A wild slim alien

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The lugger

Through the pain and the pain relief, through the half-heard urgent discussions at my bedside, through the drifting in and out of consciousness while the baby – my baby – slept alongside me, there were two conflicting moods.  First, the euphoria, the joy, the sheer woosh of having at last brought a life into the world, of immediately loving the creature, her initial wide-eyed, bamboozled alertness, her uniqueness as an individual life form regardless of the derivation of her genes.  She was light but she was solid, her presence the strongest reality in my dreamlike state, a connection to the world which was both the balm of love and the alarm of fear.  I could be soothed and lulled, or stung and poised at any moment for fight or flight, even in the midst of this exhaustion.  Fear was the keynote of the second mood.  We had necessarily put ourselves into the system, and with the proof of the alien’s story now before me – her beautiful little oriels and oversize shoulders, the unusually wide spacing between her eyes which seemed in itself conclusively other – it was obvious that the system could only be equated with captivity.  I knew instinctively that I would give myself any amount of pain and force myself to override it, if that was what it took to get my daughter to a place of safety.  A place where she would not be held up and scrutinised as a miracle, but regarded simply as a child to be loved and nurtured.  I trusted the alien and Rupa to find a way out.  I knew they would not let me down, but at the same time I realised we would have only the one chance.  If anything went wrong, we would find ourselves under lock and key and lives under a high security regime would await us all.  For our own protection, they would say.

But why did the alien let the consultant take photos of me, and our baby?  I was too drained to protest.  I hoped they knew what they were doing.  When the alien whispered in my ear that they were playing Gareth into the team, because it might result in him giving us greater protection, I was relieved.  And when the following morning brought a visitation, the strategy proved its worth.

‘I’m sorry,’ said our protector, ‘but I must insist you leave.  This was a particularly unusual birth and mum is understandably tired, and in no way up to receiving visits from the chief executive and half of his office.’  He ushered the disgruntled man and the suits flanking him back into the corridor.  The baby was swaddled, so the bigwigs did not get a peep at her upper body, but that only meant that there was now another danger – that having been thwarted, they might seek advice from London.  It would be a convoluted chain, but it would not take long before people considerably more forceful than those who had just tried to enter the room started appearing at our door.  And Gareth would be powerless to prevent their entry.  We just had to hope that Cornwall’s distance from the centre of government and intelligence might buy us some time, even if only a day.

The consultant was obliged to attend to other births and patients, and we were left alone.  The implications of the chief executive’s visit had not escaped the alien or Rupa.

‘We need to go tonight.  I’ll call Sandy.  Rupa, can you acquire whatever meds are necessary?’  Rupa nodded.  ‘Chan, do you think you could stand, and see how it feels to walk up and down the corridor?  That way if anyone sees you tonight, they’ll be more inclined to think you’re exercising.’

The rest of the day passed in a state of heightened tension.  Gareth reappeared at intervals, talking with the alien, about what he remembered of Badezoid reproduction and birth, and with me about how the pregnancy had been, its unusual length and features.  He even purported to show understanding as to why we had tried not to involve the health service in the baby’s delivery, though he said we had run an absurdly high risk in doing so.  He had obviously convinced himself that he was being told the truth.  We tried to appear relaxed, proud parents who now saw that involving a benevolent, caring health system was nothing more than reassuring.

Fortunately Gareth had himself a home life to which even he must return, and as evening began we were left alone with only the odd passing midwife for company.

At one point in that long night of waiting Rupa asked,

‘What are you going to call her?’

‘I don’t know.  None of the names I ever had in mind before seem right now.  Have you thought of anything?’

‘I have thought of something, yes, an Indian name.  Apsara.  It means ‘celestial maiden’.

‘And I have remembered something too,’ said the alien, nodding at Rupa’s suggestion.  ‘I think it might even have been my grandmother’s name.  Suloch.  One with beautiful eyes.’

‘Apsara Suloch.  Yes.  How do you like your name, Apsara Suloch?’  The baby wriggled her elbows, as if anticipating the expressive extension of her wings.  Of course, it might have been in response to the tickle I gave her chin.

We made our escape at three in the morning.  Rupa held Apsara, and the alien helped me, going ahead at times to check that our way was clear.  Only once did we have to duck into a hiding place before reaching the exit.  A dirty white van stood alone in the visitor’s car park.  Sandy stood ready by its back doors.  He greeted us with a smile, and opened them.

‘It’s what in smuggling terms you might call a lugger,’ said Sandy.

We ran for our dear lives, as a lugger might have, across the Channel, pursued by the King’s cutters.  The sound of a siren cut through the night, above the growl of the van, piercing us all.  But then the ambulance passed us at speed, heading for A&E, and the tension drained away.

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Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration

I remember thinking – joking to myself through the agony – careful, gentlemen, I’m in labour and severe pain here, as the paramedics transported me towards and into the back of the ambulance.  I remember thinking: I hope this story, this tale of the alien and me, does not begin and end with an ambulance.  These weren’t the same men who responded to my 999 call, the day I found him, the day I found a wild slim man on the beach apparently suffering from amnesia.  Then my thoughts were interrupted, as one of the new pair of paramedics clamped a mask over my mouth and breathing became suddenly easier, for a while.  I drifted off on the flow of gas, and when I came back it was with a bump onto a stretcher, the feel of night air, and the electronic slithering sound of A&E doors.

The on-call obstetrician arrived moments after I did.  He told me his name, what he was about to do, and not to worry, because I was in good hands.  He was awful sure of himself, but, making an effort to focus on his words, his demeanour, the grey curls of hair above his ears, I decided to trust him.

‘Up to theatre straight away, I think.’

It seemed I was flying business class today.  But I needed everything to slow down, to slow these moments down.  I put up a hand, and the consultant signalled the porters to stop.

‘You may find that there is something… unusual about this baby.’

‘Unusual?  How d’you mean?’

‘It may be… anatomically different.’

‘Something hereditary?’

I thought that this was perhaps enough of a steer, so I nodded.

‘What exactly?’

‘I can’t – I can’t tell you that.’

He looked at me, penetrating grey eyes, the same colour as his curls.

‘May I?’  He felt again.  At one point a flicker of not knowing passed across his face, but he moved his hands onwards and erased his surprise.

‘It’s certainly a big baby; bigger than I would have expected, from the look of you.’  He paused for eminently humorous effect.  ‘Though possibly not you, dad.’  The slim alien loomed, across from the doctor, above him, above us all, a look of wild anxiety etched into his normally impassive face.  ‘But that only emphasises the need to take this one out via the tummy, so that’s what we’re going to do.  Dad, come with me and we’ll get someone to fetch you the necessary, assuming you would like to be present?’

The alien nodded, as if silenced by the new environment he found himself in.  He clutched at my hand and squeezed.  I did not want him to let go.  I was scared at the thought of being cut open, and by fearful imaginings of what would be brought forth.  This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.  Not what was supposed to happen at all.  I thought of my trusted doula.

‘Where’s Rupa?’

‘I’m here Chan,’ she said, from somewhere beyond the foot of the bed. ‘The doctor will take care of you now.’  She said it, I knew, to give me confidence in him, if I had not found it myself.  It meant, I believed, that she trusted him too.  I relaxed my head, let go of the alien’s hand, and the bed was set in motion again.

The lights were bright, too bright, even though they were angled away from my face.  I wanted the alien to stand where he could shield me, a shaggy-haired sun umbrella.  The local anaesthetic was administered, and soon I felt that my head was somehow disconnected from my lower limbs.  The alien watched somewhat aghast as they cut me open, but I pulled him back to me, letting him know with my eyes that I wanted his, until the baby was raised up high.

Not everyone spotted them at first, but the consultant knew, as he held the baby, as the umbilical was cut, and the mouth of my baby opened for the first time to emit what sounded like the typical crying of a human infant.  He played it cool. 

‘You have a girl, Ms Charlenny.  But you were not wrong.  There is a very usual formation of the scapulae here.  Helen, what do you say?’  He passed the baby to the waiting paediatrician, who took the baby a distance away to pronounce the Apgar score.  I released the wild slim alien’s hand so that he would follow.

‘Chan, she’s beautiful,’ he shouted, from the other side of the theatre.  She sounded beautiful.  I couldn’t hear the paediatrician’s reply to the obstetrician’s question; it was lost in the shouting and the crying.  Give me my damn baby, I thought.  And then there she was, pink and hairy-headed, cheesy and bloody against my breast, impossibly beautiful, and no less so because of the two scalloped protuberances on each of her outsize shoulders.

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Blind spots

With my onboard boiler, I was forever overheating, especially now it was summer.  The only way to stay sufficiently cool was to lie still, or as still as possible when a new life was beating a tattoo inside you with its possibly alien limbs.  Or beating its future wings.  I lay on the bed listening alternately to the music of and in my body and music played into my ears.  Potting was by now beyond me; occasionally I sketched.  My subjects were the coastal shack where I sometimes worked; its shape and how it was set into the fall of the land towards the sea were as familiar to me as the hands I put to work there.  Or I would draw the wild slim alien as he sat on the bed against the angled ceiling of the room.  Or Rupa, when she brought me iced drinks or an ice pack and stopped to talk to me.

She never asked me about the alien and what I really thought, but sometimes I would find myself talking about him to her, and then, just occasionally, I thought I could see hunger in the set of her mouth, however hard she tried to displace it with the curl of a gently sceptical eyebrow.  The alien when he came up brought no offerings but instead – possessor of my body – felt for kicks, felt my breasts, marvelled at how hot my forehead was, brushed hair away from it, and otherwise did his best to make me both irritable and full of heart.  When I shooed him away I immediately wanted him back.  He was in one of his nervous phases again.  At first I though it was the proximity to fatherhood, but then I got to wondering if it was something to do with Rupa.

Both of them were creatures of discretion; usually they could marshal an internal emotional explosion without it registering on their faces.  A tightness around the mouth and eyes gave Rupa away, while the alien’s gait assumed an extra awkwardness as he stood braced against the wind of feeling, wind he could master gliding through the air, but not on the ground, earthbound.  I began to sense that something had passed between them, but I would never be sure what.  Just a few weeks from bringing a new life into the universe, I wasn’t going to let myself be dragged under with anxiety about it.  People made their choices good and bad, but I knew I would go on with or without them, even with a broken or hardened heart.  I’d done it before.  And a baby only multiplied that.  Made the breaking or the hardening less likely.

And then where one day there was tension, the next it was gone.  While I was confined, they must have reached an understanding.  If they had acted on attraction, I was sure I would know.  I would feel it.  I knew the signs, after all.  Even if one had made an attempt and the other repelled, I would know.  You can’t disguise that kind of awkwardness between two people.  So when I saw them together, more or less at ease, I reckoned they must have talked, and one of them must have had the sense to rationalise the situation.  Deflate it.  I doubted it was the alien – he had a system of logic, but it didn’t apply to him personally.  He went with the tides.  It was part of what I loved about him.  He gave himself the wrong name when he baptised himself Bill.  William, well alright.  Or maybe Daniel, from the surname he had spontaneously coined when the paramedics queried his name.  Though that would have made us Dan and Chan, and we’d have had no peace from Sandy when we presented ourselves together at his bar.

‘What are we going to call the baby?’ I said as he sat on the bed one day.  Curiously this was a conversation we – an atypical human-badezoid couple, after all – had not yet had.

‘I remember so few of the names we called ourselves.  It’s one of my blind spots.’

‘But you remembered about the Gedavippio and the Peldastiquon.’

‘Through fear, I guess.  Once encountered, never forgotten.’

‘Well, obviously we don’t want to call him after those bird-murdering bastards, if he’s a boy.  That might be a little too destiny-shaping.’

‘It would be good to have one human name, one Badezoid.  I keep trying to remember – my mother’s name, my own.’

‘Ah, if I could only remember my name.’  He didn’t like to be teased, but if he was so good at irritating me, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t have fun with him from time to time.  He was a long way from fully appreciating earthling humour.  We knocked some human names back and forth for a while.  Then I decided to set him a little test.

‘Perhaps, if it’s a girl, we should call her Rupa.  That would only be fair, after all she’s done for us.’  That set his frame rigid.

‘Okay,’ he said, uncertainly.  Sometimes he was so guileless he was unreadable.

I didn’t blame Rupa.  I didn’t think she would ever have set out to ensnare him.  But somehow she managed to be both self-contained and softly magnetic and at close quarters I would have to say that I too was a little in love with her.  And I knew her curiosity might be aroused by William – whose wouldn’t by a giant shaggy Australian who was convinced he was from outer space?  And that her implacably stoic nature might be ruffled by proximity to him.  But I don’t think even in our great need of her help that I would have invited her into my house if I could trust her.  I just wasn’t that intent on self-destruction.

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Panning for gold

On subsequent nights in dreams I would find myself alone in the earth of Earth, panning for gold, picking out aurous fragments, flakes, seeds from gritty, water-trickled alluvium.  Then suddenly – gloriously – a fragment became a whole sheet of gold foil, on which I tugged to free it from the disrupted reddishness of the river bed.  Now I was aware that all around me there were many, many other tabs of gold on which to tug.  So I pulled at them too, until the sheets were piling up beside me, stacked like material in a draper’s.  Then came the feeling of people as yet unseen ominously starting to gather around me; hard people with pioneer faces who would do me harm and take what was mine.  So I tried to pull my gold faster, but now it would only come more slowly, and my mind was not on the beauty of the gold and the excitement of freeing it from the earth but on how long I could leave it before I would have to run to escape with my stack of precious cloth, and my life.  And when the moment came and I ran – ran like the wind – the sheets blew from my grasp, and I was left with just one.  I stopped and from a distance watched the hard people tear the other sheets and themselves apart.  I calmly folded my gold into smaller and smaller squares until it resembled a handkerchief.  I pressed it to my cheek, then placed in my pocket, and walked away.

On other nights still I dreamed of Dancing Ledge where I had once twirled alone, the only creature alive under the sun, or so it seemed that fine May evening.  But now in this dream I was standing on the edge of a pool carved not out of the ledge itself, but the quarry behind, a nightmare blowhole of muddy quicksand, a plugless sink into which I would be sucked if I fell into it.  I teetered on the brink in the strong westerly, and waited for the wild slim alien to fly in and rescue me.  And waited and waited and fell and woke.  Beside me he slept on, his dreams sweet now while mine had turned sour, disturbed, filled with foreboding.

I was beginning to see that I might need more support than he could give if I was to get through this pregnancy and the birth without involving the matriarchal hand of the health service.  There were ways in which he could calm me, but in a crisis he could not be relied upon to remain calm himself.  In a place somewhere near where the baby would kick me for the first time, I knew our paradisiacal state would not last.  Perhaps life had rendered me a pessimist, a fatalist who expected pain and loss and death.  I needed someone who would break my fall, when the time came, however it came.  Because whatever happened I was sure I would need to continue to place one foot in front of another, continue to draw breath, for one being’s sake or another’s.

The choice was obvious.  Her name was Rupa and she was steady, faithful, the only friend from the city where I had lived who kept offering me her ear and her shoulder when everything I touched was curdling, and I was habituating myself to death and loss and pain; all my other friends were driven away.  She had black hair that flew away from her face in unruly curling bunches – luxuriant and ludicrous all at once so that I sometimes had to restrain myself from plunging my hands into its midst for the pure joy of feeling its texture and weight.  Her nose was sharp and larger than proportion demanded but that was all; she was closer to beauty than plainness, and she never seemed to age.  Her skin had remained as healthy as her hair and her smile was an optimist’s, seemingly untainted by any measure of pain she may herself have had to swallow in her own life.  And – crucially – she was a doula.  I invited her to stay.  She accepted.  That was how I explained our need of her to the wild slim alien – that she knew about labour, and birth, and my needs.  If we were going to do this ourselves, we needed a third person we could trust.

We had already decided to avoid the usual scans.  I would not be sorry to miss the first official staging post, given what that scan had revealed in the past.  So weeks thirteen and twenty came and went without the authorities being informed that a new life – and possibly a new life form – was as yet unaccounted for.

The alien hovered by the door waiting to be introduced when Rupa arrived.  I hugged her, and felt that mess of hair against my cheek, and promptly burst into tears.  The baby kicked and the alien hopped from foot to foot as Rupa calmed me, rendering him surplus, and (I could tell) a little agitated by the wait before the formal introduction was finally made.  At that moment and ever after, neither betrayed anything about what they made of the other.  So now I had two people living in my house whose respective thoughts I would always be hard-pressed to guess.  But I needed them both.

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Oriel fables

His answer left me not much the wiser.

‘Well, there’s an exoskeletal formation on each shoulder which protrudes from what you call the scapula.  What in a free translation from the Badezoid we might call the ‘oriel’, as in the protruding window.  Let me feel yours.’

He reached over and put his long arms under my top, feeling the shape of my shoulder blades, and tutting in a way he’d picked up from Sandy as he presided over his optics.  Just as I was relaxing into the connection that was being established between skin and sleepy brain, he stopped as abruptly as he had started.

‘Your scapulae are disguised by all that potter’s wheel muscle of yours.  But in the bar and on the beach I’ve noticed that many humans have quite pronounced or pointed bone structures there, which are not dissimilar to the Badezoid child’s.  I think there might be a genetic relationship between our species that is lost in the mists of time.  That is of course something which could now be tested.’

I gave him a ‘we are not submitting ourselves to tests’ look.

‘Anyway, the casing of the Badezoid’s fledgling wings is embedded in the scapula and is not necessarily that much more pronounced than a human’s, though inevitably Badezoid shoulders develop more powerfully than yours’.

I though about mentioning Björn Borg at this point but the flippancy would almost certainly be lost on Bill.  I was by now inured to human inferiority and Badezoid superiority.  Besides, it was flattering to hear that my shoulders disproved the general rule.  At least, I think it was.

‘It might look a little odd if the baby does carry the genetic coding to develop wings, but if it did, the protuberances could still be in the spectrum of what is humanly possible and explicable.  But the ridges might raise some eyebrows.’


‘Badezoid babies have a ridge along the underside of each arm, from which an additional part of the wing structure sprouts at a varying age – the shoulder wings overlap with these so that the arms become part of an impervious whole.  If you look along my arms you can just make out the scarring where mine were cut away.  In places.’

I peered at his now wingless arms, raised nevertheless as if for flight, and looked for seams as you might in the stitched-up sides of an ancient teddy bear.  It was difficult to see by lamp and flame alone, and I was too comfortably heavy to get up and turn the main light on.  I made a mental note to check on another occasion, but I’d made more than one thorough exploration of his arms before now, kissing the length of them, and not noticed any ridges.  I trusted my lips as much as my eyes in that respect.

What a strange state I was in.  Pregnant by a man who genuinely seemed to believe he was an alien, and against all rational analysis instinctively inclined to give maternal credence to the notion that my baby might appear from the womb with a pair of wings.  It was as if in taking his seed into me I had out of reproductive necessity become part-Badezoid myself.

Was this the birth of a new species, a story that would one day be embellished to become a set of magnificent fables – a creation myth – or simply a series of delusions told by a madman and believed by a woman not much less insane, day after deluded day?  That I still did not know; I believed he wasn’t entirely sure either, or that the baby when it came would offer us proof one way or the other.

My dreams that night defied rational analysis too.  As dreams should; but these were such as I had never had before, going beyond those I remembered from my previous pregnancies, before each successive would-be life was unfairly, harshly snuffed out.  I dreamt of walking with Bill through what in the dream and on waking I knew was a forest on Badezon; the scale of the trees was unearthly and their unfamiliarity magical.  Badezon appeared as a deserted world in which the alien and I roamed together, as if we had been given the planet to populate.  The wild slim alien’s wings were spread like a cloak around my shoulders as we drifted along a short distance above the sandy forest floor.  And the love we made hidden among waterside trees that bore some resemblance to weeping willows woke me with a start.  For a moment the vivid reality of the dream took away my breath, and the whole of me heaved with waves and wings of desire.

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Leaping roe

This was happiness.  The day-to-day stuff, not the burn and scorch of fast-flaring love; that was now in the past.  Why did I not tell him that I was pregnant?  Because this was happiness.  And because I knew what havoc the introduction of a third party could wreak.  So I blocked out the knowledge when I was with him to avoid it showing on my face.  The physical effects of the pregnancy I blamed on bugs and food poisoning, trusting that if he really were an alien, human biology would not be his strong suit.  But of course, I would have to tell him soon; nightly our bellies came together, and whether for the purposes of alien research or out of plain human curiosity, he remained observant of our life together, sometimes astutely so.

I kept giving myself one more day; then, as each seemed as ordinarily perfect as the one before, I kept feeling disinclined to cast a possible shadow over it and all the days that followed.  When not lingering in the present moment, I made my memory work hard to avoid thinking about the future – about, for example, how I would navigate the health system with a life form that just might turn out to be regarded by it as freakish.  I knew I needed to think about that, but I didn’t want to yet.  So I wandered back to the last time I had been as happy as this, day-to-day.  The year before my parents died, the summer that began with the invigilator signalling the end of the last exam.  It was a song that sent me there, one of the ones the wild slim alien and I listened to in front of the fire, after eating, before bed.  ‘Harvest time’.  I found myself before the memory of a boy who worked holidays on the farm whose acreage surrounded our house, and of a girl who had nothing she needed to do with her summer, nor anything better than read or listen to music, except to meet the boy in his lunch hour, and on Sundays.

When we were aged thirteen he and his friend whose name I can no longer remember had on a perfect summer’s day chased us – me and my friend who I last saw a dozen years ago – along the rutted furrows of a farm track.  When we broke across the lines of discarded barley stems, they followed us, until eventually we tumbled down laughing, glistening and unrelenting in the shade of a stand of trees whose coolness was doubled by the neighbouring pond deliberately and artlessly dug into the shallow bowl of the landscape, its chalky sides the scummy white froth atop the muddy brew of weak coffee-coloured water.  An East Anglian oasis, and we on that day were their mirage, conscious for the first time of a power that we could call upon but they could not.  Straw stuck to our clothes, we flirted, and they learnt to take it, and deal with it the best they could, or could not.  They panted like dogs and begged to be petted, but they were boys and we were almost women.

Three years later and we were both full-grown.  His shoulders had broadened and his muscles were toned from working the sacks on the potato harvester.  I led him by the hand through the ancient corridor of interlinked barns, lit by gaps where the wood had rotted.  At the time it felt like we were the first who had ever made such a walk, the first who had ever settled in such a nest constructed and walled with hastily re-arranged bales of hay, but now I realise that the barns would have seen many such couplings over the four centuries that they had stood.  But at the time, of course, there were no ghosts, just me and the boy, and our beating hearts and sweaty palms.  His insistence, my acceptance, my choice of place.  I wanted the transition as much or more than I wanted him.  I knew I was not for him, but I was happy enough to let him be the one.  I couldn’t wait to tell the friend who had run with us that perfect summer’s day, the friend who had chaperoned me when I first visited his house.  In his surprise at our visit, he had leapt through the door of his bedroom and clunked his head on the lintel that long habit usually and automatically allowed him to avoid.  His mother brought tea and a cold flannel and we looked him in the eye to make sure he wasn’t concussed.  I sat next to him on his bed and gingerly dabbed at the cut with the flannel.  Emboldened by his injury, unembarrassed by my friend’s presence, I put my arm around him, lifted the blood-matted hair from his hot, damp forehead, and softly kissed him there.

In the barn we lay a while, straws of straw marking our backs as we gazed into the time-blackened depths of the roof above the cross-beams; there were bats up there somewhere, for sure, and mice beneath the bales.  Occasional sparrows flitted over us, having found their way in through the same gaps in the wood as the sunlight.  Arms flung over each other, I reflected on his absence of knowledge, his expectation that I would know what to do, that I would be his guide rather than he mine.  And so with clumsy directness and overswift accomplishment on his part we both made the transition.  But oh! the extraordinary particularness of it, the feel of him slipping hard inside me.  I had had a taste of the tidal tug that existed between those two overlapping forces, desire and satisfaction, and I wanted more of it.

Today the barns are unrecognisable.  I went back to East Anglia for a period, before coming to Cornwall.  I ate a meal in the fancy restaurant that had once been home to bales and bird shit and a girl and a boy, and drank wine from the vineyard which became the farm’s chief raison d’être; the rest of its thousand acres sold to an agribusiness.  No-one recognised me, and I didn’t declare myself.  The young waitress who served me might have been me.  I didn’t doubt that there was a kitchen hand who coveted her, nor that the after-hours privacy of the restaurant’s toilets or linen store cupboard ensured that the barns still saw their fair share of transitional moments.

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We found a plane together

From that day forwards the wild slim alien would not voluntarily talk about his origins, and became extremely discomfited if I tried to persuade him to do so.  I learned not to ask: ‘What are you thinking?’  To a troubled mind, there is no escape from such a question except through deceit, and I did not want the awareness of a lie infecting with its toxins the calmness of the atmosphere in which we once again began to co-exist.  It was as if, having reached a crisis point, and finding himself standing at the crossroads with full-blown insanity signposted in one direction and the chance of recovery in another, Bill had chosen to set himself against the uphill gradient of the latter; had chosen to contain what was wild and alien in him within the framework of my protection – and whatever protection his own damaged mind afforded.

I thought again about going to the police, before it became clear in those next few days that he was fighting hard to regain permanent control of his mind.  I couldn’t think how I might approach them without suspicions arising that I knew more about the person after whom I was enquiring than I was letting on.  I even went as far as looking up contact details for missing persons in Australia and New Zealand, but I could not bring myself to ring or email.  I did not want to lose him; and it was my considered opinion that he was already lost to anyone that loved him from before, because he remembered no-one.  No-one born on this planet, at least.

As yet unaware of the life growing within me – for it did not seem a lie not yet to tell him in his state that he was to be a father – we found a plane together, and lived happily upon it for those weeks before the baby showed.  The plane was a bed, in which we made love, with less abandon than before, but greater consideration, giving ourselves pleasure which had depth if not height; but the plane was also the land outside our door – the tortured circuitous paths which followed the ceaseless three-dimensional wriggles of the Cornish coast.  In the embracing arms of out-of-season coves that we had to ourselves, we would cool off from the up and down efforts of our rambles in sun-warmed rock pools or – once Bill had overcome his fear of returning to the element from which he had apparently emerged free of memory – the sea itself.

After swimming we would lie in the sun and dry off, listening to the waves rush or lap, slowly allowing ourselves to move towards a state in which, invisible from the coastal path above, we would lick the salt from each other.

Afterwards we would eat the fresh rolls and the fruit we had brought along, and drink sparkling water, warmed from the sun on the black bag in which we carried it.  Soon we would set off again, either for home or further along the path.  On one such an occasion, I determined to spoil our usual peaceable silence.

‘This can’t go on forever, you know.  I’ve got to get back to work.  So we can eat.  You know, that thing you like doing so much.  And you need to find something to do too.  To keep yourself busy while I’m busy.  I don’t care whether you earn any money or not but you need to start filling that mind of yours with the day-to-day so that at least for a time you can stop dwelling on whatever or whoever it was that you were in the past.’

He thought about that for a while, then said, ‘That’s the problem though – I don’t know what I’m good for.  Couldn’t I help you?’

‘We could try – but you’re a touch on the clumsy side and I have my doubts that those will ever be potter’s hands.’

‘Sandy might let me work at the bar.’

This was, at least from Bill’s perspective, rational; plausible even.  But I was reasonably sure that while Sandy might be happy to engage with Bill’s weirdness himself, he would be a shade less keen for his customers to encounter it.  Plus I didn’t want him that close to alcohol on a regular basis.

‘I think you’d probably drop too many glasses for Sandy’s liking.  But we could ask him,’ I added, seeing something like a flicker of disappointment register on what had become a habitually impassive face.

He thought some more, gazing out at the swell of the sea.

‘I want to hang glide.’

This was dangerous territory.  Not because hang gliding seemed to me an insanely risky pursuit, but because Bill was evidently searching for ways to bring himself closer to the winged alien he imagined he used to be.  I cursed myself for ever crediting his story once he had discovered lodged in the previously inaccessible vaults of his mind.  I cursed myself for wanting to believe, for letting myself be subsumed in the powerful romance of becoming one with an extraterrestrial.  I cursed myself for playing along with the notion that the stories he told about flying over Badezon must be true because the detail of his narrative was so exacting.  We had seen the hang gliders one afternoon, rising from a headland on the westerlies, steering once airborne for the flat land set back from the beach.  I knew he had been struck by the sight at the time, asking me who they were and what they were doing, but he had not mentioned them again until now.

I laughed, nervously.  ‘I’m not sure you can make a living out of hang gliding.’

‘You said that didn’t matter.’

‘It would cost a lot of money – for the equipment, for lessons.’

‘If I work for Sandy, I can pay for it.’

Having opened up the subject, I couldn’t think of a reasonable way of closing it down.  Once we reached the next cove, and the old fishing port that crowded its steep sides, I rang for a taxi home.  Bill sat in the back while I sat next to the driver in order to soak up the majority of the conversation.  His interactions were still unpredictable.  Soon I would have to step away, and let the wild slim alien explain himself to the people he met without a minder by his side.

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Festooned with flowers

He had seemed so normal in his abnormality. No different from dozens of my peers at school, girls and boys, in that respect. A generation of ordinary kids with freakish personality traits, or freakish kids who had somehow managed to contain themselves within the ordinary every day reality of late 20th century Britain, and who had, come the 21st century, freakishly blossomed, or wilted.

The day the ambulance men came, I should have handed him over to them. The psychiatrist on call at A&E would not have taken anything like as long as it took me to realise he ought to be sectioned. But I had taken him in, I had allowed myself to become responsible for him, and more than that, to fall heavily in love with the contrast between his slim wildness and his unassuming gentleness. And now he was waving bread knives in the face of my petrified elderly neighbours. How I managed to talk them out of ringing the police, I have very little idea. I remember begging them not to, without suggesting who exactly it was that they should not call. I blamed Bill’s ‘somnambulant nightmares’, which wasn’t so very far from the truth. As long as they don’t open the door in the middle of the night again, I don’t think they’ll come to any harm at his hands. And at least he was sufficiently surprised by their appearance – visibly elderly humans who have almost certainly never raised a hand against anyone their whole lives long – not to think that they were the Peldastiquon or Gedavippio he now believes are keeping him here against his will.

I froze though when he accused me of being in league with them. Then I exploded with frustration at how my care, my love, was being misinterpreted. ‘Go if you think anyone is keeping you here – no-one, least of all me, is standing in your way.’ For more than a solitary moment I thought the bread knife was going to end up in me. Those same ambulance men would be back to hurry me away for life-saving surgery; my consciousness heightened by imminent death, I could hear their conversation over my prone body as the ambulance rushed me away: ‘I knew there was something fishy about that bloke’. But it seemed to bring him to his senses, and I led him inside to bed.

There was always the possibility that my retired neighbours would think better of accepting my entreaties and appeasement, and ring the police to tell them about the knife-wielding homicidal maniac that I was harbouring next door. That was just one of the thoughts that was keeping me awake as he slept. In the absence of sleeping pills, I had given him three antihistamine tablets – one had always been enough to knock me out.

But the police calling and what the homicidal maniac might do to me in the privacy of my own home were not in fact the source of my greatest anxiety. Could there be anything worse than this dual threat to a continued and peaceable existence? Well, yes, there could.

I was as certain as my potter’s hand that I was pregnant. For the fifth time. That it was the fifth time gave my certainty a strong case, without any need to test it. The ‘man’ who must be the father was under the impression that he was an alien from a planet called Badezon. I couldn’t help feeling that a paranoid, homicidal extraterrestrial was not ideal fatherhood material, nor for supporting a woman through a fifth pregnancy when the previous four had all ended prematurely. But he couldn’t do worse than the uncommunicative, listless earthling who had overseen each successive failure with increasingly grim reluctance. No, that was not quite fair. Who but a saint would not have wished to escape from the repetitive horror of that time?

Of course I was scared that history was about to repeat itself one dangerously final time. But the fear was intermingled with sudden stabs of optimism and joy that went beyond those I had experienced before. Perhaps that’s what it took to allow me to make it to term and beyond – alien genes! I had often had the sense that Bill was directed to me; by what force I hesitated to speculate. But might this not be an act of kindness on that force’s part? Hadn’t I always known that by allowing Bill into my house in the first place, I was giving my consent to whatever followed? Leaving aside the craziness of the notion that inestimable and unknowable forces might be persuaded into acts of kindness, and the opposing sense that I might really be the subject of an inter-species experiment, I was incredulous that the part of me that I had exerted such an effort to control and then to shut away for good, that part had now burst back into centre stage of my mind, projecting madly, calling out to its audience – my body – to raise the theatre’s rafters with its applause and festoon the platform with flowers, milking the congratulations, revelling in the glory, and seeing nothing but a rosy future for us all together.

What a majestic combination we would make: human, alien, and humano-alien child.

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These wild tales of flight.  At first I didn’t believe them, wouldn’t dare myself to believe them.  But as he kept telling them, as he continued to convey a picture of a planet that seemed ever more plausible and increasingly real, as he never seemed to contradict himself, as what he told always seemed to build on what he had said before rather than amend or subtly refine it, well, then I began to doubt my doubts.

Whether he was telling the truth or had caught me in a web that was more or less sophisticated in its spinning – a Scheherazade to my unwitting portrayal of Shahryar – time and the unfolding of this tale will tell.  Hold your judgement, for you do not yet know what happens next, nor what after that; anything subsequent to what each of us, alien and human, has so far related.

We were so happy discovering what our bodies – alien and human – were together, and how they seemed less themselves, less our own, when at last we unwillingly separated the one of us from the other in order to pee or to eat.  We talked and talked, words tumbling out of first one of us, then the other.  Everything he said was a surprise, and I surprised myself with much of what I said, having through love become suddenly and shrewdly clear about my life and my art.  We might be seeing everything through lenses the colour of rose, but every tinged-pink detail was sharp.  The questions we asked of each other were the ones which addressed the formative parts of our selves, and we fished deep within for the answers, like ocean probes seeking out information far beyond the level to which light penetrated, the self-generated radial light of a previously undiscovered species being the sole source illuminating the murk as the answer rose back to the surface, thrusting aside the wash and plash of those everyday creatures drawn towards the sunlit fringes of the liquid mass.

The hearts of our minds were as much as each other’s disposal as the napes of our necks and the tenderest parts of our navels.  We ate and drank of each other.

Nothing he said gave any hint that he had lived as a human and was now deceiving me, except his quickly established facility with a new language, that and the extent of what he described – without any sense of knowingness or irony – as his programmed knowledge about the earth.  Physically and socially he was still as awkward as shy adolescent, but this only served to make his story stronger.  There was a lot you could learn about humans from a distance, but interacting with them on their planet was always going to be a challenge.

Besides, after that one night at Sandy’s, we shunned the social for some time, content simply to develop the rules of our own intimacy, of first contact.  How odd that he should be learning the nuance of look, touch and word from one who had almost forgotten what it was to be close to another; from one who had found proximity to another suffocating for so long, long ago.  But I had to lead, and that gave me confidence, and an acknowledged pleasure in shaping the wild slim alien’s understanding of a relationship, of love, of what it was to be human.  I was making him in my image, out of my own rib.

Of course, I got too comfortable.  Imperceptibly I began to think that the present moment would stretch infinitley into the future.  I should have known that it couldn’t last.  The rebirth of his nightmares was only the beginning, but sure enough it was his screaming during the first reprisal of them which ripped me not only from sleep but from that state of bliss.

‘What is it my love, what’s wrong?  Tell me what’s wrong.’  As if I had the power by listening to cure him of his terror, his madness, if that is what it was going to turn out to be.  For that is what I would begin to fear, that he was simply mad, in an essentially human way, that this was not the inevitable pain and estrangement of an alien far from home.  I ran my hands over his back, trying to smooth away the intensity of his distress into something more manageable, but my hands it seemed were sand-paper to him, and when they touched his shoulders, he screamed a scream of hurt.  Startled, I fell backwards, and smacked the back of my head on the low, sloping ceiling.  I must have lost consciousness, but his continued screaming was soon as effective as cold water would have been in reviving me.  I could feel a bump swelling and an oncoming headache, but I knew I had to calm him down before – on a still night when there was no wind to mask sound – one of the neighbours called the police.  I held him as firmly as I could by the arms and tried to hush him with eye contact.  In between gasps of air that entered his lungs and hung heavy there, he spoke a few words.  This is the sense that I made of it:

‘I dreamt that my wings were being severed.  One of my own people, with a sharp knife.  They would have to be strong to cut through tendons which connect wing to body.  There is no greater crime, short of killing.  Instances are rare outside of war now that the days of the ancients are long behind us.  These Badezon were of a wing-taking sect that is as reviled as cannibals are by your people.  How can they come to me as real as they seemed and yet I am unable to return to the world from which they travel?’ 

‘These dreams of yours.  They are a curse.  My species do not dream.  Our sleep is short but deep and rarely troubled.  We awake and we think of the new day, and sing our praises to it.  Images of horror come only in conscious reflective moments.  We control them, not they us.  We turn them into art, drama, but we process such imaginings quickly, and we never dwell on them.’

It was as if he was calling down a curse not only on what was bad about our dreams, but what was good; and on the ambitious deliberations of what we might achieve in future that we also counted as dreams.  A sentiment confirmed by the morning light when it revealed the raw red welts on each of the wild slim alien’s shoulder blades.