how he found me, but he's beckoning me for a fantastic voyage, or so he says.
3 Today the Pope has added a set of modern sins to the seven original deadly sins. I'll probably go to hell anyway. I'm not particularly religious, but I respect religion. I suppose a world without religion would be awful, although most wars wouldn't be happening now. The pope has added numerous modern sins and I guess if I don't listen I will be going to hell, pushed down that crack to the centre of the Earth. People who are too rich, ruin the environment, manipulate genetics, trade drugs and carry knives are all sinners now. I have probably altered my genetics with all the microwave food I eat and I'm ruining the environment. As for the original sins, well I don't have any pride, so that's alright, I envy the wealthy (is that a double sin now?), I lusted after that counsellor a little bit, I was angry that I fell in dog shit and now I'm acting like a sloth. So I guess I'm buggered. It's interesting though. I do agree with it. I mean the environment, the Earth, is so important whether it is God's or not. Genetics is certainly dodgy ground with cloning and all that. Drugs are bad; although there are people I know who do them. I haven't. I'm crazy enough as it is. Chaplin was sat on my Ikea sofa earlier this afternoon. He had turned up at my door and asked if he could come in for a chat. We didnâ€™t chat. He just sat there like a doll in black and white, causally grinning as I watched the news, made a sandwich or wrote on my computer. At one point he got up and wobbled over to a cabinet in the corner. I keep all my old documents and sentimental crap there. On top he picked up a photograph. It's of my family at Christmas about three years ago. It was the last time we were all together when I had finished university. Perhaps not staying in touch with your family should be a sin. Chaplin smiled. "Who's this?" he said. I walked over and looked at who he was pointing at. "Oh, that's my brother, Robert. Heâ€™s a policeman." Smiling, Mr Chaplin asked again: "And, who's this?" "My Uncle, Bill." "And her?" "My Auntie, Sue." "And him?"
"My granddad, Gordon." "And her?" "My grandma, Lilly." "And the dog?" "Buffer," I said. “Oh and that’s Mum and that’s my Dad.” Mr Chaplin smiled and caressed the glass with his pale fingers, before he waddled back over and sat to watch the latest news. It's ridiculous really, having this odd look-alike in my flat. He doesn't seem to eat, or go to the toilet or fidget or anything annoying. He just sits and smiles, as if he is waiting for something. "Do you want a beer?" I asked. He shook his head. I had about three glasses of beer this afternoon, which is probably what accounted for my disregard for having a comedy genius sat on my sofa. It was very amusing seeing him sat so stiffly and so old fashioned. He cheered me up just being there. Last night I hadn't slept. When you can't sleep you are trapped in a vicious cycle of disjointed thinking. The same thoughts whirl around like the text going across the news. I couldn't help thinking that my life wasn't right. Things were missing. Life is like one big rush. Here, there, there, here and what's that? No time for anything that really matters. What really matters? I got up this morning feeling rather blissful in my nihilistic state. Nothing mattered, so it didn't matter. Jean Paul Sartre had taken his cake and eaten it. Then, Mr Chaplin popped in again, like letting in the neighbour's cat. Perhaps I'll go to hell for being so nonchalant. Who knows? Anyway, Chaplin has curled up to sleep on my sofa. It's getting late and I've been lazing about for too long. He told me something a moment ago that I thought was quite interesting, although, to be frank, I'm too miserable to take note of most things. Mr Chaplin sat up and looked straight at me. It was freaky, like seeing a clockwork figure come to life. He said: 'Are you ready?" "Ready for what?" "For tomorrow. I'm taking you somewhere a bit different. To show you
what matters." "Oh, right." "I'm going to take you out of your flat. When you open your front door, things will be a little different." "Jolly good," I said, not even registering, until now. 4 I don't know quite what to write tonight. God. I'm sat at my desk staring into space. Helpless. Thatâ€™s a word. Help- less. I understand now. I have to write. There's no other option. Something is happening to me and now I realize that whatever happens I must think and so write. I'm going to be blunt. I think I am, basically, insane. Either that or I'm dreaming and somehow in the dream I'm managing to write too. Or, someone has slipped me some very powerful mind-bending drugs, in which case the pope will be very alarmed. I am also afraid. I think. I'm not sure whether to be afraid of "Mr Chaplin" or not. He came to me after a bang to the head and heâ€™s still here. I should begin with this morning. I'm trying to soak up the day's events as logically as possible. I'm considering going to see my counsellor tomorrow, but I fear she might get very concerned and call in the mental police. Keep calm. This morning Mr Chaplin said I should get a good breakfast, so I ate some toast with a dribble of Marmite. Pathetic really. It was quite weird. As I ate the toast, Mr Chaplin found the pot of marmite fascinating. He read everything on the labels with wide white eyes, and even opened the lid and smelt it. At one point he dipped his finger inside and took a lick. When I finished, I brushed my teeth with my electric toothbrush. Chaplin found this quite amusing as well. I must say it was pretty unnerving having Chaplin stood behind me in the mirror, examining my electric razors and reading the labels on my Colgate toothpaste tube. His little moustache twitched and his lip curled upward. I had to ask him to leave when I needed to use the bog. He gauped either at the use of the word 'bog' or the fact that I had been so blunt. He stood at the front door afterwards, one hand on the handle. He held his cane under his arm and had somehow produced a top hat which was perched, shining, on top of his black hair.
"Are you ready John?" he asked, eyebrows raised. "To the leave the flat?" I replied. "Yes," he said. "I'm afraid you might get a bit frightened, but as long as you stay by me it will be okay." "Why? Where are we are going?" "You will see." He twisted the handle and the door creaked open. Dust sprayed out from the door frame. A musky, damp smell filled the air. There was a bright light, like a spotlight, illuminating the landing outside. Something was very different. He led me into the landing. I looked down. An ornate, iron staircase wound its way to the ground floor. It was shiny and fresh as if it had just been installed. I live in a renovated Victorian building or something, which had been extended and redesigned many times. This must have been the old stairwell. I was seeing it firsthand. Crap. I was confused. My building had been transformed to its original state. I stood gawping like a twit for a moment or two. "How? How is this possible?" I asked, stuttering just like some unbelievable
actor in some equally unbelievable film. Mr Chaplin smiled and briskly strode down the iron staircase. He seemed more animated in this dusty, filmic light. His shoes clanged against the iron and he tapped his cane occasionally on the railings. Any thoughts I might have had tumbled off my brain like a top hat blown off into the wind. Keep focused, John. How can I even explain? In that moment my misery disappeared. I completely forgot about stupid, rotten things like call centres, shopping centres, rushing cars, the Inland Revenue, car insurance and microwave dinners. I had one choice and it seemed obvious. Sometimes the ridiculous can pull us out of stupor and make us see things differently. This certainly did. I think I swore a couple of times, for which Mr Chaplin turned in bemusement. I don't think "fucking shitting crap" was part of his vocabulary, but I shut my flat door and descended the stairwell, running my hand along the cold, iron railing curling its way to the ground. When I reached the bottom Chaplin stood next to a set of large, solid double doors. They were dark brown and shining with polish. "Do you read up on history much?" he asked, holding a golden door knob ready. "Erm, no. Not really." I was never really into history. It was not that history was boring, it just didn't seem that important. Sometimes, some nights, when I couldn't sleep, there would be some documentary on some dead-end channel about the Second World War, or some programme about how we all loved the Seventies and rubbish like that. I always thought it was amusing how a crap decade could suddenly become so nostalgic and brilliant. Old crap fashions became a benchmark for a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. I never felt that. I lived for the moment, got annoyed by the moment and tried to move on without feeling too tired or bloody miserable about it all. I bet in twenty years time this day and age will be celebrated and people will have fond memories of mobile phones, websites that connect you with long lost friends and the same coffee shops on every street. My feelings were about to change though. I'm trying not to lose it, mentally, you know, as I write this. I must be mad.
Time may be the force that ages us, but history is what shapes us. Mr Chaplin smiled and pushed the double doors wide open. "Welcome to 1897," he said. 5 Now I don't mean to be dramatic by putting the next diary entry here. I just went to grab another beer and take a piss and breathe. I also had to take a moment to step back and consider what I had just written. It helps to categorise experience in numbers. '1897.' I mean, it's not usual that someone opens a door to welcome you to '1897.' Usually, and quite rightly, I would have dismissed it as a load of bollocks. But, when "Mr Chaplin" opened the doors, I was confronted by the reality. The sheer Reality. Sometimes belief in what is real is commanded simply by the sublime experience of the unbelievable itself. (That's a nice quote- I'm surprised I'm even able to type after a day like today.) I need to clear my head. I stood cemented to the floor. I was stiff, and I'm still shaking a little now and I suppose writing this and drinking my beer is the only way to vent my feelings. I'm also trying not to shudder with the presence of "Mr Chaplin" behind me. God. What was it like? Like this. Outside, in 1897:
A horse drawn carriage wobbled past the door. It went down the cobbled streets. The horses' hooves clapped. The wheels of the carriage creaked. All I could think about, as I gawped like a stupid git, was that the road, the street, was cobbled. It seemed absurdly uneven, cracked and grey and dotted with horse shit, dirt and dust. Lots of horse shit. The horses trotted past. They had black and brown coats shimmering with sweat. The morning was thick with mist and smoke. Just like that: cobbles and horses. I found myself choking. The air was putrid. It smelt like old barbeque fumes. There was so much smoke, it hung like a strange grey film and seemed to cling to everything. I hunched over, looking at the cobbled road, and sputtered so much it reminded me of when I used to smoke. I needed a fag. I also wanted to throw up all over my shoes, onto those cobbles. Not a usual day. Mr Chaplin patted my back. I really want to write about what I found out. I need to tell you right now. Mr Chaplin is sat on my sofa at the moment. I need to say why. But, I can't, no. I think I should go through this logically, stage by stage. (Itâ€™s not about suspense is it?) Or I will go mad. Yes. Just breathe. Right, so, I looked up. The carriage continued rattling down the road. I was immediately struck by the many factory chimneys I saw, littering the skyline like upturned cigarettes. Smoke smothered the sky. A stain on the world. The street was composed of terraced red-bricked houses. A typical working man's street I suppose. Some of the houses I recognized from my street. They hadn't been demolished in over a hundred years. I'm looking out of my window now and can see one of the houses there. It's got double glazing and a new door, and a Volvo is parked outside but apart from that it's the same house.
In 1897: A small, sooty boy kicked a football along the cobbles outside of that house. He wore a grey tweed coat and a little miner's cap. He looked like a right little bugger. He turned and looked at me. Bright green eyes shone in the misty morning. He grinned at me with a set of particularly uneven and slightly greying teeth. He pulled his cap down, laughed and raced after his rather deflated and enormous ball, in the direction of the factories. The ball struck the cobbles with the sound of an aerated piece of meat. In fact it must have been meat. Balls were strange back then. I'm trying to imagine that same boy coming through the mist now, in the light of the orange glow of the street light tonight. Imagination is a funny thing. Anyway, it's difficult to explain at that moment quite how I felt. There are two things that I realized. Firstly, the scene of a simple street in 1897 was so strange it made everything seem more vivid, like a Lowry painting. Secondly, it was so stark that my mind seemed to recede and my body pounded. It still is. I took note of things, as if my brain actually began to work. I strained my eyes, focusing, despite the slight sting of acid smoke. "John," Mr Chaplin said. "Are you okay?" I think I said; "What? What the hell?" "We can go back if you want to, if you're not ready." I think I said something along the lines of; "Why am I here? What is going on?" I think this entry would have had far more expletives if Mr Chaplin had not told me the truth. As I swore, a queer looking man elegantly walked past. He inspected me with an upturned nose and his dark eyes narrowed. His face was pale and he looked ill. He had a bushy greying beard. His appearance was not that dissimilar to Mr Chaplin's. On his head was a top hat. He had a long black tailored suit, with slightly long tail-ends. He had a grey waistcoat underneath. In his hand he carried a worn briefcase. Suddenly he stopped, frozen, and turned to face us. A wide smile appeared
through his beard. He seemed like a live version of some old sixties film about this time in history, and I was in it. "Ah, good day Mr Wilson! It's a pleasure to see you again!" I answered, stupidly; "Do I know you?" Then I realized the bearded man was looking at Mr Chaplin and not me. My name is John Wilson. You can see my confusion. It was frightful. Mr Chaplin stepped forward with his cane and eagerly shook the bearded man's hand. I felt like I was witnessing a typical gentlemanly exchange, you know by two aristocrats or whatever. "So, how have you been Jonathan?" asked the gentleman. The gentleman was still looking firmly at Mr Chaplin. I was pretty much invisible. "Very well, yes, thank you. I have been on some what of an errand." "I see. And how is the business going?" "Business as usual, Mr Spencer. I'm sure it isn't as booming as yours." Mr Spencer laughed heartedly. "I've actually got a new partner," he said. â€œI think we have the promise of an excellent partnership." I might have to get another beer in a moment, this is getting ridiculous. One moment. I've just stopped a moment as I feel rather faint. Itâ€™s very difficult to write when your brain is clogged up with so much impossibility. The blur of the street light outside is hurting my eyes too. Right. Bugger it. I'm just going to say it, because I feel absolutely exhausted and if I attempt to sanely type away the day's events any longer I'm going to go barking. I mean, what else can I do right now? The thing that is weighing heaviest on my head is trying to work out how the hell Mr Chaplin, who is presently falling asleep on my sofa again, is who he says he is! Because, as Mr Spencer left, and headed into the city of 1897, Mr Chaplin turned to me and looked grave. I use that word rather sardonically here. His face was white as death but his eyes were deep with life. He said; "I'm sorry about that, John. I didn't expect to see anyone I knew just yet. My name is John too. I am your great, great grandfather, Jonathan Wilson. I couldn't tell you until now."
Yes. I know. A terrible fear ran up my body. You can see now why I am in a state of shock. And the thing is, he's beginning to sleep right behind me, on my leather Ikea sofa, here in the 21st century. I must be haunted. I must be mad. I am sitting in a room with my great, great grandfather. Unless he ages very slowly, I must be haunted. Why is he here? I still don't know. He seems to know. I've got to work this out. I'm going to see my counsellor tomorrow, that's what I'll do. Stay calm. Better get to bed. 6 Dear Diary, Today I saw my counsellor. She's nice. She made me feel at ease. I told her I had been ‘imagining’ things and writing them down in a sort of story. She asked me what I had been ‘imagining’. For fear of being taken away, I said simply "people I once knew." She asked when was the last time I had seen these people. Were they my family? Were they my friends? I said; "Kind of." I also told her I had been quite angry in what I had written. It was obvious to me I wasn't happy and I didn't like the contemporary world. I found the constant news about kidnappings and murders too depressing. She found it odd that I called it the 'contemporary world.' She told me to change the story into a diary, to avoid encouraging any imaginative writing. She said I should simply write a diary about the actual things that happened to me and to be less angry. She also asked who I was writing to, who my reader was. I didn't know. I said I had always enjoyed writing and due to my imagination I felt compelled to do so. She just smiled. I wanted to kiss her again. She was immensely calming. Very simply, she told me to "stay calm" and to write the diary logically and if the imaginative happenings continued then I should account for them, but nonfictively. Her presence was soothing. She filled me with warmth. If the strange occurrences continue and I feel afraid I am to see her again. After leaving her office I bumped into a man in a worn, shabby suit.
Something made me shudder at the sight of me. He had stubble and he stank of cigarettes. He snarled at me and took a glance in at my counsellor. After seeing her I went to the supermarket. I bought bread, milk, more marmite, lots of vegetables and fruit (at the request of my counsellor), a couple of ready-meals, a packet of mince, some chicken breasts, sauce, pasta, some more beer and some orange juice. I packed them in my back pack and walked out among the crowds of the city. I felt calm and I didn't bump into anyone, or trip up. I briefly stopped to see what was on at the cinema. I glanced in at some shops displaying tailored suits and designer coats. When I got home the television was on. It was the news. There was an article about the environment and cutting emissions in a new Parliamentary Bill and there was an article about a kidnapping and something about a murder in the city and how there needs to be more done for pedestrian safety. I opened my orange juice and drank as I watched an old sixties film. I felt relaxed, serene and tried not to notice Mr Chaplin sat timidly on the other armchair. I'm still going to call him Mr Chaplin.
7 Dear Diary, I haven't been to work for a week now. I think I'm clinically depressed, although I've always wondered what was so clinical about depression. Perhaps it is better to say one is messily depressed, or depressively depressed. When I was eight years old, I had a strange experience. I was quite a bright boy. I was overly excitable, overly imaginative, you know, like I'd be in awe of the cupboard under the stairs or by the eerie swing of an old garden gate. My parents were reserved, quiet people. They couldn't shout at me or discipline me in any effective way. They couldn't even argue together. My parents allowed me to be wild. I was growing wild in an immaculate, lifeless family home. My imagination ran riot. But I had no real friends. My brother also avoided me. One day I was sitting on the front lawn, wearing tight red shorts and a black and white stripy shirt. I think I was pushing some toy cars through some dry, caked mud. It was summer you see. Quite unexpectedly, a man cast a shadow across the lawn. Squinting upwards I saw the man smile down at me. At first I didn't even twitch. I might have said 'Hi'. Then, the man bent down and laid a yoyo in the grass. It was a gift. It glinted in the light. I was so excited, until I saw the man's face. I let out a scream and ran back inside the house. The man was me. He was me, but older and more frightening. I can't express how that one glance sent the garden gate thrashing, the doors of the house creaking and the grass rolling over on top of me. Seeing yourself is probably the most frightening thing ever. Seeing a ghost is fine in comparison to seeing your older self. I'm 27 and in a rut. I could have done or started something great with my life. How many people end up saying that? I have a degree, a good degree. I worked hard at university, sometimes way into the night. I wasn't a typical student. I didn't feel the need to binge drink, or go clubbing to pull, or to join societies or clubs, even the arts society. Everyone has a degree now. It no longer means anything. I always imagine a time when degrees would have been noble and such an achievement. It would have been the norm to graduate with a new manly beard grown, to hold some silver tankard in your hand and raise it to the Commonwealth and all that is glorious with Great Britain, and James Joyce. Now,
though, it's simply a case of raising a glass and downing it for no good reason other than to get completely wasted, and wonder who really cares about James Joyce. Today, I watched the news. It becomes hypnotic the 24-hour news. It goes round and round, like a yo-yo I guess. Gradually new stories unwind or break out until they disappear for another day. But, it also numbs you. You begin to lose a bit of faith in the world. In ratio to the number of deaths or murders we hear about, what is the amount for all the lives saved, or heroic acts that must surely be going on all over the world? You just lose faith. Mr Chaplin seems immune to the news. He watches it, fairly bemused, almost cheery. Right now he's leafing through some old albums I have, that I keep in the sentimental cabinet, in the corner. Only now do I realize why he was so interested in the photo before of my family. If he really is my great, great grandfather or whatever, I'm sure he's enjoying looking into the future. I'm certainly not enjoying looking into the past. Why is he still here? I know I’m not supposed to write about such absurd things, but Mr Chaplin really is here. He’s in my diary. The factual diary. Anyway, I better factually recount other things I did today to please my counsellor. I made marmite on toast for breakfast, didn't shower, took a dump, watched the news, watched some people wander down the street, had a beer, searched for that yo-yo and found it in a box under my bed. After all these years I still have that yo-yo. 8 Dear Diary, I don’t believe that time is linear. I think time is more like a doughnut. I mean after going to 1897, and all that, all I can deduce, my dear Watson, is that time is a ring around an individual. We may think that time moves along a straight road, with some potholes here and there, but actually time wraps us and we are the centre and we can dip in and out of time as we please. Open a door and oh there’s 1897. Think about childhood and, oh, we feel like a child again! Yes. Time is a doughnut, except the doughnut sometimes unravels like a yoyo and time is sent off in another direction before springing back to hit you in the
face. I noticed a piece of paper sellotaped in the inner ring of my yo-yo. There is ink writing on the paper although it has been worn away over the years. It faintly reads: ‘Do now and do for eternity.’ Nice. I never knew I had such an aptitude for philosophy as a child. Actually, Mr Chaplin has just butted in and taken the yo-yo off me. He is presently ripping off the paper and writing a new one. He can be quite stern. He’s writing with my black ink pen and the writing is exactly the same as before just fresher. It reads: ‘Do now and do for eternity.’ Where’s the sellotape? Here you daft old bugger. He’s such a clumsy old man. I’ll do it. Anyway, I feel okay today. I’ve relaxed with Mr Chaplin. I’m no longer afraid by his presence and I am disobeying the orders of my counsellor. I am not schizophrenic. I am not mad. And these things are happening to me. In fact, loneliness is fine. Solitude is now my excuse to think and to be allowed to daydream and imagine, although I’m not left with much to imagine. I keep thinking about 1897. Images are still being reeled through my mind. In fact I seem to be developing the same photographs again and again in my head. One image I see is of the high street. In my mind it’s more a panoramic collage of things I can remember. Memory can be such a fickle thing. Memory is like a tram that moves and squeaks along rails: Trams like double Decker buses that have old advertising signs printed on the sides. ‘Inglis Bread’ or ‘G.Berger and Son’. That old art nouveau typeface, like the design of marmite packaging. The trams move so slow it’s a wonder why they are being used at all. People, all dressed in black tailored suits, hop on and off. In top hats. Proletariat lot. Rougher woollen coats. Short trousers with grubby caps on their dirty faces. They smell rotten and speak rough.
There are horse-drawn carriages. Some with advertisements on their roofs as well. Some pulling other trams.
There are old-fashioned shops in the arcades. (I say ‘old fashioned’ but that’s the only way to describe them. Imagine an old pub or an old building where its new name has been torn down and you see the old wooden sign or paint job underneath in that Tetley’s/ Guinness style, or imagine a can of Golden Syrup in that gorgeous green with the fancy gold writing, and most shops with blinds and overhangs have that feel. Today shops are all neon or the most electric shade of colour. Back then the colours of signs were so rich and earthy it made you feel luxurious.) In fact the high street and its shopping arcades felt like luxury old biscuit tins waiting to be opened with that faint ring of metal. Lining the streets were ornamental style street lamps. Some were still street candle holders, though some were new electric ones. There was a slight crackle in the air, a buzz of new electricity as if science were opening the streets up, civilising everything. The lower classes seemed to run around at a pace, at the pulses of steam, whereas the gentlemen and the ladies in their fine dresses with their equally ornate umbrellas and hats simply swanned the streets, as a civilised current of new life and elegance. Baudelaire eat your heart out (and package it in a nice tin)! The painter of modern life! It was. It sounded like a city, although the sounds were different: There were the continuous beats and clanks of hooves. The squeak of wheels. Wheels on rails. People seemed to shout more. Some accents were so incomprehensible it felt foreign. (I suppose without phones people tended to call out for each other.) Working classes were ‘heading to the mills’. ‘Looking for the misses!’ ‘Heading for pub!’ ‘Going back to factory!’ And so forth. Over the top of some of the arcades I could see the red brick of the factories with steel-framed windows and the large chimney stacks spurting over
smoke which hung over the city like an illness. I was an alien. I felt like I was walking through a dream, or through a film set, although it wasn’t a film. Memory is fragmented, like time, like a penny farthing bicycle rolling on a cobbled street. I suppose history is made of those details, surprising details, which are often overlooked by the big events. I couldn’t help but think that all these people (who were also a surprisingly short generation) wandering the streets, catching the trams, riding the carriages, browsing in the tailors and tea-shops were all now dead. Their gravestones were probably lost, rubbed away in an old cemetery up the road, covered in thicket and ivory. A small kid had walked past me in the high street as a tram clattered past. He wore a grey school blazer and a public schoolboy cap. He turned and looked at me with squinting eyes, like he was in a pre-teen mood. He coughed, several times, and I wondered if he would have a gravestone that read something like ‘Jimmy Jones. Died 1899. Tuberculosis.’ I suddenly felt the weight of history and my own insignificant, shoddy little life. Mr Chaplin, or my great, great grandfather Jonathan Wilson, just smiled. Death. It’s funny I guess. It’s all that is left for us, for our stupid lives: Work at the factory then die of a horrible disease. Drink your tea then die chewing the butter biscuit. Mr Chaplin, though, just smiled as if he knew what I was thinking. Really he did. He scanned my face with an expression of such joy. He took me out of the city centre and showed me a new red bricked building. I noticed it straight away. It is where I work in 2008, the call centre. The bricks were redder and the roof was different and there was no double-glazing, but this was the same place. “This is where I work John,” he said to me, tapping his cane at the wall. “I’m an office clerk.” All I could think of was that when I was a kid I had been given a yo-yo and that somewhere in my flat I still had it, which I do. Time is yo-yo. In present time, today, 2008, I watched the news, again, cooked a pizza, drank some tea, had an orange, watched the cars out of the window and wrote
this entry. I wonder what time, in history, I’m being released and swung to next. 9 Dear Diary, My father died two years ago. I don’t think I have ever just come out and said that to myself. I tell people I know that ‘my father died a couple of years ago’ but I have never been able to say to myself that ‘Dad is dead.’ Mr Chaplin looked at photos of my father, here in my flat. I suppose he’s looking at his great, great, great grandson. Mr Chaplin has just told me he plans to take me out of the flat again. He wants to take me somewhere that will make me ‘think’, or ‘Think’, about legacy and death and all that. I miss my Dad. I don’t know why I have just decided to think about it now. Sometimes I think we are so propelled to carry on our everyday, mundane existences that any significant emotion is screwed up into a ball and left to rot in our insides. I know that sounds awful, but that’s how I feel. Or, perhaps, it is best to assert that we neglect our emotions. We don’t spend enough time on just allowing ourselves to seek out those emotional bundles and opening them up and let them unwind, uncoil. We are all so obsessed about the linear nature of time, that road that will continue regardless of who falls, that we neglect the emotions that work outside of time. The recycling of the news continues. An awful article about a kidnapping or a murder is quickly forgotten by the next day’s news item. I suppose I do that. My father died of a heart attack. It was sudden and a complete shock. I wasn’t even at home. I had just received a phone call and had gone to the funeral. That was it. I coped by getting on with life. I do miss him. I’m watching the news now. There’s a story about the Olympics in Beijing and preventing terrorist activities at the games. Terrorism is an epidemic which is spreading beyond reason. It's awful, yes, but if everyone lives in fear then terrorism will be a psychosis and not just an event. We'll be living in fear even for the words that come out of our mouths, as if our words are bullets. There was that old backbencher, at a party conference a couple of years ago, who was sectioned under the Terrorism Act for shouting out 'bollocks!' or 'crap! or
something at the speaker. I think that's hilarious. If only politics were openly like pantomime we might actually get somewhere. I'm sure George Orwell is rolling in his grave wondering if politicians ever actually read. Terrorism is a madness I guess. Mr Chaplin showed me his gravestone in a nearby cemetery today, 2008. It was jolted in the ground at an angle and you can hardly read the writing. Mr Chaplin just twisted his lip and shrugged his shoulders. He's currently sat on the sofa as usual. He's got one finger lodged in a marmite pot. It's like he's entranced by the news. Everything is important and he knows so much of contemporary history. When an image of the twin towers comes on the screen, or a crackle of gunfire or archive videos of war, Mr Chaplin shudders. Oddly, he will then turn and smile at me. At one point he said: 'When you die, if you could go back, what one thing would you change?' I just laughed. In 1897 he took me to the same cemetery. It was newer, less overgrown and the graves were respected. He led me around the church where we met an older woman: She had a wrinkling face that grew thicker lines when she smiled. Her teeth were orangey yellow. Above bulges of skin were her beautiful blue eyes. She was tending to the gravestones, laying flowers and pulling out
weeds. Her name was Mary Alexander. Mr Chaplin whispered to me that she would eventually tend to his own grave. With every care and attention she preserved the memory of all those lying five foot under the ground. Mr Chaplin stood and admired her in the afternoon sunshine. I just found it quite unsettling that Mr Chaplin was besotted by an old woman who dusted off his gravestone. Why was he even showing me this? Was it to freak me out? I've never known of a ghost who has to convince you of his own non-existence by showing off his resting place. Even showing me Mary Alexander seemed absurd. I guess I'm mad. I know I keep asserting it, but I must be. Either that or I'm missing the point of this demonstration. Maybe next I'll be shown Orwell's gravestone and the incessant kicking and rolling about you can hear underneath. Death is just one big pantomime. I think it's best to deal with life, and then accept the unruly consumption by maggots. I'll be sinking to hell at any rate because of all those sins I've committed. I've never been to my Dad's grave though. Perhaps there is something wrong with me. Anyway, good night. I better get some sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing my counsellor tomorrow but Mr Chaplin is demanding to take me somewhere again. He’s being stern, but I’m beginning to wonder about him. If I am not mad, then why is he still here? He doesn’t talk much and I’m concerned about one thing: there’s darkness growing in his eyes. 10 I haven’t written in a week. Chaplin took me to the Great War. Body is aching and shooting with pain. I can barely open up my fingers to type. My back is a twist of knots. Can’t hear too well. Really can’t begin to express my agony. I washed today. Had a bath. The bath seeped with dirt, mud and blood. Watched the blood swirl and trickle down the plug. Slept for two days. I am hoping to recover and write tomorrow.
11 I went to the Great War, the First World War. I met my great, great grandfather William. He was serving in a regiment at the front line at Messines Ridge, France, 1917. Jonathan, Mr Chaplin, told me he was a remarkable son. I stayed with him and his regiment. I'm not sure for how long. The soldiers looked at me with indifference. There was not much food to eat or fresh water to drink. I craved cigarettes and so did Willie. The communication trench, like the others, was full of water, mud and rats. We hoped someone back home would have the sense to send a parcel of food. Mr Wilson, Willieâ€™s father, didnâ€™t seem to understand life in the trenches. Willie sent him letters as much as he could, hoping for a package of good foods, but none arrived. We had to put up with bully, biscuits and plum and apple jam. The tea was always black and may as well have been filtered through mud. Everything was coated in mud, among other things. There was an awful stench. The mud clogged up the rifles and your feet froze inside your boots as you clambered through watery mud. Most of the time I felt
very much as if I were in a daze. One soldier, Arthurs, walked so wearily around. His face was so pale. It was my belief that his hair whitened over those days. I cannot understand how those men coped. I was there for only a short time, I think. There were several men I found myself getting very close to. Apart from Willie, I found great company in a man called Alfred Alexander. He was always joking, though sometimes his jokes were appalling. Everyone attempted to crack a good joke, even when dirt was blowing up around you. Alfred, though, was remarkable. On that first day Alfred and I were digging out a new trench by joining shell craters, with the rest of the company. It was raining and particularly bleak. You find yourself sinking knee deep in mud and there were many things we dug out that day. It was like digging down into a black-hole filled with mud. Even Alfred lost his usual sparkle. We had to have a break. Alfred cupped his hand over a fag and lit a cigarette. I remember his hands and face were covered black. He offered us a fag and we accepted. I don't know who didn't smoke out there. The tips of our cigarettes glowed orange in the grey of day. Through the mist I thought I saw Jonathan, my great, great grandfather, leaning on his cane, but he disappeared just as quickly as I saw him.
12 We were expected to mount an attack a couple of days after I arrived. It was common knowledge that tunnels were being dug underneath the trenches to reach the Bosch. Some men were sent to join the Australian Tunnelling Company. Mines were to be detonated as close to the German lines as possible. Some men, returning from underground, were said to be quite mad, suffering from severe shell-shock. There were instances that the Bosch had counter-attacked with their own mines. One night Willie and I were sent to the forward sap, the furthest forward post from our lines. We had to squeeze into a mud-hole surrounded by thick barbed-wire. It is quite an effort to wiggle yourself, flat on your stomach, into that position and observe the German front-lines. Willie and I were surprisingly
tranquil though. It was a clear night, remarkably quiet, and the moon shone brightly, lonely above us. I shall never forget looking out through the wire at the ridge and the enemy lines. There was a church spire on the horizon, looming fragile like a solitary figure. Willie whispered to me how I looked very similar to his father, Jonathan, especially the shape of my nose. He grinned at me, eyes white, in the moon-light. I said it was just a northern feature. Willie just smiled and rubbed away the dirt around his eyes. Willie had told me how he had grown up in the city with his father. When he was a boy, Jonathan returned every evening waving his cane and beaming with delight. He had wanted to become a footballer and kicked a real football around the streets with his mates. Jonathan, though, was always adamant that young Willie would grow up to be a businessman or an office clerk, like his father. Willie also loved writing stories and poems. I suppose there is much I share with Willie. He seemed to look out and dream. The moon reflected in his eyes and the barren world around him was lost to some far greater inner world. It was a long night, or it seemed that way. A couple of hours were like a whole night. Willie was numbed to everything. He had been there many months. His brother, Charles, had served for even longer, but heâ€™d been a casualty of a rather large bombardment and had been sent home, losing his hearing in one ear. I kept looking at Willie's face, his blank expression, as he blinked and stared out across no man's land. His breathing was calm but deep and I wondered what he was thinking, until his eyelids began drooping slowly like window blinds. It was so tiring at the front-line and sleep in the dug-outs was never enough or adequate. I had heard that some dug-outs in the British lines further away were fitted out with bunks, but I had to sleep in a narrow little burrow cut into the trench. It was covered with corrugated iron and the hole was big enough just to lie back in. I had a great-coat to cover me and while moonlight was veiled over, rain seeped through and there was always a small puddle of muddy water. The burrow was so small. Willie would use the candle-light to write home to his father or to write a story or a poem. He hoped to publish some of his trench stories when the war was over. At least it was a way of hiding from the reality. When we returned to our dug-outs that night Willie fell asleep almost
immediately. We had to be careful not to wake those that were sleeping against the walls of the trenches or indeed those that seemed to be walking asleep. In the candle-light of my dug-out I took out the photo of my family from Christmas that I kept in my flat. I must have looked at my brother Robert, Uncle Bill, Auntie Sue, Granddad Gordon, Grandma Lilly and Buffer the dog for hours, before I finally blew out the candle to sleep. I am still sleeping almost 14 hours every night back in my flat after all those days I spent away in the trenches. I am eating as much as I can, although my appetite has deserted me. If I am able to, I try my best to write what happened. I feel the days are now spent listening to silence. 13 I forget how many days it was before we advanced over Messines Ridge to capture the German front lines. Some of the days I have forgotten completely it seems. The Germans must have known something was to happen, as we suffered a torrent of gunfire, and shells burst over us. It rained shrapnel and dirt over the parapets. The noise was awful. There would be a wisp of a sound in the sky and it grew like a snake hissing louder from the clouds. At night you could see them, flaring up with bright red tips across the night sky. The explosions were almost too much to bear. Alfred Alexander joked in these situations. He would hunch close to us, Willie and I, against the parapet as dirt burst over our helmets. He grinned almost manically and appeared to be drunk. For some reason Alfred had an abundance of cigarettes and rum. He always offered a smoke or a drink though, and we always obliged. Alfred was born in the same city as us, like most in our battalion. His mother was a graves keeper, something Alfred found most amusing. He never had any real ambition, was never creative like Willie and I. He kept nodding at us, smiling, and tapped his chest to say that all he needed was 'inside there, lads.' I guess his abundance of heart was equal to the abundance of fags. It happened very early one morning. We had all been expecting it. We were told to lie flat for fear that the explosion would reach our lines and topple us all over. I lay on top of a stretch of wood and waited. The night had been silent, but
now we expected much more. Willie glanced at me from under his helmet. He held his bayonet and he gave me a wink. Alfred lay silent as the ground began to tremor. The earth shifted as the explosion underground went off. At first we heard nothing. Perhaps the explosion had been so loud that we heard nothing at all, save a strange silence. Then, as I looked, an enormous black cloud plumed high over the landscape. The sound of the explosion reached us like a wave, a wall of sound. Almost immediately we were called to go over the top. We were met with hardly any gunfire as I followed Willie and Alfred up and across. I held my helmet hard against my head and held out my Lewis gun as we clambered across and through barb-wire. In the distance and through the smoke, I saw the church crooked against the sky-line. All around me were soldiers, tired, running and tripping. Stretcher-bearers waddled through, yelling out and watching everyman run towards the German lines, while thick black smoke rolled heavenward. Only now do I know the full extent of that explosion. It could be heard from London. Over 10,000 German soldiers were blown apart from the mines
underneath. I am haunted by their bodies and faces lying tangled in craters and holes. Some lay dead, physically unharmed, and curled up against the back walls. Some were as young as seventeen. Only now do I know that some died simply of severe shock. I fought the urge to look at them hundreds of them, lying mangled, blown a part in the German lines. Willie and Alfred vomited over their boots. I felt dizzy, as if the Earth had opened up and sucked everything into a black-hole of hell. If there is one wish I have tonight, it is that I can rest without the images of those German soldiers scorched upwards and onto my mind. 14 I couldn't get out of bed today. I lay and listened to the cars outside. When I did get up I ran another bath and gently sponged my skin with warm, soapy water. I lay my head back between the taps and heard the drips splash beside me. Drip. Drip. Drip. It reminded me of the rain dripping through my dug-out the night after Alfred's death. Alfred Alexander died a day or two later after the mine explosion. With courage and kindness he had saved Willie from a similar fate. Alfred had been sent a large parcel from his mother Mary. He had been given a few cases full of cigarettes. On the day of the Messines explosion Alfred had given Willie a case. Willie put it in his inner coat pocket. It was Alfred's assertion that he would probably not make opening the third case before being shot and blown to pieces. Willie thanked Alfred. Alfred laughed and patted him on the back. After going over the top on that day, the English lines were hit by artillery further back. Alfred and Willie had been shovelling the bodies into piles at the end of the communication trenches. Alfred demanded that a prayer or a proper burial be undertaken. But before we could, our battalion were bombarded by heavy fire. I'm not entirely sure what happened next, but the loud boom of mortar exploded around us. The piles of bodies and body parts flew up and down around us. I'm not sure what. The next thing I knew was that through a haze of exploding mud, limbs and
shrapnel, Alfred had pushed Willie aside as a mortar bomb blew up right by them. Gunfire shot past and Alfred disappeared. Willie flew up like a phantom and landed over the parados and onto a pile of sandbags. The rest of the battalion were launched into the air or shot down by bullets. I think I found myself lodged into a crater in the wall. My back was hurting and my leg was twisted amid a pile of bodies. I don't remember everything after that, until a stretcher-bearer appeared hours later. At first he didn't notice me. My face was pale and I was surrounded. I couldn't speak, I trembled. The stretcher-bearer pulled Willie off the parados and onto a stretcher. The blast had knocked him out and he had been shot in the chest. Alfred was nowhere to be seen. Willie had been saved by Alfred's push and by the metal cigarette case Willie had put inside his coat. The bullet had smashed the case inwards. I watched Willie being carried back to the English front lines. The mist came over me then. I lost account of everything. I trembled like a child. The next thing I knew I woke up here, back in my flat, in my bed in 2008. I was having a fever and Jonathan, Mr Chaplin, my great, great grandfather and father to Willie, was dabbing my forehead. Today I lay in the bath for far too long. Words can't express all my thoughts. Mr Chaplin knelt down and looked at me as my head rested between the taps. He smiled warmly, and then with the gentleness of a giant he lifted me from the water and into a towel. He wrapped me up and hugged me, his head resting on the back of mine. 15 Today I got up early and had a good breakfast, marmite included. I switched on the television to watch the news. There was another story about a recent knifing; a teenager had been stabbed outside a nightclub. Mr Chaplin sensed I was troubled, so he flicked over the channel to Teletubbies. We were sitting next to each other on the Ikea sofa and I have never seen Mr Chaplin, Jonathan, so amazed by anything. I mean a 19th century office clerk is going to find colourful alien-bears quite a surreal sight. Maybe he had read Alice in Wonderland, but even that would seem normal compared to the huge baby in the sky. I laughed at
him, but he didn't quite understand. I feel like I have not been myself lately and need to get back somehow. I'm thinking I might go to town, go to a coffee shop or just walk amongst the crowds. I've been in the flat for days and days. Time has passed. It feels like months. I have an urge to go on a date. I haven't had the company of a woman in so long. The thought of having a woman close to me is euphoric. I have been so lonely recently, trapped inside and writing. If I go to a coffee shop I'm sure there is a good chance I can chat with a woman on a sofa opposite. Even the barista perhaps. God, if only. Maybe I could go and see counsellor. She is nice. I'm thinking of buying a frame for that photo of my family. It's a bit worn now, but if I get a copy I think it would look nice by my computer. Perhaps I'll get a dog like Buffer. I'm sure the walks would do me good, although my leg and back have been hurting for the last week. Uncle Bill owns Buffer. He's always saying he feeds the dog far too much, but I guess the dog should be happy. Auntie Sue is always telling Bill off for all the treats he gives Buffer. It would be nice to have a dog, a big dog, a lively dog. Cats are good creatures I suppose. They're more independent, a bit stroppier too. I had a cat when I was a boy. His name was Tom. Not very original I know. I used to love Tom and Jerry. That would be fun to watch. Maybe I'll buy that on DVD. I need to shop too. I've run out of food and the marmite is low. Maybe I'll go and do a food shop in town, after getting that coffee. It would be good to chat to a girl. I'll get a leather frame for the photo. That would be nice. A dark brown leather one. Leather is nice. It'll match my sofa. Buffer's such a nice dog. He's got such a dumb expression in this photo. Auntie Sue looks like she's going to whack him clean on the nose. Funny that. Bill is a funny man. Bald and shiny. Granddad Gordon looks a lot like my Dad. Grandma Lilly is lovely for her age. A real spark she is. And Robert. I wish I had better contact with him. Maybe I'll ring him. Yes. After the coffee, with that girl.
16 I know things must seem confusing now. My memory is messed up. The last couple of weeks have been a blur. Jonathan, Chaplin, comforted me yesterday. He has never talked to me for so long and I never realized how reassuring his words were and his tone of voice. He told me that I must know that there is a reason for everything, for why he took me back in time. He laid his hand on my shoulder and looked at me intently. His eyes were like Willieâ€™s. I told him about Alfred Alexander and how his mother was Mary Alexander, the old lady we had met tending to the gravestones. Jonathan nodded. I told him how I had seen Alfred save Willieâ€™s life. It was difficult for me to express how I felt, but Jonathan didn't make me feel uncomfortable and instead told me what he thought. He told me that the Alexanders were important. After the Great War two of John's sons had died. Only Willie had survived. It was Alfred Alexander's significant push and his cigarette case that had saved Willie's life. Willie had returned to England and spent a couple of months in hospital. The blast had been big enough to break his ribs and both his legs. Although the case had saved him, shards of the metal had ruptured and embedded inside his chest. The doctors were amazed that the shards formed a ring of scarring around his heart. If Willie had been shot directly there was no doubt that he would have been killed. It took Willie many months to recover. The doctors had diagnosed him with severe shell shock, something medical experts began to recognize as the war came to a close. Willie also suffered from minor amnesia. Details of the war were lost to him, although Jonathan, his father, now realizes that perhaps Willie was just avoiding the truth of his experiences, like so many others did. Willie was alive, though. I suppose history is made up of those moments. Moments when the whole survival and lineage of a family is decided upon a small, split second moment, in a foreign field in a muddy trench. I'm unable to express how I feel. Jonathan took me over to the sentimental cabinet in the corner. He opened up a door and pulled out a small chest that lay dusty and forgotten at the bottom. The chest was dark, reddy brown and looked ancient.
"Do you know what this is?" he said. "Yes I do." "Tell me." "I was given it a couple of years ago, when Dad died." "What for?" "Well, Robert, my brother, he got one too. They're like family heirlooms or something." I had once looked, but dismissed the contents as a load of old junk. After all, I hadn't been to my Dad's gravestone. I wasn't going to look inside an old, dusty, musty smelling chest. Jonathan switched open the latch with the end of his cane. He grinned happily as dust burst up onto his pale face. With twitchy fingers he probed inside the chest, before pulling out a small but instantly recognizable object. It was the cigarette case that had saved Willie's life. It was slightly rusting, but parts of it were gleaming silver. On one edge you could just make out the blackened hinge. But, the whole thing had been crushed inwards and splintered outwards, as if a fist had smashed it. Jonathan dropped it into my palms. A sharp edge scraped the inside of my thumb. I could almost imagine the dented case burning in my hand from the heat of the bullet. At the centre of the case was a large jagged hole. This simple little case had saved Willie's life. "Thanks," I said. Jonathan nodded and stood up proudly. He went over to the window and put his hands on his hips. With
strange fascination he watched the cars roll by and the traffic lights beep and the clouds darken over tower blocks. I turned and looked at the chest. I felt the cigarette case lying in my hands and thought of Alfred's black, muddy hands fumbling over it and Willie slipping it inside his great coat pocket. Alfred had touched his heart and said all that he needed was 'inside there, lads.' Alfred had been blown apart that day at Messines Ridge. His mother had no-one to bury, no-one to tend to and she never knew of Alfred's heroics. Jonathan took me back to the church where Mary worked, this time in 1917. We saw her wobbling in pain down the church path to the street outside. It was a beautiful summer's day and the grass by the side of the church was filled with daisies. Mary was very old and her wrinkles and bulges were sagging in sorrow. She passed the building where Jonathan worked as an office clerk, and where I now work, and entered a small road of red- bricked terraced houses. Struggling up the road with her walking stick she came to a small house, 'No.9.' She raised her hand to the door and knocked. The door swung open instantly. A young lady with short brown hair and a mousy face stood at the doorway. She beamed down at Mary and kissed her cheek. In her arms was a baby, a month old baby boy wrapped in a blanket. The boy was Alfred's. I looked at Jonathan
in amazement. Alfred had never known that his wife, Helen, had been pregnant with his child. Jonathan nodded at me as we watched Mary step inside the house, smiling at her grandson. “Hello little James,” she said. “Oh, have you grown?” I have that metal cigarette case by my computer now. It means so much. I never would have imagined that such an object could mean so much. Something has changed in me recently. Jonathan is sat behind me now watching television. He's laughing at Tom and Jerry. I wonder what he would think of Charlie Chaplin. I feel so relaxed in his company. He's my great, great grandfather after all. I should feel some connection. I'm thinking now of the night I spent with Willie at that forward post, watching the German lines. I still can't really remember what happened or what we said that night, but what sticks in my mind are Willie's eyes, cradling the moon and imagining the future, and how he breathed so deeply and calmly even though he was facing the enemy 100 yards away. Time is yo-yo. The past should not be forgotten. It lives on. Right now I'm the product of all that has happened years and centuries before. My DNA, my whole being, has been rolled up, strung together and coiled from the details that came before. I am scared though. I feel my concussion is returning. I fear that my life is unwinding. It is rolling out. 17 Jonathan is singing. He is doing the most obscure dance and singing. He's crazy. Today I've introduced him to some fun games. I own Monopoly but have never had anyone to play it with. Jonathan was the top-hat and I was the car. He is one shrewd businessman, a right bugger. He ended up owning half the board with hotels on most properties. I also owned an old version of Twister that I kept from my Uni years. He just stood on a red and a green blob and gave up, shaking his head. He thought it was quite absurd and very rude. I've been looking over my writing a lot today too. Jonathan told me I needed to do it and also to start printing off as much as I could. He hates the
sound of the printer. It is most alien to him. He looks at the paper being pushed out while his moustache flutters and his eyes bulge. He says it's like a whole printing press inside a little grey box! I've framed my family photo and put it on my desk. I tried to ring Robert but for some reason the phone isn't working. The last time I used the phone was when Jonathan, Mr Chaplin back then, rang me to ask me to 'think.' I don't think I have spoken to anyone for months, apart from my counsellor. I have done a lot of thinking and travelling in compensation. In actual fact, I haven't been to work for so long. Like I have said before, something has changed in me. I'm not depressed anymore; I just don't feel that burden. I believe depression is wound up inside the imagination. I think I have built up such a misery inside myself that it becomes a phantom, an imagining. There are better things, more important things, to think about. 'Think.' I've been thinking about my family instead and my family tree. I guess that it's important to look after your family tree in all senses of the word. You have to care for the family of the past as much as now. It's like watering the family tree so that its roots don't die. I went to the local Memorial for the First World War and tried to find family names. Willie's brothers, Harold and Charles Wilson were there. Alfred Alexander was missing.
I went to my counsellor on the way back. She gave me a ten minute chat, which was not really enough to tell her how positive I was feeling. She smiles a lot. I do still feel attracted to her. I find her soothing. There is a wisdom there that reminds me of Jonathan or someone. She nodded at all my comments and told me to carry on writing if it had helped. I told her my writing was no longer in diary form, but it didn't need to be. I feel like I don't need to see her again, although I want to. After leaving her office I bumped into that guy who stinks of beer and cigarettes. He seems just to stare at my counsellor as I leave. There is something wrong with him. He gives me the shivers. Jonathan has stopped singing and dancing now. He reminds me of a penguin trying to dance in a suit. He wants me to stop writing and listen to what he has to say. He's so bossy sometimes. Oh God. He's just said: 'I'm sorry, John, but you are going to die.' 18 Whenever my great, great grandfather takes me back in time I get the same strange feeling: At first I feel an utter dread, as if I am about to fall into an unimaginable black-hole. And then I feel the weight of time. Time has a weight. The past is heavy. The heaviness is like the concussion I felt when I knocked my head on that first day of writing. My vision is blurry, misty and then I have a sensation that my body is disappearing, fading. All of me is being unwound and sent out. Sent back and then time has no meaning, no weight. When I return back to my flat I feel light again. I have recoiled and found my place. What this means, I do not know. I watched the news before we left again. There has been a cyclone in Burma and an earthquake in China. Nearly 100,000 have died in Burma and yet
the government do not want any foreign aid sent. I can't even imagine how the individuals in that government can allow all those people to suffer and die because they are sticking to some policy which avoids connecting with the rest of the world. It's awful. The relief effort in China is different, because they are prepared. The attitude towards government in both countries is radically different. It takes an effort, courage, a change of mind in one leader to affect thousands of lives. I know what I think. Perhaps courage is something we need to remember. Even on a day to day basis, having the courage to face your own problems is so important. Courage keeps people afloat. There was another piece of news today about a stabbing in the city. It seems there are more and more knife attacks these days. Is it that people need to prove themselves by using a knife? It makes me sick now, especially after today. Jonathan took me back in time again. We went back to the early 1930s. The city was busier, for a start. Everything was more fashionable and everyone was indulging in the look of sophistication. Jonathan said it was a compensation for the effects of the Great War. Life was too short, so better indulge quickly. I can understand that. He took me to the â€˜Majestic Theatre.â€™ It looks like a miniature Roman coliseum or a dome to gaze at the stars. Perhaps thatâ€™s true. Inside there was a large audience watching the latest moving picture to grace the city screen: The movie was silent there was a small orchestra by the curtains to compensate the action. The audience were impressively dressed. Women sauntered in with graceful hats, skinny dresses, elegant gloves and high heels. There was an over powering smell of sweet perfume. The men treated the women like stars, guiding them to their seats. The women giggled and the men kissed them on their rosy cheeks. Jonathan and I stood to the side, as the lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up. From the back of the theatre the projector light shone brightly and rattled with that familiar sound of film going through cogs. The audience became
a mass of dark bodies, and I shuddered thinking of something else. On the screen a frame of beautifully italicized writing flickered up. ‘City Lights.’
To my surprise Charlie Chaplin wobbled into view, looking perplexed and comical. The audience clapped. He was cinema’s first big star; the first illusionary character to come so vividly to life on screen. I suddenly thought of cavemen painting spirits on the walls of their dark caves. Jonathan tapped my shoulder and whispered; ‘Did you really think I looked like him?’ Chaplin on screen was a tramp. I laughed, ‘Sorry, yes. I know differently now. For one thing you are stood next to me and he’s up on screen.’
Chaplin tripped over a bucket and the audience laughed. There was a groan to my right. Sat on the aisle seat was Willie, Jonathan’s son. I felt my heart beat faster. He looked so much older now. His face was worn and tired and was resting on his hand. As the light flickered on his face I saw dark bags and his eyes had sunken into their sockets. He hadn’t shaven. He looked like me when I had looked into the mirror after falling into the road. Next to him was a beautiful young woman, bright eyed and smiling. Her lips were red, her face dappled with make-up and her hair coiled under her drooping hat. With her fingers dipping elegantly she held a cigarette in a sheath and now and again she sucked and blew from it. She was sat straight in her chair and had her hand on Willie’s. Willie pulled his hand away and looked at the floor. I turned to Jonathan. Jonathan had such sorrow in his eyes as he looked at his son. Jonathan had died just after the war and Willie had never been able to see his father. Willie was different now. Gone was the look of a dreamer, his dreams had sunk and died. As the movie came to an end, and the audience left, Willie remained in his seat, in a trance. “What’s the matter, Darling?” the young woman asked. Willie looked away. “Come on,” she said. “We better get home to the children.” “No,” Willie muttered. He got up and ignored her. He strode across the back of the theatre to the
exit. She called out, and holding her dress, wobbled after him. We followed. Outside it was raining. Water rolled around the wheels of buses and women held onto their hands as a wind blew. Willie thumped the entrance of the Majestic and left quickly, leaving his woman trailing behind. In a rage he stormed up a side alley cluttered with dustbins. He kicked at one and it clattered to the ground. “What’s the matter with him?” I asked, but I knew. Willie reached the end of the alley and slumped against a wall. His woman had lost sight of him. His face was set, as if pushing back tears. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out something. He rested it between his legs as rain formed a puddle. It was the old metal cigarette case, punctured by the bullet. Gazing at it he let out a deep sigh. We watched him helplessly. Jonathan wished he could comfort his son. Jonathan had never been able to understand the war and had never been there for Willie. There was a moment when their eyes exchanged, father and son, but time and death was their distance. I thought of my Dad. Willie got up and put the cigarette case away. What happened next was a strange coincidence. Willie trundled aimlessly across the city. In the distance thunder roared and lightning flashed. I thought of the cinema again; the loud orchestra crashes and the flickering of the projector screen. Willie saw and heard only war. As Willie came to an open street he came face to face with a tramp, holding a blanket and drenched from the rain. He held out his hand and looked at Willie sadly. There had apparently been more homeless recently, especially after the strikes and the Great Depression that had hit America. Stopping in his tracks Willie frowned. His deep set eyes were full of anger and nothing else. With little thought Willie stepped forward and thrust his knee into the tramp’s belly. The tramp reeled backwards, dropping the blanket and looking mortified. Enjoying the feeling Willie raised a fist and drove it down like a hammer on the tramp’s skull. With an awkward side step, the tramp fell to the ground. As rain lashed and lightning crackled Willie kicked the tramp’s stomach
repeatedly. Once blood oozed from the tramp’s mouth, Willie turned and walked away. I was stunned. I still am. I feel my concussion returning, as if time is pushing upon my temples. 19 I went to my counsellor again today. I don’t see it as a bad thing. On the way out I bumped into that terrifying man again. Is he a stalker? “What is happening to me?” I asked Jonathan when I got back. “Why am I going to die? Why am I witnessing things in my family’s history? What the hell is going on?” “You will find out,” he replied, simply. “Why is my concussion returning? Why have I seen my great grandfather kick someone to death?” “Calm down. You will find out.” “Why, when?” “Soon you’ll be faced with something. Soon you’ll have to make the choice to act or not to act. It’s important.” I sat back on the sofa and shook my head. Reality had struck back and I felt again the absurdity of everything. I understood what had happened, but why I was involved was suddenly beyond me. “This is crap.” “What’s crap?” “This.” Jonathan stood up, leaning on his cane. He turned the television off and stood looking at me, seriously. Since I had first met him, colour had been returning to Jonathan’s face. An orangey pigment was washed over his palette of deathly white and grey. It was like the doll, the ghost in front of me was returning to life, while inside me I felt a darkness, a heaviness beginning to weigh down. Jonathan tilted his head as he examined my mood. He offered a hand and pulled me up. “If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?” he asked.
He had asked me this before. “I don’t know.” “I do.” He led me out of the flat and out into the city. The city span like a blur, as if the world was reversing like hands on a clock. We ended up at a pub. I recognised it. It was ‘The Brewer’s Arms.” My family had been here often. We went inside. I froze. Jonathan vanished from my side and in front of me was my family. Robert was there, Uncle Bill, Auntie Sue, Granddad Gordon, Grandma Lilly and Buffer the dog. They were all there, and so were Mum and Dad. This was two years ago. I thought I had never been to this family event. I had been to the Christmas event before, when the photo had been taken, but I had not been here. Then, it dawned on me. This was just before Dad was going to die. Why had I made an excuse not to go? Dad was at the bar, crouched under the low timber beams, resting his elbows on the beer cloths and holding a tenner in his hands. He was quite a large man, solidly built. He had a great presence and a power in the way he spoke. As I entered the pub, he was the first to see me. With open arms he turned to embrace me. “I thought you weren’t coming!” he exclaimed, smiling brightly. The family turned and looked so pleased. I hugged my Dad and felt the warmth of his body. He grabbed my shoulders and looked down beaming. He was a tall man too. This was my Dad. It was like feeling lost and then returning home, returning safely home. This was my family. I was relieved to be with them. They had no idea that I was from the future. From the future! I had to hold back laughter, I still am. Dad looked over the rim of his pint glass, before clinking it with mine. His lips became coated with the foam of his ale. His eyes were deep, dark and full of love. I shook off the feeling that it reminded me of Willie. “I thought you had to go out with some work mates?” he questioned, frowning slightly. That had been my excuse. Dad had always seemed suspicious about my goings on. I think he held back a bit of disappointment in me. Robert was a
policeman, a flying policeman Dad had said. I was just temping and wasting away. I hugged all my family. I never usually hugged them like that, but now I felt the need: I hugged my Mum. Uncle Bill gave me a firm handshake. Auntie Sue kissed my cheek. Grandma Lilly was hunched in the corner of the pub. I bent down and kissed her soft, old cheek. She gave me a big, cute grin. Buffer the dog was by her feet. He’s a boxer dog with the soppiest eyes you have ever seen and the longest, druelling tongue. I gave the dog a pat on the head. Next to Grandma was Granddad Gordon. He looked asleep, in a state of peace, but one eye half opened and he gave me a sly smile. Gordon had gone a bit senile, but I had forgotten how charming he had remained. “Am I shrinking or are you still growing?” he remarked, before shuffling in his seat. Granddad was quite small compared to Dad. He had lost most of his hair on top and his sides were bulging with white tuffs. His face was heavily lined and he had a white trimmed moustache, which reminded me of Jonathan. His walking stick was by his side. We all sat around for the roast lunch. Everyone was speaking and laughing through mouthfuls of beef and Yorkshire pudding. I kept looking over at Dad as he drank another pint and winked at me. But, it was Granddad who spoke the most. “During the war, when I was a lad,” he began and everyone groaned. But I asked him to go on, which everyone found surprising. Granddad recalled something that had happened in the blitz. “We had moved to London, you see. My father, well, he needed the change.” I thought of Willie, Granddad’s Dad. Granddad continued. They had moved to London. Willie, his wife Caroline and the three children, Gordon being the youngest, had all uprooted from the North and had gone to London. Then, the Second World War had broken out. I guess it was pretty unfortunate. Against Willie’s orders, Sam the oldest had gone to fight. Sandra joined a munitions factory and hung out with the Yanks, but Gordon was too young for anything. He said it had been an unexpected
pregnancy and laughed. Everyone in the family began to mutter to themselves, ignoring Granddad. I listened still. I had never heard this story, or paid much attention. Now, I did. Willie served as an ARP Warden. He was too old to go to war, but I expected that he wanted to avoid it. He had told Sam not to fight, after all. But, Sam had gone and had been killed in North Africa. Granddad said he had never really known his older brother. Willie became depressed and decided not to send Granddad to the country, as an evacuee. So he kept Gordon in London. “The Blitz was frightfully exciting,” Granddad joked at the pub table. His eyes showed that far off look, as if he could still see V2 bombers over the murky skies of London. “I got up to lots of mischief,” he said to me. “Except once. Once something terrible nearly happened.” “What?” I asked, intrigued. It was one of those moments. I knew there was an importance to what Granddad was saying. One night there had been a raid. A heavy one. The sirens were wailing and the houses were all blacked out and everyone nestled into their corrugated iron air raid shelters in their gardens. Except Granddad Gordon. He stayed in the house, playing with toy soldiers in his room. He realized what was happening and got up, but it was too late. There was a horrendous explosion nearby, which shook the entire house. The windows rattled and one even smashed. Granddad was amused to think that was why he had got so deaf so early in his life. He leaned in as Grandma Lilly made a comment. She held his hand when he looked so perplexed. The stairs were covered in glass from the window and outside he heard his mother yelling. The air raid had taken everyone by surprise. And the house was on fire. “It was strange,” said Granddad. “Within moments of the explosion there was a roaring fire in the house.” He imagined the bomb had fallen nearby and the houses there had been too close for comfort. I remembered the mortar bombs of the First World War, how terrifyingly loud they were. Granddad was only nine years old and he was trapped in his own burning house.
“What did you do?” I wondered. “Nothing,” he said. Within minutes the ARP Wardens arrived with the vehicle ready to extinguish the flames. The wardens were in black and wore black helmets on their heads. They surveyed the scene. Granddad remembers vividly seeing Willie, his father, stood looking up in dismay at his burning house. Then, he saw Gordon at the window. It was his hell. Sam had died fighting, his brothers had died during the Great War and now his last remaining son was trapped inside their burning home.
His face glowed amber in the night. Above, the Luftwaffe and the bombers were black dragons in a cloudy night sky. “I will never forget the horror on his face,” Granddad said. I remembered the horror of the trenches and the blackened, dreadful look on Willie’s face at Messines Ridge.
“What happened?” The heat was becoming unbearable. There was no way out and Willie seemed to back away in terror. Caroline screamed up at her son. Why had Gordon remained in the house? Gordon began to cry at the window. “I don’t remember much of that point,” said Granddad. Although Granddad didn’t know, I knew exactly what Willie must have been feeling. Two world wars, killings and now the fires of hell about to take his son. The ARP Wardens looked up, thinking of what to do. The house was ablaze and no matter how much they tried to extinguish it, it was not going to do any good. They had to rescue Gordon. Willie stepped back. Granddad said he knew his father was not going to do anything. “So what happened?” I asked again. From below the house an ARP Warden, wearing a white collar, grabbed a fire blanket and wrapped it around his body. He took a look up at Gordon and charged into the blaze, through the front door. Granddad heard a crash through the roaring flames. The house was falling and breaking a part. He was helpless. Suddenly my Dad became interested as Granddad continued the story. There had been a few
moments when Granddad Gordon thought he was going to die, when suddenly from behind him the ARP Warden with the white collar pushed his way through the door frame into the bedroom, smoke pillowing behind him. The young man grabbed Gordon, wrapped him in the blanket and carried him out. The Warden dropped him outside on the street, choking and spluttering. Gordon had been saved. “The clearest thing I remember,” said Granddad, “was of that man bending over me, coughing and choking with his hand firmly on my side.” I felt the weight of history on me at this point. I almost knew what Granddad was going to say. Perhaps Willie had known. Perhaps he felt full of shame which had prevented him passing the remarkable knowledge on. Perhaps Willie felt haunted, or in awe. Jonathan is watching me type this now. He knows that it is important for me to write this, because history is made of remarkable things. Granddad said; ‘That Warden was a vicar. I knew that much. I asked him his name, as he had saved my life.” The Warden’s name was James Alexander. I know. The coincidence was startling. I recalled witnessing Mary Alexander going to see her grandson near her church and saying “Hello James. Have you grown?” I had so many questions, but to granddad and my Dad the revelation was nothing, it was an afterthought. Granddad had been young, and the name of his saviour had stayed with him, but there were lots of heroic acts in London and during the war. James Alexander, Alfred’s son. Had Willie known? I’ve just spoken to Jonathan as I write this. He’s drinking a Bacardi Breezer I had in my cupboard. Its funny watching a 19th century businessman drink an alcopop. I’ve just asked him these questions. He’s shrugged his shoulders. He can be such a twit sometimes, but now I really do understand him. The legacy of his family depended on that of another. The Alexanders. He’s nodding in agreement. I’ve just stolen the bottle off him and taken a slurp. It’s always tough when I get back to my flat, to present day, and write what
has happened. Jonathan is like my muse and will force me to write and print off the pages, even if I’m too tired or emotional. After that revelation I had to deal with something else; my Dad. He had quickly returned to his ale and roast dinner after the story was told. No doubt he had heard it many times, but had never realised the significance. Time I guess is a healer as well as a concealed. After dinner I went to speak with him. We went for a walk outside, by the river. It was a beautiful day. He told me he was glad I came. I told him he needed to look after himself. He looked surprised by this. I told him that he needed to look after his heart. “I’m fine,” he said. Then he surprised me. He took me to one side. Robert, my brother, looked intrigued but stayed away. “I know a secret,” Dad whispered. “What?” He recalled the story I had told him that when I was a boy. A man who looked just like me but older had given me a yo-yo while I was playing on the front lawn of our old house. I nodded. Dad continued. He told me that he had seen it too, but had never wanted to say he had seen it because he hadn’t wanted to fire my imagination any further. Dad had seen it too! He told me that only recently, or since Christmas, he had begun to think that that man had really been an older version of me. Whispering lower, so that Mum couldn’t hear, he said that the older version of me looked exactly as I do now. He believed the story I had told all my life. He believed in it now. “So you think I give myself a yo-yo when I’m a kid?” I asked him. “Yes.” This was the last thing we spoke about. By the river Jonathan was sat on a bench wearing his top hat. He gestured I had to go and stood up, resting on his cane. Dad saw him too and laughed. The rest of the family walked past, oblivious. “I have to go Dad,” I said. “There’s a man there who looks like Charlie Chaplin. Must be fancy dress,”
Dad laughed. We hugged. I held him tightly a moment, looking over his shoulder at Jonathan. Then Dad said to me something like this. It’s hard to remember exactly what people say, especially after the revelations today. He looked into my eyes, as if he saw something troubling underneath them. I felt the warmth of his frame and smelt the ale as he breathed in and out deeply. He said; “Son, I have never doubted you. Know that. I think there is something more to you. If you know what it is, then do your best. I’ve been afraid that after university you have become lost. Don’t. Don’t get down or lost. Make the most of your life. The future is in your hands. I’ll see you soon. Goodbye, son.” I said goodbye to the rest of the family and walked the opposite way. Jonathan walked behind me, as Dad watched us go. The future is in my hands, but I’ll never see Dad again. I think I’m actually going to have to go to bed now. 20 I thought about going to see my counsellor again today, but I didn’t. I’ve had the company of Jonathan for weeks now and although we’re close I need someone else. Is it okay to fancy your counsellor? She makes me feel right and every time I see her I feel some strange attraction. She’s tall, slender with long brown hair, curving under her chin. She has a strong will it seems, despite her mousy features. When I was a kid and a teenager Robert and I used to chase the same girls. He was much older than I, but it was a perpetual annoyance to him than I liked the same girls as him. I haven’t had a girlfriend in a while. I think for a couple of years I’ve lost the confidence. Robert isn’t married and I don’t think he’s in any particularly long term relationship. Dad would forever laugh at how Robert and I liked the same girls, although Robert always ended up with them. I went to my Dad’s grave earlier. I laid flowers and thought about him. I felt so much better for doing it, finally, but then I had to sit down on a bench. I had a massive headache and my vision was blurring. I thought about Robert too. I had tried to call him again, but my phone seems not to be working. Jonathan looks different at the moment. He looks less like a ghost and
more alive, although sometimes if I look out of the corner of my eye his face seems to be contorting. We watched the news again in our favourite positions on the sofa. There was a horrible knife attack in London and a teenager had been killed. There are so many knife attack stories in the press at the moment. I can’t work out if it’s because there is a greater awareness of these knifings or that people are just simply losing it and becoming violent. It is scary. It could be a madness that is escalating, like the attackers don’t know why they are wielding a knife but they are. Maybe it’s due to all those violent computer games. I used to play them, but I got bored. They’re trying to make the games more and more real, so that eventually the distinction between illusion and reality is so insignificant that reality suffers the same effects as the game. The thing is, though, is that I have no problem with illusion because what is real anyway? I learnt that studying art. What we experience everyday is an image in our minds. A picture in a book is also just an image in our minds. A computer screen is just an image. Yet, even if nothing is real, what must necessarily remain real is morality. No matter how deep the hole goes, if we chase the white rabbit, morality should stay put. If mortar blows a hole to hell, we must still keep morality intact. As I watched the news I thought of the family who had lost their son. I thought of the strife and the passion of his father and his father before him. We all live our lives on a tightrope with a sheer drop below to unfathomable depths. It takes small, minuscule acts to throw us over, or indeed to keep us up. I’m thinking of James Alexander, the priest and son of Alfred, who had done such an act. I do miss my Granddad Gordon. It is strange to think he has outlived his son. 21 Today Jonathan woke me up and I was startled. His face has altered. It is like someone has photo- shopped it and distorted it into someone else’s. There is a darkness in his eyes again. His face is more rounded and he is growing stubble and thick eyebrows. I jolted in fear when I first saw him. Even when he spoke it came
out in a gruff. “We’re going,” he said, and passed me the yo-yo. I knew where we were going as soon as he passed me it. We went outside and the world span like a kaleidoscope. I felt a weight pushing on all sides of my skull. Jonathan seemed to use his cane to blow back history and re-paint the landscape in violent strokes, like a conductor of time and space. I felt dizzy and my vision was swept over by a rich fog. Within half an hour we were outside a house I instantly recognised. It was a small semidetached place, 1930s in style, with a small, dry mudcoated front lawn. The walls of the house were in that
distinctive, pebble dashed brown and at the front of the house was a large bay window. That had been my bedroom once. A teenage girl strode past. I remembered her in this neighbourhood. I thought she looked weird, but I chuckled. She was dressed in typical late 80s clothes. She had on a baggy dye tie T-shirt, her black hair was fastened up like a
pineapple and over black tights she wore a short mini skirt. She blew out bubble gum as she passed us. At the street a man came into view. He had tight cord trousers on and a polo shirt. He was quite lanky and in his hand he carried a carrier bag from the local co-op. He got to the house and pushed the front gate. It made that cat like screech that used to haunt me. Without realizing he turned to face me. It was Dad or Dad in the late 1980s. He looked at me strangely and then moved on into the house. It seems that sometimes people see me and sometimes they don’t. I couldn’t help myself. I crept up to the gate, pushed it gently and tip-toed around the side of the house. I nearly tripped on a toy car of mine and some teenage mutant ninja turtles. I stood by the back door, listening to the conversation inside the house. I heard Dad say; “Where’s John?” Mum said; “Upstairs drawing and writing. I had to stop him from drawing across his mattress.” “I don’t know what the matter with him is.” They continued talking. I became so surprised by what they were saying. Their voices sounded so much younger, more naïve and from the kitchen there was the smell of fish fingers. I almost lost what they were saying until Dad said something strange. “Do you think he’s autistic?” “He’s eight years old. I think we would know by now.” “But do you think he has some sort of psychological disorder?” “God! I think that’s a bit over the top! He’s just an imaginative little boy. Let him be.” “But he seems to be in his own world. He doesn’t seem to understand that anyone else has feelings, or that anyone else even exists, apart from imaginary friends! If I dropped down dead tomorrow he probably wouldn’t even notice!” I shuddered as I hunched under the kitchen window, my back against the pebble dash wall. The kitchen went quiet. Then there was a bash. Mum became furious. In the alley by the side of the house some pieces of paper blew across my feet. There were crayons scattered around and some had been smudged across
the concrete path. I picked up a scatty drawing. Now, this is still haunting me a bit. I don’t know how or why it came to be, but when I saw the picture I put my hand over my mouth. My brain seemed to recede inside my skull. The crayoned drawing was of a man who looked like Charlie Chaplin or a ninja version of him. In his hand he held a sword that a teenage mutant ninja turtle would have been proud of. But, scrawled across the top of the page in capital letters with a thick black crayon was the word: ‘THINK.’ God. Suddenly the back door flung open and a little boy darted past me to the front lawn. He was wearing red little shorts and a black and white stripy shirt. He stopped and sat cross-legged, scraping out dirt from the ground, making a little hole. He placed a figurine over the hole and tried shoving it inside. It was me. The boy was me. I was there. I was the older version now. I felt sick and faint. How many times does this happen? It was like seeing your own child for the first time, except this child was me. I frantically dug into my coat pocket and found the yo-yo. I crept up and stood over the boy, over me. I felt like I couldn’t speak. I didn’t even know why I was doing it. My shadow cast
across the dirt and over the toy figurine lodged in its hole. The boy looked up and said ‘Hi!’ The voice was cute, high-pitched but distant. I handed down the yo-yo. The boy screamed. I backed off towards the gate. A face looked out from the front window. It was Dad. He looked at the boy and then at me and his mouth dropped. I hurried off down the street, my veins pulsing in the sides of my head. I collapsed a little further up and then woke up on my sofa back here at the flat. Jonathan stood over me, with his strange new face. Do now and do for eternity. The weird thing is that I know I am going to die. There is a dread growing inside me and when I look at Jonathan’s contorting face I know it to be true. ‘Think.’ I have. But, now my thoughts are being crushed inside my collapsing skull. I don’t know how to feel, what to think. Nothing is real, that is true. And yet being swung back and forth in time I now know what is at the heart of it. Perhaps I am just madly writing and printing out pages and thinking of the past. But, there is a reason. Get me a beer Jonathan! Soon we’ll be at the end of time! 22 When Willie had killed that man, outside the cinema, he ran for hours in the rain across the city, following the hills and the terraced northern houses that rolled onwards forever into cloud. He was in turmoil. We could see it in the way he swaggered and cursed the skies. He had just killed an innocent man in the street. His mind was elsewhere. He was psychotic. The cinema and his woman were far behind. There’s a fine line with madness. Willie was in a dark place. He staggered through puddles as he reached the church. Inside there was candle light and outside the graves loomed heavy under heavy skies. Perhaps Willie sought redemption or forgiveness, but quickly he ran towards the oak door of the church and stepped inside. At the end of the church, hung on stone, was Christ on the crucifix. At the altar two candles burned and flickered. Christ’s shape flickered across the walls. Sat on the front pew was a boy. He had his head bowed and was praying.
He whispered things. Willie walked forward, dripping with rain. He stood stupidly gaping at the boy, before sitting in the pew next him. The boy looked up. He had bright blue eyes and neat blonde hair. “Hello,” the boy said confidently. “What?” Willie snapped. “Are you all right?” the boy asked, worried. “You look cold and wet.” “It’s nothing.” Jonathan and I watched from the back of the church. The boy seemed calm and confident, but Willie was twitchy. “I want to confess my sins.” The boy looked a little taken aback but smiled and said, “What have you done?” “It’s not for you to hear.” Their voices trailed off as echoes in the church. The church was surprising. It was amazing that Willie had ended up there. The boy bravely put his little hand on Willie’s soggy shoulder. Willie pulled himself away. “Do not worry,” the boy said. “Talk to God and God will send you a sign.” “God,” Willie spat. The rain was driving outside. The boy became a little frightened but pressed Willie further. He was like a mini monk; serene and quietly holy. To see this in a 13 year old was astonishing. Unexpectedly Willie began weeping. His face fell into his hands. He was like a black weeping statue on the front pew. The boy rubbed Willie’s back and spoke softly. We couldn’t hear what the boy had said but Willie lifted his head and fell deeply silent. From a side door a vicar entered. He went to the altar and stopped as he noticed Willie and the boy. He looked concerned. “What is happening?” he said. He was a bald, small man and bore no resemblance to the boy at all. He must have been the boy’s guardian. “Do you need help?” “My wife is pregnant again,” Willie said. “I’ve already got a boy and a girl
and I can’t afford another.” “Perhaps it is a blessing,” said the vicar. “Perhaps you are supposed to have another.” “I am a bad man Father. I need a new life.” The vicar smiled. “You have new life,” said the vicar. “The new born child could be christened here.” “My father is buried here,” said Willie. “What was his name?” asked the boy. “Jonathan Wilson.” The boy nodded and explained that he spent many weekends tending to the gravestones and had always looked after Jonathan’s grave. Willie sank. He had never come to see his father or even lay flowers. The boy explained that his Grandma Mary used to work at the church. She took care of all the souls lying five foot under ground. The boy smiled, “Your new child is a blessing, sir.” For a few minutes the vicar and the boy comforted Willie. Then, Willie left the church. He stood outside on the path, looking out at the moon surrounded by thick clouds. The gravestones stood crisp, silver and wet below the purple sky. The storm had passed but the air was still tense. Willie looked across, dreaming or thinking thoughts beyond. Without a care, he turned and walked out of the graveyard, his shoulders dropping. Nearly ten years later that same boy in the church would meet Willie again, this time as bombs dropped over London and onto Granddad Gordon’s house. 23 My headaches are getting worse and my vision is awful. I feel sick and I am very afraid. I tried cooking something in the microwave earlier but I had to sit down. I feel like my head’s going around and around. I’ve been thinking many things lately. I have to take control of my life now. I need to go back to work, get in touch with friends and family, and maybe even go to church once in a while. I’ve been a state for years and now I can see differently, if only my headaches would just pass. It’s so unbearable.
I’m currently looking out at the street outside my flat. The cars are still rushing along, the traffic lights beep occasionally. Some people are crazy. It seems like a long time since Jonathan appeared to me, down that back alley looking like Charlie Chaplin. I had concussion and at first Jonathan seemed to be someone else. There’s something not right about that meeting. My consciousness seemed to shift that day and everything began to change and time itself opened up and wrapped me. I can’t work out if it has been pulling me up or pushing me down. The headaches are horrible. I opened up my sentimental cabinet today. I used to think of it with such distain, but now that small chest of family treasures is more valuable than gold. In that chest is a small toy figurine. Well, its part of a set, but it used to belong to my Granddad Gordon. In fact it was the toy he had grabbed when he had been pulled from the fire during the Blitz. Granddad had passed it down to me. Perhaps it was a lucky charm. It was also the same figurine, the same toy soldier; I had tried to lodge in the dirt hole at our old house when I was a child. Funny that. I also found a photo of Dad and me at the pub from years ago. Dad’s holding his ale and I’m stood meekly, feeling awkward in front of the camera. I’ve never been good in front of cameras and I hate seeing photos of myself. But, things change I suppose. I’ve lent the photo against the framed photo of my family by my computer screen. There was an appeal by some Archbishop today about the sins of modern life this morning. I used to find this kind of thing nauseating, but I listened to the Archbishop intently. He spoke with urgency about climate change, about humanity having to slow down and care. He also spoke with sadness about the recent knife attacks, sending his love to the victims’ families and appealing to the attackers’ morality. I’m not religious, I know that, but I took time to listen. Jonathan switched the television off and sighed. His face was so different. “Are you ready?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “I’m taking you somewhere for the last time,” he said. “Okay.”
He stood up and swaggered to the door. He didn’t wear a top hat and his face was now full of stubble and he had lost his moustache. In fact he was a completely different person. Something filled me with terror and as he shifted his body to open the door of the flat, I thought I caught a glimpse of something in his pocket. It flashed in the morning light. I followed him through the city. He had taken me back to a time weeks ago, a day before I had started writing, or so he said. He walked suspiciously through the crowds of the city, slinking along walls and looking around at people. There was something sinister in him now. In fact Jonathan had gone. I was following a stranger through the city. The stranger hovered awkwardly outside a building I knew well. It was an old sixties tower block but on the ground floor was a place I visited frequently. It was the Counsellor’s offices. I had been there lots during this time, speaking to my counsellor about all types of things. The stranger stood outside. He was messed up, more than I had ever been. Although he wore a suit it was worn and he stunk of booze and cigarettes. Jonathan had really gone. The ghost had gone. Now I found myself with this stranger. I remembered who he was. He had visited the counsellor’s often. He kept checking his watch and fidgeted as he leant against the wall of the building. He looked at me. I was staring. “What? What you looking at?”
I turned the other way. Then, from out of the building came my counsellor. She wore a long, grey skirt and a smart white top. Her hair was shining and curled just below her neckline. As she walked out into the street, holding her bag, she took a glance at her watch. I stared in fascination at her. I did long for her, as she started walking through the city crowds, swinging her hips. She started talking on the phone. It was then that I had to stop longing for her, because the stranger next to me swaggered after her. He kept his distance but it was clear he was following her. So, I followed him. We walked across the city until my counsellor stopped at a bus stop. There she met and embraced what must have been her daughter. She was in school uniform and had pigtails. The stranger watched them intently. I watched him. What was the matter with him? I began wondering what his problems were, whether he had had many horrendous meetings with her, my counsellor. I felt an overpowering feeling of dread. I feared for the counsellor and her daughter’s safety. But, they stepped onto the bus and I blocked the stranger before he could follow. Maybe this had been a mistake. I’m not one to do this kind of thing; usually it’s left to my older, bigger brother, the policeman, to stand up to people. I’m only a citizen and much smaller. His breath smelt of fags as he loomed, menacingly over me. The strange man snarled at me, but, thankfully walked away. Then I had a little trip. I had to return to my flat as normal after that. Jonathan is no longer here and that stranger disappeared into the city. Today is now a date from weeks ago. I’ve been left back in time and my headaches are even worse. I’m afraid. I don’t know why Jonathan has left me here and shown me that stranger. It’s like he’s been warning me of him all along. But, tomorrow is the day I began writing, that I first got concussion. It’s like I’ve been swung through time and now I’m at the beginning again. I have learnt a lot. I know what I have to do. I’m not going to be passive anymore. The future is
in my hands I suppose. I know I have to complete the circle. First I need a beer. Maybe that’ll alleviate the pressure in my head. Bloody hell. Some things have changed, some things haven’t. I’m so afraid, let me tell you that (whoever you are anyway.) Maybe I’ll let Robert read this. He might not believe me, after all I am an artist and after all I had imaginary friends as a child. Why should you believe anything I say? Nothing is real I guess. Who was it that said ‘I think therefore I am’? Maybe he was on to something. ‘Think.’ I have, I think! I think, therefore I am! If Robert reads all this he’s going to think I’m either mad or have written an oddball story. But, surely he can’t believe that what I’ve written is true? He’ll laugh in my face. I think therefore I’m mad. That’s the flaw in the human condition. (That’s a nice idea.) I am afraid though. I can see what is coming. My eyes are misting over but I can see. I can see clearly. That stranger is pressing on my conscience. There’s something not right about him. There’s a fine line with people and with him he’s walking a tightrope. History is a tightrope, perhaps, and I have been swinging. I have been yo-yoing, balancing on a fine line that has traced my family’s history. Time has a weight. The past is heavy. Anyway, better get to bed. Maybe it’ll make sense tomorrow. You can only hope. EPILOGUE This is the last thing that my brother wrote. It would have left me baffled if not for what actually happened to him the day after. I had been rung at work receiving news that there had been an incident in town and that I should, personally, know about it. I didn’t think twice until I was told the incident involved my brother. I rushed to the hospital in an absolute state. The doctor told me John had been knocked out and hadn’t woken yet. He had also been stabbed and he was in surgery, losing a lot of blood. I couldn’t believe it. Like I said at the beginning, I was sat next to him today. The surgeons managed to stop the bleeding but for the last couple of weeks he’s been in bed on
life support. The whole family have come to see him and are devastated. After Dad’s death the family can’t bear the death of John too. Poor Granddad Gordon, having to see the deaths of his son and possibly his grandson. At first all I could think about was why had this happened? There was a woman at the hospital with her daughter (the woman I mentioned before). She was very attractive, but she was concerned about John, and she should be. She was John’s counsellor and had witnessed the whole incident. The counsellor and her daughter had walked across the city that day. She had just finished working and had picked up her daughter as she usually did. But, they took a different route, because it was her daughter’s birthday and they were going somewhere for a surprise. They took a short cut down a back alley and this is where it happened. She suddenly realized they were being followed. When she turned to see who it was she recognised the guy instantly. She had been counselling him on and off for weeks, but only recently had she wondered whether the guy needed something much more. There was something odd about him. I meet people like it all the time and understand the position. She sped up, her daughter trying to keep up. But, it was too late. The man was on them and he had a knife. Apparently he was yelling and asking why she couldn’t help him, why he still felt bad. It seems clear he should have been in a psychiatric ward and not just at a counsellor’s. He began slashing his knife through the air and she tried to shield her daughter. I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like. It was at this point that John stumbled down the street. He was wobbling all over the place and had his arms out as if he couldn’t quite see properly. But, as the man pushed John’s counsellor to the ground it was as if John could suddenly see again. He came out of an apparent trance and lunged at the attacker. He pushed the guy to the ground, but the attacker was much larger than him. John was pushed up against the alley wall and had his head smashed against the bricks. John gave a kick and yelled out for them to run away. The attacker became incensed at John. He flung him over and John’s head cracked against pavement. (The X-rays were awful.) The woman and daughter saw this as they fled. When a CSO turned up at the scene he found the attacker crying up against
a bin. John was lying flat on the pavement with the knife in his belly. John is a hero. John is the hero of this book. He is a hero in life, beyond his writing. That is clear. I feel so proud and so sorry for him. Funnily enough I’ve become close with John’s counsellor. As John says we always were attracted to the same women. It was after I went to John’s flat a few days later, as John lay in hospital, that I found the printed pages by his computer, full of his drawings. I read it that night in one go. John would have been right that I would not have believed a word of it. John had always been unique, a strange little thinking hermit. After reading it I rang the counsellor woman straight away. I had to. I asked her why John had come to see her for counselling in the first place. She said that he had wanted to see her in particular, no one else. He had said that he had been sort of tracing his family history, trying to overcome his depressions, and that he had to speak to her. He also said he had thought about writing it all down in some way, but couldn’t figure out how to begin. I rang the counsellor woman again. I can’t work out if what John has written is true, but he didn’t know his counsellor’s full name, or that he made it all up and knew actually what was going on. The counsellor’s name is Susan Alexander. She had a Granddad called James who was a vicar and had been her inspiration to become a counsellor, to help people, like the Alexanders had always done. Yet, now John Wilson had helped one of them; saved them. I may never know if John knew this and if his writing was just a way of opening up all that history and redeeming something. I’m so proud of him. He had been so distant, so lonely and depressed but obviously something changed in him, however it may have actually happened. I will keep returning to the hospital with Susan. She lost her husband a few years ago and she needs some company of her own. She’s also not returning to her office just yet. John’s writing and heroism has brought us together. Two families. I fear I will never learn what really happened to John. He may be in a coma for years, he may never wake up. Maybe he was not supposed to. This book is dedicated to him. I had to write the introduction and ending to explain that John was not mad in the way that we think. He never was. Instead he was a hero, a
hero of his own book and his own making. When he was found lying unconscious in that alley, there was a yo-yo hanging out of his pocket. I have it now. Iâ€™m holding it in my hands. Robert Wilson