Previous unpublished (written a number of years ago)
Whether it was with some I-can't-posssibly-continue-living stab of pain or some I-don't-believe-this-can-be-happening-to-me rictus of rage, David listened to the news he was in the silent process of receiving from the telephone. He'd vouch for ghosts having backbones rather than accept this incredulity.
The house was silent, too, knowing, perhaps, that Melanie would never be returning to the protection of its walls. Even the television had switched itself off. The heating-pump was in an unaccustomed mode of thermostatic rest, depite the freezing weather. The children had finished squabbling, in the bedrooms upstairs. The traffic - as if it realised that it were somehow implicated in Melanie's death - was no longer conducting its rush hour trundle past the house, keeping, as it did, a tactful distance from David's consciousness as he replaced the handset in its cradle.
To receive such news from a bodiless voice almost persuaded David that he was dreaming. Surely, with a tragic event like the sudden death of a loved one, the Authorities - police or whatever - had a duty to arrive in person and break the tidings.
But everything seemed to fit somehow.
David had always suffered from a disorderly imagination.
His three children huddled together, their disagreement abruptly forgotten under the weight of silence. One of them had turned off the light, even though the other two were not yet ready for bed. Their names were irrelevant in the darkness for, without faces - without, indeed, any physical shape - their need to define identity had vanished.
Their disembodied voices were, absent, too, more by inertia than intention, ever since they had heard their father answering the call of the telephone.
Now, they heard steady treads - their father ascending the stairs to start the tucking-in process, a nightly routine about this time.
Downstairs, the television screen bore a silent snow. Evidently, the transmitter had cut out at source and the receiver had a device which automatically muted the ugly noise of no signal.
David climbed the stairs, his memory having short-circuited in its own autonomous effort to cut out - or, at least, blunt - the dreadful news that the telephone had brought to its owner. Indeed, he recalled the happy days when he first met Melanie...
He was one of many Mods on motor-scooters - a nineteen sixties cult of sharp-dressed mohair-suited youths with molls in mini-skirts and stylish blouses - who visited the seaside resort of Hastings in 1963 despite a potential showdown with the black-leathery Rockers on huge snarling motorbikes: the latter raging through the town like supersonic beetles.
One could sit on West Hill looking down at the beach covered in resting Mods - apparently conducting a pow-wow before the expected onset of Rockers.
The sea was out; so was the sun.
Blue faced blue, a rarity for England in those monochrome years of newsprint and black & white TV. Suddenly, completely unpremeditated, the Mods, rose as one, lurched, swarmed and milled about haphazardly - radiating in more directions than those any normal circle could encompass.
Which figure was David, it was impossible to judge from the top of West Hill. Which Melanie. Which anybody. Perhaps it didn't matter.
Today, it doesn't matter; David continues to climb the never-ending stairs towards a memory of children who, if Melanie had not been killed, would have been born to fulfil a promise of bodies and bones for ghosts. In fact, Melanie had been run down all those years ago in Hastings by a Rocker's rubber-snatching front wheel, practising drag-racing with her body as friction fodder. So, the telephone saying it was an incident of road rage today, in 1988, rather than then, in 1963, derived from a modern dose of obscene anonymity. 1988 was an odd year. It made the sixties seem almost sensible.
But who had it been watching the flailing, fleeing, flowing figures upon a distant descent of angle from West Hill? David had spotted the black speck up there from the beach and he had guessed it was, in turn, solely intent on spotting him and the mini-skirted girl whose soft hand he'd happened to grab in the suddemn random scattering by the Mods over the yellow sands (sands which later looked so terribly grey on the television and in the Daily Express). The girl, of course, turned into Melanie, just before her fatal brush with a Rocker's cutting-ridge rimful of spokes.
Hafley Clapp, as Fate would have it, was the Rocker who killed the girl with his roaring metal underswag. The girl David would have married, given half the chance.
The peculiarity was that Hafley Clapp returned into David's life in 1988 (the heyday of Margaret Thatcher). By that time, the erstwhile stubble-cheeked, beer-bellied, bike-thrusting Rocker had transmuted into a respectable spine-doctor who David hired (through private insurance, rather than National Health) to wield osteopathic skills upon his slipped disc. If that was not a coincidence, the fact that anyone was in a position to exercise Free Will seemed under considerable doubt.
David reached the landing at last - set to tuck in his three children, biting his tongue as he remembered the telephone's call.
David vaguely remembered seeing the Mr. H. Clapp nameplate on the spine-doctor's door. Only doctors of senior rank could use Mr as opposed to Dr as their handle - a fact which seemed an odd tradition to David.
"Come in," roared the deep voice of Hafley Clapp.
Being a privare patient, there was no waiting-room. Consultations were immediate, the secretary at her desk merely nodding him through with a knowing smile.
David was indeed intrigued by Clapp's resemblance to somebody from the past, but he soon shrugged it off - blaming his own disorderly imagination.
If David had pursued the meanderings of his mind, he would have been able later to rehearse the likely conversation in the leisure of his own home...
"Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"I don't think so," said Mr Clapp as he placed his fingers firmly upon the almost fin-like ridge of David's spine.
"Many years ago ... when the Beatles were never off the top of the Hit Parade..."
The conversation was far too stilted to be a real one.
"Well, that far too long ago for me to go back!" laughed Mr Clapp.
"Yes ... I remember ... in Hastings ... weren't you riding a motorbike?"
Clapp visibly blanched - as anyone could have attested given the vantage point - his fingers freezing upon David's rubbery skin.
"I've never been to Hastings in my life."
"I met a girl there called Melanie ... who you killed."
This time the retrospectively rehearsed conversation short-circuited as if David's probing had hit a raw nerve too near the bone. Hafley Clapp was no longer co-operating within the confines of David's memory-conduit - two memories inside the other like Russian Dolls, that of Hastings in 1963 and that of the spine-doctor's consultation room earlier in the day, that day, today, in 1988.
David had by now reached the first bedroom door, his hand outstretched to twist the knob. His children were being remarkably quiet; they usually screeched and screamed as they flung rag dolls from wall to wall.
David's back suddenly seized up, the way it often did. Age had many concomitants.
He couldn't move - neither towards his original shape nor to a new one with which he had intended to open the bedroom door. Neither into the past, nor the future. Stuck permanently in the present, with the ugly noise of no signal as sole accompaniment.
But then the phone rang.