...With Love & all that Jazz
(the time traveller with the tiger tattoo)
(The Amulet Chain - Book Three)
(The sequel to Psychedelia)
Book III in the time travel trilogy that began with P.S.R.T., continued with Psychedelia. We follow a third generation of travellers... And the legend of the time traveller with the tiger tattoo.
Follow Jasmina and her friends Sean and Georgy as they battle time, the future and the past. How did Provence look in Roman times, and is it Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul or all three?
Who Wants to Live Forever
The wind swept low across the moor, the heather trembling to its roots as the two walkers peered through the gloom to the distant dusk. The rain had taunted them countless times during the day, forcing them to pause and shelter where they could; dragging the day out over twelve hours.
“Perhaps we should have broken the day at Clay Top Bank?”
“One never really knows out here, that’s half the fun of walking it.” The frigid wink Julian offered up was not convincing, but his offer was genuine. “Are you cold, do you want my jacket?”
“No, my love, I was born near here, remember? I’m more concerned about you and your thin Australian skin.”
“We do have snow in Melbourne.”
“Well, I’ve seen it twice in my lifetime, but I’m sure the Bureau of Met. Records from the past 70 years will show more instances.”
“And how many snowmen have you made in that horrendously deep Melbourne snow?”
“He was quite small...”
“No pot for a hat?”
“More like a thimble.”
Delia’s hood slid off effortlessly as she faced into the wind. The wind, so deceitful in its low rush up the escarpment from the valley below, whipped around her, tearing at the Gore-Tex outwear as if it was tissue paper. She let loose her waist-length strawberry blonde hair and it flailed against the elements, taunting them as her smile so often did J.J. She was still a woman of the wild, although now in her fourth decade. This was his 40th gift to her; a two week pub crawl across the wilds of her native England. In reality it was a casual 192 mile stroll across England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea; from coast to coast. Along the way they enjoyed three national parks, a cosy pub meal each night, a selection of quaint B & B accommodation and the occasional ancient monument. The term ancient always sat strangely on their shoulders; Delia having been born almost 600 years before and J.J. almost a century. Time had a funny affect on those associated with Delia and the members of her family.
They trudged on, into the wind, Delia’s hair occasionally whipping playfully across J.J.’s face. Somewhere out there in the distance there was a lone pub; the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. The guide books had suggested this inn was worth a night’s stay and worth the extra nine mile trek from Clay Top Bank. J.J. was beginning to regret the decision to walk on as the night and the weather closed in on them this English summer.
Delia’s peered across the encroaching darkness of the moors. She began her search low in the heather, rolling up and across the barren landscape as it deepened into brownish-black in the distance. She stood motionless as J.J. fumbled with his mini binoculars; a thoughtful present and a slight dig from his good mate George.
“There it is, on the next ridge.”
He couldn’t see a thing, but he trusted Delia’s instincts as she grabbed him by the hand and marched off into the darkness. There was no sign of the setting sun as they dragged themselves up the final bluff that was Blakey Ridge, welcomed by the lamps that flickered through the smoky windows of the Lion Inn. Delia paused and wrapped J.J. up in a warm hug. She played with the silver lining along his temples, as she liked to, and she kissed him gently.
“There you are, my love, the Lion Inn as you promised. Shall we wander in and buy us a pint?”
“Is the Pope a German?”
“Maybe in your time.”
“Life isn’t that different to what it was 30 years ago, you’re just a older and a prettier.”
Delia blushed and kissed him again. Her love for him had never wavered, while his love for her had regained its former passion. J.J. walked her across the street and opened the lowly set door that hung wearily above its foot-worn stone door step.
“Well, well, what’ve we ‘ere, you wouldn’t be Mr. and Mrs. Crosby now would yer?”
“The very same.”
“We were ‘bout ter send a party out afer yer.”
“Bit of a wild one out there today, mate.”
“An’ yer not be a local, where yer from?”
“Australia originally, the missus is a bit of a local though.”
“Then she ought know better, bloody coast to coasters. “What’ll it be then?”
“I’ll ‘ave ‘alf; I always wanted to say that.”
“Half a pint for the lady it is, and the gentleman?”
“I’ll have a Guinness thanks, mate.”
“A bit of Irish in yer then?”
“Just a bit, I’m a bitser really; a bit spud, bit pom and a bit of haggis.”
“A comedian too, bet the missus needed that today ‘specially if the walk were yer idea. Would dinner be to yer liking? I got a coupla seats by the fire with yer name on them.”
Delia beamed as J.J. hung out his elbow. She slipped her arm up underneath and he walked her to the great blazing fireplace that seemed made for nights when the snow piled up against the ancient stone walls outside. The fire was the perfect end to a horrid day, but of the twelve days they had walked so far, this had been the first dampener. Delia smiled and stroked the ancient woodwork vacantly, just as her father would have. This may have grown in her time. J.J. spied the glossy film that welled across her cloud blue eyes. He understood its significance immediately.
“Even after all these years? Is Isla’s memory so vivid?”
“She has never left me. I see her in the mirror every morning. I watch my face age as hers did and I remind myself of her more and more every day.”
“Are you feeling old?”
“No, I am much younger than she was at 40. She had such a hard life. I have spent the past 12 years pottering around on ancient dig sites and then only when the weather permits.”
“Would you have preferred to see more of the world?”
“I have seen more than my mother ever did and I have had you.”
And there it was; the elephant that eventually crept into every room they occupied. The spectre of an unknown future that had forced them into hiding; forced them to assume pseudonyms and forced their children into lives of relative solitude.
“Do you think the children will be OK, Julian?”
“The boys are all grown up. They have wanted for nothing and they all seem to have found their share of local lasses... and haystacks, no doubt.”
“Enough of that, you should not talk about your boys and the local girls that way.”
“Two roasts of the day?” The interruption was timely and the food was welcoming. J.J. arranged his plate before picking up his knife and fork. He was starving, but the withered grey trunk that lay across the back of his neck and breathed annoyingly in his ear could not be ignored.
“George and Pax have grown up a lot over the past 12 years. They’re far more responsible and they do have a boy of their own. They’ll look after things just fine.”
“They have grown far too reckless.”
“So should we; we’re smothering the children and smothering ourselves. When was the last time you smiled before this past fortnight? When have you laughed so much and been so attentive in public as well as in private? What will be will be. It’s time to let go and move on.”
Delia was uncommonly pensive throughout the remainder of the meal. The fire crackled in the background as the barman clinked his polished glasses together; it was a quiet night at the Lion Inn. She stood as J.J. wiped his mouth with a paper napkin; he was a much slow eater, but he had grown up always knowing where his next meal was coming from. She took him by the hand and dragged him upright, thanked the barman for a lovely meal, and pointed J.J. upstairs.
The ancient timbers en route to their room were ignored. She gave her customary sigh as she spied the quaintness of their room, yet she did not linger on it as she bolted the door. Delia slipped off her waterproof pants and her jacket quickly followed as did her fleecy-lined under-top, socks and knickers.
“Could you get this for me, Julian?”
He looked up to find Delia draped in her lovely hip-length strawberry blonde hair. She was squeezed into a pretty, lacy bra, and nothing else. Pulling her hair across her shoulder, she exposed a lightly freckled back and the clip she was asking J.J. to release; a clip she could have easily managed herself. He stepped in closer, wrapping Delia up with one arm, and released her breasts with his spare hand. She let her bra fall to the floor as her fingers made their way to the Velcro on J.J.’s waterproof pants.
“It still surprises me after all these years how quickly you respond.”
“It’s only been a dozen years.”
“Did you not dream of me constantly over the previous twenty, into boredom?”
“I probably dreamt you every night.”
“Take the rest of your sweaty clothes off, I want you naked.”
“Where are you going?”
“I thought I would just wrap myself around this lovely carved wooden post. Do you think the bed will collapse if you take me while I do?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Delia arched her back into J.J. and sighed as he finished. He took much longer than she did now, but she didn’t mind, just glad to keep him regularly interested. This was the one piece of advice Pax had been correct to pass on. Delia could feel the final waves of delight coursing up and down his body, but for once she did not soak them in, she was admiring the lovely room; the four poster bed, the low ceiling beams and the complementary furniture. Her fingers slid along the finely crafted carving of the bedpost and she remembered how her father had agonized over the carvings on his stone resting place.
“It’s a lovely room, isn’t it?”
“It is beautiful, Julian.”
“Do I bore you so much?”
“No, and don’t you dare pull out just yet! I love the subtle quakes that ripple up and down your body afterward. It has been a while and I was a little eager.”
“I noticed, you would have made a good teenage boy.”
“I do not think so, not with this body! Do I not have all the curves a woman requires?”
J.J. ran the tips of his fingers across Delia’s breasts and down along her hips, sending shivers towards every hair follicle she possessed. His hands found their way around her waist and lingered on the light scarring he so often found there.
“I’m sorry for those.”
“I could not have wished them from any other man. Come, the room gets cold and the bed looks inviting.”
* * *
Delia and J.J. slept in the next morning. She was restless during the night and he could not deny her. They ate a hearty breakfast, packed a light lunch and plenty of water, before heading out across the remainder of the North Yorkshire Moors. It was a glorious day, with few clouds, and a lovely breeze to take the edge off the sun. There were more walkers out and about today, all looking forward to the stunning views across the moors and the quaint villages that followed, and Julian was in a chatty mood.
“I can’t believe none of this is here in the future.”
“Oh, it is here, under a great city of steel and glass. That is what my father said. I never really saw the moors here, just the devastation about Hadrian’s Wall.”
“I’d love to be able to prevent it.”
“You must not say such things, what will be will be.”
“I’m not so sure that should be the way of it.”
“Well it is the way of it!”
“But if we could promote a greener way of living, we could use the technology you and Pax brought back, those solar panel windows could take on...”
“No! No, Julian,. that is future technology, it does not belong here.”
“How do you know I didn’t event it, only for it to be adapted in a way I had not foreseen?”
Delia stopped dead, hands on hips. “I like my life just as it is, I would not change a thing. I do not want to talk about the future. I want to enjoy our walk along the moors. This is our time; enjoy it for what it is.”
“What about the grandchildren and the great grandchildren... what do they get to enjoy?”
Delia had no come back and her face screwed up in an oddly pained look that made J.J. smile. He remembered so much about her, despite Virgil’s mind games, how her face would distort just so when her time and her mother’s morals clashed with the more modern world of her father’s. He kissed her on the forehead and she pulled him in for more.
“You can’t stop my mind from inventing, from wanting to know.”
“I know, my love, I find it difficult to stop mine. Perhaps you are right, perhaps you should try to invent. No one said that you would succeed.”
J.J. laughed. Delia had so much faith in him, yet she always found a way to keep him grounded. He had been secretly toying with designs for the sola window and the SolaMag without actually laying his hands on the technology secreted in Whitby. J.J. had barely spent a penny of his wealth; it was buried in stocks and land. He planned to direct some of it towards a scientific project, if only he could find a scientifically-brilliant partner.
Delia took his hand. They had two easy days ahead and he would be thinking about his Sola designs throughout, but she could distract him. Fellow walkers could also assist, but they had thinned out, most travelling more swiftly in the opposite direction. The signs were ominous, but as they picked up their pace, a solitary walker crossed their path. As he drew near Delia let out a gasp and froze.
J.J. turned; the fear that tortured her lovely girlish looks aged her far beyond her forty years. He stepped in front of her instinctively. The walker was a young man, pale of skin and intense of look. His hair was cropped close to his scalp and seemed to flicker in the sun as his gaze moved from Delia to J.J. and back again. His clothing was unremarkable; it could have been J.J.’s at any time in the past 30 years. What looked like a smile crept from the corner of the young man’s mouth, but its intent was hardly friendly.
“The future cannot be changed by technology that does not exist, if so I would not exist, and I cannot permit that.”
“As soon as you set foot in this time you no longer belong to your own, so you have broken your own ethos.”
“Don’t be so sure, Julian. I am not like the others you have become so accustomed to and so blasé about.”
There was something inherently honest in the young man’s menacing words and they produced a chill in J.J. he had not felt for a dozen years. Delia revealed, her bravery unquestioned, but J.J. was ready for her. He planted his palm in the centre of Delia’s chest and pushed off firmly; tipping her back into the heather as he rebounded onto the young man who approached. The walker dodged to his left, but J.J. caught him up in his right arm and tossed him to the ground, landing on top of him, and clutching at the man’s neck. The golden ankh that hung there was revealed and J.J. had the device in his fingers. He manipulated it just so, as Delia had taught him, and flicked the notch to throw the device in reverse. The young man began to quiver. His facial features were still set to stun by J.J.’s actions, but J.J. was not finished with him. He wrenched the ankh from around the young man’s neck and held it up before his eyes. As they both began to fade J.J. threw the device into the heather, way beyond their struggle.
The two men disappeared into a vapour of ash.
Delia was left alone in the heather, her ears ringing with the screams of the two men...
“Don’t Dad me, I’m a guy and I know what attracts guys. I also know you’ll always be my little girl. Wow. I remember 16, so much confusion. What do the girl’s like, why won’t they go out with me, am I a bad kisser? Why do they go out with older guys? Is it the money, the cars, the pimples? I thought I’d end up with someone my own age, but the girls were always looking for someone older. That’s pretty tough when you’re 16 and only 14-year-olds are taking any notice. You know, I once went to a girl’s place, she was 15 and a singer and we were in a band and her dad wouldn’t let us rehearse in her room. What do you suppose he thought I wanted to do? As if with him in the house. It was all about the music which I think my folks were pretty happy about. So, how’s school?”
“School, um… not so…”
“I’m sure you’ve got it all worked out. I just hope I haven’t pushed you too hard. It always seemed pretty easy to me, I was lucky. I hope I haven’t pushed you into archaeology and music. Just because I like those things I don’t expect you too, but I do hope we still have some things in common. By the time I was 16 I had seen Indiana Jones a dozen times. If you haven’t seen it recently I have left a link for you here. I bought the Blu-ray set on my 46th birthday, but 16 for me was E.T., Star Trek II: the Wrath of Kahn, and Poltergeist. I was listening to Thriller by Michael Jackson, Chisel, Split Enz and Stevie’s Original Musiquarium, but that’s probably boring you, isn’t it?”
“You’re probably itching to get into the lounge to rip open all your presents, if you haven’t already done so! There’s plenty more attached to this message, like always - music, movies, news - you know the drill; this is birthday blog number 16. You can catch the rest anytime. Go and see your friends and don’t let a boring old fart like me ruin your day.”
“Never, Dad, you never ruin my day… never.”
Jasmina reached out to the screen as her father smiled down at her, flickered and disappeared. He had done so for four years and each year Jasmina searched back through the birthday blogs he had left trying to find something she might have missed. She never did.
The screen above Jasmina faded to screen save. She had chosen a random selection of family photos, yet there were none from the last four years, not since her father… she couldn’t bear think about it… he was just like his image on the screen to her now, always fading to screen save.
Jasmina caught her reflection in the darker tones between the family photos. She ran her fingers through the light waves of jet and closed her eyes, with no intention of rushing out to open presents. Her birthday blog was all she required, it was the one thing that could sate her dreams for 365 more days… thank god this wasn’t a leap year.
“Are you there, Jasmina?”
The words followed a tentative knock at her bedroom door. This had always been an open door household, but puberty and other things had turned Jasmina against this hippy policy.
“Jasmina, its mum, I have a surprise for you, and I would like to see you on your birthday; it is past midday already… Jasmina?”
“God, just come in mum, don’t be so lame!”
Her mother opened the bedroom door carefully and poked her head inside. She still wore the Celtic braids of a young woman and Jasmina openly scoffed, but they weren’t the topic of this conversation.
“Oh god, you didn’t… you couldn’t?”
“What’s the problem? Auntie Pax does it all the time.”
“Don’t call her that! You know the rule, it’s Auntie Penny.”
“Pax, Pax, Pax… who’s gonna hear?”
“Whatever, Georgy does it too and he’s younger than me.”
“That is something different altogether.”
“How is that different to this?”
“It just is… there are things… your hair was so beautiful.”
“Why, because it was just like yours, all strawberry blonde, what’s wrong with black? I like black. My clothes are black; they have been for four years. My makeup’s black, even my bloody computer’s black!”
“Language! You are not too old for a smack, young lady, even if it is your birthday.”
“Go ahead and try.”
Jasmina stood tall and proud and copped the back of her mother’s hand right across her cheek. It drew a tear from both of them, yet neither of them backed down.
“If Dad saw you now.”
“Well he cannot, he is…”
“He’s dead and you killed him! You took him away from me and you left him out there all alone… how could you?” Jasmina’s voice was a low growl, befitting of the moors where her father disappeared.
“If I could take that day back and sacrifice myself, I would.”
“Why don’t you?”
“If only you knew the sacrifice…”
“Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice,” Jasmina had heard it all before, but it did not make her life better; venting helped. “What the hell are you blabbing on about, are you going senile or something?”
“No, it is nothing… nothing… your presents are on the table, I’ll meet you out there.”
Jasmina continued the barbs as her mother slunk out of the bedroom. “Yeah, typical, you and your bloody secrets, always with the bloody secrets! Why couldn’t I just have a normal mum, like Georgy and Sean? I’ll give her bloody sacrifice, I’ll show her!”
She fumed for a quarter of an hour, before marching into the lounge room defiantly. She was tired of the 500-year-old beams and the accompanying hand carved woodwork her mother beamed over daily; preferring the clean lines of steel and glass.
Despite the relative darkness of her mother’s ancient lounge room there was nowhere to hide now and Jasmina found herself sinking unconsciously to the floor with her hands clasped over her face. She was mortified and the collective gasps that echoed around the room did not help.
“Oh, Jasmina, what have you done?”
She had dropped the evidence at her feet; a sharp pair of scissors and a horses-tail-worth of hair. A dyed jet-black bob, ragged around the edges, greeted the gathering. It was as unflattering as the thick, black mascara and eye shadow dripping down her face.
“Don’t, Delia, I’ll handle this.”
Her elder brother Stephen scooped her up in his arms as the vision of his two brothers, their three girlfriends, Claire and Kevin, Pax and George, and their children Sean and Georgy floated about her head in a fog that chilled her to the bone. This was her brother’s surprise for her 16th birthday and as they came to her rescue the party spirit evaporated. Stephen carried Jasmina to her room. He was in his thirties and engaged, but he was first and foremost Jasmina’s big brother, and he wasn’t happy with her.
“What’s all this then?”
“What the hell was all that?”
“Surprise party… surprise… you been fighting with your mum again?”
“She’s such a dag.”
“So was Dad and we all loved him for it, just as we all love Delia. She kept us all together after our mum died. I couldn’t tell you what she did, but one day we were normal and then we were all part of the one family. You’re the best little sister a guy could have, but I’m not sure what you’ve done with your hair and your face. You used to be such a pretty little thing and I’m sure I only saw you last week.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Stephen tugged a hanky out of his pocket, wet it with his tongue, and began cleaning up his sister’s face.
“You’re not my Dad.”
“I know, he died four years ago, and we all miss him. Delia misses him most of all. She spent so many years looking for him, you know.”
“No, I don’t know, no one tells me anything, and you know something, Dad’s blog mentioned something about 1982, what’s that all about?”
“A theme knowing Dad. Why don’t we look into it later? You have guests and presents, and you almost look presentable. What do you think, Sophie?”
Stephen’s fiancée Sophie sat down next to Jasmina, brush in hand, and ran her fingers through the ragged jet black mop so viciously slashed.
“It’s not too bad, and we could add some gel. I’ve got some strawberry-scented stuff here. Why don’t you go and tell the others we’ll be in soon, Stevie? We might even find a nice dress for a young woman with a young woman’s hair-do.”
Stephen left the girls and returned to the party. No one had left, there was nobody else. They had watched out for each other for over a decade. The ramifications of J.J.’s sacrifice ruled their existence.
“This is your fault!” Delia’s barb was aimed squarely at Pax.
“Oh OK, but I can’t help it if you can’t control your own daughter.”
“Yes, you can, you and all that hair! Do we have to force you to hide underneath a scarf again? You cannot be Pax Deorum here, you cannot be anyone, do you hear? You have to be a nobody like the rest of us and that goes for George and young Georgy as well!”
“Oh OK, but it’s alright for you to play the famous archaeologist and musician.”
“We dug to hide the future and we did it perfectly.”
“And now we’ve all been forgotten by this time and every time. Hasn’t it been long enough?”
“That’s what we thought four years ago and that was after twelve years of hiding here and concealing the evidence. She cannot know, she can never know.”
“That’s enough, Delia.” Stephen had never called her mum, even though she had fulfilled the role. “Jasmina’s confused and mortified enough as it is. We have to consider Sean and Georgy as well. I’m sure Claire and Kevin have a plan to tell young Sean, and what George and Pax do with their Georgy is their business.”
“We have to stick together.”
“I know, and we will, but you have to be a little more relaxed and give Jasmina some breathing space. Maybe it is time, I’m not saying it is, but there was something in Dad’s 16th birthday blog.”
“I should go to her…”
“No need, here’s our birthday girl. I found her something a little more adult, what do you think?”
Sophie had performed a miracle. She had discovered a lovely red dress that dropped down to Jasmina’s knees, while being open at the back. The dress was Judy’s, something J.J. could not part with and it fit Jasmina like the woman she had become. Her hair was teased a little wildly and the makeup Sophie had applied highlighted Jasmina’s stunning cloud blue eyes and her beautiful full pout. Delia wrapped her little girl up warmly with a hug. There were none of the anticipated apologies, but there was a comfortable détente that was accompanied by a wave of presents. The last of these was presented by Sean in a dark corner of the lounge room after the excitement had died down.
Sean, or Sean the Younger as he was known in this small circle of friends, was darker of hair like his father Kevin, but there was a hint of his mother’s ginger in the right sunlight. He was a few months older than Jasmina and the two had grown up amidst the ancient footings and artifacts their parents had been digging for 16years. He passed Jasmina his small gift and sat cross-legged in front of her similar pose.
“There’s something odd about all this, Jas.”
“I know; why is Pax Penny, and why were we all home-schooled, are our parents all that smart? I know Dad was, but they keep saying he and Uncle George were musicians.” Jasmina teased her fingers through her hair, the combination of stress and gel making it wilder, but the 16-year-old was just beneath the surface. “So, what did you get me?”
“Open it and see.”
She slid off the glitzy bow that bound the box and carefully lifted the lid. Rummaging through the tissue paper inside, Jasmina discovered a hidden treasure; two silver gargoyles. The detail in them was fine and the face on one wore a garish smile, yet the second held its claws up to its face as if it was weeping.
“My father loved gargoyles.”
“I know, that’s why I got them; one to remind you to smile and the other to remind you that it’s alright to cry every now and then.”
“Even on my birthday?”
“Even on your birthday.”
“Thanks, Seany.” She did not hug him, that was for children, and Sean rebuked the inference that he was still young.
“Why do you call me that, you do know my name’s Sean, just Sean?”
“I do, but the adults all call you Sean the Younger and that’s stupid and I don’t even know why.”
“Neither do I; something to do with an old friend of our mum’s, but Seany?”
“Sure, Sean plus the Y for younger, Seany.”
“You’re just like your dad.”
“More and more every day. Thanks, it’s the best gift, besides my blog, so do you want to cause some trouble?”
“Come on, Seany, I want to learn something.”
“That’s not like you.”
“Shut up, bastard, we’re not all nerds, and I want to know who that woman is over there. I’m sure she’s not part of us and you know how it’s all about us and our group of 12 or is that 15 now with my brother’s girlfriends? I want to know who she is and I have a right because it’s my birthday, come on!”
Jasmina slipped her hand into Sean’s seamlessly and dragged him across the lounge room to where the mysterious woman sat beside her mother. The woman was quite petite in stature, with long mousy-coloured hair, and the most inquisitive hazel eyes. Her fair skin was beginning to show the creases of age and Jasmina immediately suspected she was older than she looked.
“Hello, I’m Jasmina, and this is Sean.”
The woman smiled quite serenely, before her eyes wandered down to where Jasmina’s hand was attached to Sean’s; she quickly slid her hand away to deflect the inference of any coupling.
“Hello, Jasmina, happy birthday.”
“Don’t you have a name?”
“Yes, of course, I thought you may have known I’m Emma. Your mother and I have been friends for some time, and I knew your father well. He was an inspiration.”
“Yet I don’t know you and neither does Sean and he’s been here like forever.”
“Actually, I do know Miss Watson. You’re the actress, no… the director.”
“I’m both, and I’ve had the privilege working exclusively on The Chronicles. I came to see if I could do another. I feel quite in the mood to make a mystery and The Chronicles seem to be making a bit of a comeback, as all good novels do.”
“What are The Chronicles?”
“Oh, was I not supposed to…”
“It is quite alright, Emma. We do not go to the cinema anymore and the only movies in the house are those that my Julian left us. I am not sure yours are in his collection.”
“Then you don’t mind if I film Volume Seventeen?”
“Not at all.”
“What’s it got to do with you, mum?”
“Your father was the guardian of a series of novels and now he has gone they are my responsibility. One day it will be yours along with your three brothers.”
“I should go; I didn’t mean to intrude on the party, just a whim you know. Goodbye Delia, I’ll write next time. Bye Jasmina, have a lovely birthday.”
Emma leant across and gave Delia the warmest hug. It lingered far too long for a casual acquaintance and both women shed a tear. They left Jasmina none the wiser and boiling from the inside out, as if her mother’s gaze was a microwave. Delia watched Emma’s every step as she departed, remembering their first meeting more than 30 years before. She did not notice Jasmina slip away.
The car door creaked as Emma opened it; she loved classic cars and she refused to drive anything else. She heard the footsteps on the crushed rock driveway and spied her tail in the side window before her presence was announced.
“That’s old. Aren’t your movies that good?”
“I have to keep making them just to keep this lovely old heap running. I think your dad also had a penchant for classic cars.”
“How would you know?”
“I’ve known him for 30 years. He helped me with my writing and he gave me my first directorial break.”
“How could he do that, he was a nobody.”
“Don’t you dare, Jasmina Nash, don’t you dare! Your father was a great man; intelligent, inventive; great before and after his time.”
“Why did you call me Jasmina Nash? My name’s Jasmina Stills.”
“Sorry, stupid mistake.”
Emma wrapped her arms tightly around Jasmina and kissed her warmly on the neck. It was an odd moment, the warmth of a mother.
“I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. I should have spoiled you like I spoiled your brothers, but I was asked not to. Your father was so talented, the loveliest man I ever met, yet he sacrificed his own fame for his children. I’ve never met anyone like him, and don’t you forget I told you. Cut your mum some slack, OK, she still cries for him every night.”
Delia was not the only one…
I’m Going Slightly Mad
Date to be determined…
The light in his eyes was disconcerting, yet less so than the lack of movement in his arms. He felt no physical restraint, yet his limbs were motionless.
Was his neck broken?
Was that a consequence of which he was unaware?
There was a voice, somewhere in the atmosphere about him, as the whiteness of the room dissipated. The voice was calming. It seemed to be suggesting, no… it seemed to be imparting wisdom that he agreed with. Although he could nod in agreement, he could not answer in the affirmative.
Did that mean that his neck was not broken, only his throat?
The walls about him solidified. Their lines were smooth, yet distinct. They reminded him of wistful eyes full of clouds, sparkling in the afternoon sunlight. He could swear he was amongst the clouds rather than beneath them; that they were floating by him rather than watching him. He was being watched, intently.
“How do you feel now?”
He felt surprisingly good.
“Are you comfortable here?”
He was extremely comfortable.
“Can you feel the freshness of the air here amongst the clouds?”
He could, but was he amongst the clouds; was this heaven or a similar kind of existence? Did he exist anymore? He began to wonder…
“You should not be concerned.”
How did the voice know he was?
“You should relax and remember the past. Place yourself in a seaside village somewhere; a village with stone walls and matching stone buildings.”
He could do that. He could imagine Whitby in the north of England. That seemed to be close to home. Had he not been there dozens of times? He had been planning to go back there, but he came here instead.
“Focus… what had you intended to do in Whitby?”
The car… that was it, I had to modify the car. All I can think of is green, but all I can see is blue.
“Focus… why is green more important than blue? Would you refer a whiter shade of green?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be a whiter shade of pale? And why are you interested in the car? How do you know about the damn car and who the fuck are you anyway?”
He heard his own voice echo through the emptiness of the space. There was no green and it was no longer cloud blue… everything had turned black…
“Happy birthday, Jasmina. You have a new post.”
“Of course I have, it’s my birthday!”
Jasmina leapt across her bed and flipped in mid-air Fosbury style, even though her mother continually nagged her about this. Upon landing her hair cascaded over the edge of the bed like an oil-soaked waterfall; shimmering from jet black to purple to strawberry blonde. She spied the effect in her bedside mirror and was quite indifferent. She should have dyed it black again.
“Play blog, computer.”
“Fuck me, computer!”
“I am afraid that is physically impossible, password please.”
“What idiot programmed you?”
“Oh, OK… hello little girl.”
The screen that hung precariously above her bed flashed to life with images of years gone by, accompanied by the tune she had become more than familiar with over the past 17 years...
Hello little girl.
When I see you every day,
I say, "Mm-mm, hello little girl"
When you're passing on your way,
I say, "Mm-mm, hello little girl"
When I see you passing by,
I cry, "Mm-mm, hello little girl"
When I try to catch your eye,
I cry, "Mm-mm, hello little girl." Xx.
Jasmina smiled, but the sweetness in her young face had been severely blackened by the heavy purple eye-shadow, the blood-red tipped black mascara, and the slick-black pout she wore. There were no freckles visible beyond the pale white pancake and her sparkling cloud blue eyes were a stormy grey.
“Play new post please, computer.”
“Certainly, Miss Jasmina.”
Well, she was just seventeen,
You know what I mean,
And the way she looked was way beyond compare.
So how could I dance with another, (Ooh)
When I saw her standing there. xx.
The screen flickered with the ghostly image of a face she knew only too well. The song, especially chosen for this day, as so many others had been before it, faded slowly and the face became animated as if actually in the room.
“Jasmina, 17, almost a woman. I won’t throw too much of the love stuff at you; wouldn’t want you to cringe on your birthday and crease up that pretty face of yours or are you into makeup now?”
“I thought so, I remember 17. I remember the girls in their tight jeans or their impossibly short checkered school dresses. Yes, the girls even did that then. Some of the teachers used to break out the rulers and measure the distance between their knees and their hems. They remind me of school sports. We always spent one morning a week, for six weeks, at the local pool. The girls wore crocheted bikinis, the occasional slick one piece, while the boys hid in the cold water. One guy couldn’t hide it. He was standing on the 10 metre spring board with an enormous… amount of excitement. The girls were beside themselves in giggles.”
Jasmina smiled; her dad could go on sometimes.
“You’re so inappropriate, Dad.”
“I know, I know, surprising your mum pursued me for so long across so many countries.”
And there it was again, the faint hint of an adventurous life, suggesting her mother was older than she looked and more like the way she acted.
“I wonder if your voice is as lovely as your mother’s. Apparently her mother was similar again, but I never met your grandmother Isla or your grandfather Sean.”
Jasmina gasped… Sean?
“Your Auntie Claire and Uncle Kevin knew him. They met long before I came along. George is the only one I brought into your life, and the boys. I know they’re only your half brothers, but I’d like to think they were more… and I’m starting to get sentimental gain.”
She didn’t mind his sentimentality, it aged him, unlike the screen, which always showed him as she remembered.
“Perhaps I’ve done too many of these in a row. I tend to do four or five, you know. Anyway, lots of stuff to trawl through attached within. I think I’m featuring 1983 this year. Michael Jackson of course, Paul McCartney makes a bit of a comeback, but no Tigers in the finals. George and I skipped off to Europe for the first time and that sort of leads me back to you and your mum. Did you ever wonder why I had that dragon tattoo on my shoulder? You probably think it should be a tiger. I always imagined a tiger on my other shoulder, its stripes the initials of my children. Your mother and I were re-acquainted at a Tiger’s match, but I chose the year she came back to me instead; the year of the dragon. I remember how you used to trace it with your fingers when you were little, but I’m sure you’ve got better things to do, it’s your birthday… enjoy.”
Jasmina reached out to the screen above as her father flickered and faded away. She was slightly dumbfounded. A little like the year before. 1983 - what was that all about? Was he really so old when he died that he was getting everything mixed up? She was more than intrigued. Was 1983 the year of the dragon?
“Computer, display the Chinese years of the dragon from 1983.”
The years flashed up on the screen… 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, 2036 and 2048… 2048 was next year. Did that make her a half dragon at 18? That was silly, but 2024 wasn’t. That was six years before she was born. Jasmina wondered if that was the year her parents hooked up. She researched the year for ages without finding a single mention of her parents.
There was a faint tap at her window, which snapped her back to reality. It was her first contact at seventeen. Jasmina rolled off her bed only to find Sean standing pensively outside. She slid the window up and climbed out to greet him.
“I was sort of expecting to come in.”
“We do have a front door, Sean.”
“Yeah, but it’s too early and every…”
“I know, everybody else will be showing up soon for the surprise party; I’m not stupid, not after last year.”
“I bought you a present.”
“It’s kinda small…”
“So was last years.”
Jasmina snatched the tiny box out of Sean’s outstretched hand and ripped it open unceremoniously. She was notoriously difficult to please these days, yet this brought a smile.
“Another gargoyle, with his hands over his ears, don’t believe everything people tell you, eh?”
“Something like that. I see you’ve got the other two dangling from your ears.”
“I think I’ll put this one on my clit ring.”
“Your what… you haven’t?”
“No, gross!” Jasmina laughed at his reaction, she would have to try that out on her mother. “It can go on my belly button ring. Would you like to do the honours? It’s either that or my nose ring.”
“Belly button sounds good. It would look like a huge gorby hanging off your nose and that would really freak your mum out..” Sean paused. There was a look in Jasmina’s eyes that suggested the huge gorby gargoyle might be a good idea.
“Don’t worry, I have another idea; better than a gorby gargoyle. Come on, get on with it.”
She had pulled her t-shirt up to her neck exposing her bra, accidentally on purpose, drawing a pinkish hue across Sean’s face. He crouched down tentatively and attached the new gargoyle to her belly button ring. Jasmina held up her t-shirt for longer than was necessary as Sean averted his eyes and questioned his work.
“Perfect, now come with me. I’m guessing the party doesn’t start for a few hours.”
Jasmina slipped her hand into Sean’s. It felt natural, yet more uncomfortable by the day. She tugged him along regardless, down the stone fence-lined lane and into town.
“Where we going?”
“Town, did you know you were named after my grandfather?”
“Apparently your mum and dad knew him, but my dad never met him. I’m still trying to process the dates. My mum and dad supposedly hooked up in the year of the dragon.”
“That’s next year, so it wasn’t 12 years back, but maybe 24.”
“I couldn’t find a single reference.”
“So that’s what you were concentrating on all this time.”
“How long were you watching me?”
“I… um… where are we going again?”
There was only one obvious place in the there direction and it terrified Sean somewhat. Jasmina marched up to the door confidently and waited for Sean to catch up.
“What would your mum…?”
“She’s got one, on her arse. Dad had two, apparently. You should get one too.”
“Come on, chicken. How bad can it be if my mum has one? Besides, it’s my shout. You bought me that lovely little gargoyle, so I’ll shout you a tattoo.”
Sean was being dragged more than agreeing. He wanted to protect Jasmina and he could only do that by following her inside. He figured if the place was a dive he’d be able to talk her out of it, but if it wasn’t… The tattoo parlour smelt like a hospital ward, its walls decorated with the most artistic designs imaginable.
The tattooist greeted them with pleasant recognition. “You’ve been here before.”
“Only for piercings. I want to go the whole hog this time.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I’ve got a picture, a tiger; see… can you do that?”
“Not a problem. On the shoulder like this one?”
“Yeah, but bigger. I want its head to start below my shoulder blade, its body over my shoulder and its tail down to the bottom of my elbow. What are you having?”
Sean pointed at the wall behind the reception desk. “Um, I like that.”
“Indiana Jones, with the whip pose, really? I didn’t think you were into that stuff.”
“You might be surprised what I’m into… ladies first I’m guessing?”
“Well, it was my idea.”
Jasmina sat in the chair, stripped off her t-shirt and held her bra unclipped discreetly across her chest. She was determined to do this and determined to get Sean inked up, but she wasn’t prepared for the pain. She hid it well at first, with no more than bite of her lip. Then the sweat started, and she grit her teeth manfully, digging her nails into the chair as Sean hovered uncomfortably. He did so for our hours and it still wasn’t finished. The tattoo artist advised the yellow stripes be coloured in at a later date.
The result was spectacular, but Sean was no longer in the mood to join the party. The needles looked painful, Jasmina’s skin was red raw, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to lose that much blood. Jasmina’s mother worried him, but not in regards to the tattoo; they were late for the birthday party.
“Your turn, Sean.”