Friday, 23 March 2012

Personal Effects

It didn’t feel like that serious a bump on the head. Certainly not enough to kill her. But, here she was, standing over her own body, wondering what exactly was supposed to happen next.  It occurred to Eliza, just a few minutes after she slipped on a stray magazine and a brief collision with the coffee table ended her life prematurely, that her living room was kind of a mess.
“Eliza Brink?” A nervous, almost adolescent voice queried from behind her.
“What the…” Eliza span around, intending to chastise this intruder. “You made me jump out of my skin!” She admonished. “Or, out of my ectoplasm.” That thought made her wrinkle her nose. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what figures of speech are appropriate for this particular situation.”
She turned her attention to her new guest. Tall, skinny, with hair that could do with a good trim and a denim jacket that had definitely seen better days.
“Who the hell are you, anyway?” She asked.
“Ah! Right…” The stranger reached into his jean pocket, pulled out a tiny rectangle of paper and proceeded to unfold it until it was the size of a broadsheet.
“I am the Reaper,” he read aloud, forming the words like a child who has only just learned to read. “But fear not, Eliza, for I am here to take you to a better place.”  With that, he refolded the creased document and returned it to his pocket.
“Is that it?” Eliza asked, incredulous. “That paper was huge.”
“The rest is directions,” he told her. “I’m new.”
“How new?”
Eliza rolled her eyes, then sadly realised that it didn’t quite have the same effect when her actual eyes were at floor level, staring at the ceiling.
“Fine,” she said, “but I have some things to do first.”
“Oh, sorry,” he shook his head, “that’s not how it works. There’s no time allotted in your schedule for unfinished business. Seems you must have kept your house in order, so to speak.”
“Except I clearly didn’t,” Eliza snapped, “or I might not have been killed by a rogue Marie-Claire. No. I’m staying to tidy up. Can’t have anyone finding my body in this bombsite.”
“Why not?”
“Why do you bloody well think? Because by the time the story gets around, they’ll be saying I was half eaten by cats and nobody missed me.”
“Jesus, lady…”
“Oh. Oh no. Enough of the lady. I may well not be eighteen anymore, but I don’t think I’ve quite reached lady yet! Not that I ever will now, I suppose.”
It was the Grim Reaper’s turn to roll his eyes. Eliza took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, glad to discover that it had a calming effect even when no air was going taken in or out.
“Listen,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“Pete,” he replied. Eliza perched herself on the arm of the sofa and patted the spot next to her. The grungy youth sat down next to her.
“Well, Pete…” She patted his knee, relieved that hand sanitiser would no longer be an issue, and said: “Is there any way, any way at all, that you could help me out? Please?”
Pete’s eyes flitted from the hand on his knee, to her chest, and then past her to the body on the carpet.
“Are you flirting with me?” He asked. “Because, I mean, I’m flattered and everything, and you are fit, but I just don’t think I’d be comfortable doing anything…” He lowered his voice to a whisper; “…with that in the room.”
Eliza removed her hand from his knee as quickly as humanly possible, and stood. Pete recoiled ever so slightly, as if she were about to slap him, but she simply began picking up detritus from the floor.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Masturbating,” she barked. “What does it look like, you cretin? I’m tidying up.” She vanished into the kitchen for a moment, then re-emerged with a bin bag.
Pete could only watch, and quietly despair. What was she going to do next, go upstairs and turn her mattress? Clean the toilet? This was exactly the kind of thing he’d been worried about. What had kept him up half of last night. He’d read her file beforehand, naturally. (Preparation is key in any job, his mum had told him that, before sending him off to Nando’s, CV in hand.) She seemed like quite a handful, for his very first job. His superiors had simply said, should a “situation” arise, to simply use his initiative.
Because initiative is something one is bound to find in a seventeen year old who died by falling off a motorbike while trying to impress a girl.
“Oh, Cindy,” he murmured wistfully, “we could have been so good together.”
He had a vague notion that Eliza had gone upstairs, but was too deep in his own reverie to notice – until she descended in high heels, a fur coat and ridiculously large sunglasses.
“What… is… that?” Pete asked, resisting the urge to tell her how much it reminded him of his nana’s nervous breakdown.
“What, this old thing? Nothing.” Eliza shrugged. “Right! Let’s blow this joint.”
“Um. Not so fast… You can’t wear that.”
“Why not?” She looked down at herself, then back at him. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing at all! It’s very… nice. But you didn’t die in it.”
“I’m sorry?”
“You can’t take it with you because it’s not what you died in.”
“Oh. That’s a rather unkind rule, don’t you think? What happens to all the people who die in those arse-less hospital gowns?”
“Exactly what you’d expect to happen, I’m afraid.”
Eliza grimaced, then acquiesced.  She removed the shades, then the coat, and finally stepped out of the kitten heels.  Then her eyes lit up with inspiration, and she strode over to where her body lay on the rug.
“I might not have died in them,” she muttered to herself, “but I can make people think I did…”  Then, to Pete, she said; “Come on, help me with this. Then I’ll be ready to go, I promise.”
Pete sighed, crouched by the body, and heaved the immobile torso up, enabling Eliza to wrap the fur around her own cold shoulders.
“You’re just lucky rigor mortis hasn’t set in,” Pete told her. “It would make this twice as difficult.”
“Yeah, I’m having a really lucky day,” Eliza responded, pulling both Ugg boots off the body and forcing its feet into the Manolos. Finally, she placed the sunglasses delicately onto her own face, which had turned a rather unflattering shade of blue.  The moment those glassy, unseeing eyes were concealed, she began to feel better.
“You know, the Ancient Greeks used to put coins over the eyes of their dead,” Pete said quietly. “So they could pay the boatman on the River Styx.”
“Well, those cost a pretty penny,” Eliza said, rising to her feet. “I imagine my fare will be paid a few times over.”
“You look a right picture,” Pete said, gesturing to the body with his foot. “In a nice way, I mean.”
“Don’t I?” Eliza beamed. “People will think I was off out to the opera.”
“Is it important to you?” Pete asked. “What people think?”
“I never thought so,” she said, gazing down at herself, “but yes. It is.” She was silent for a moment, then leant in as if to tell him a secret. “I had a look through my cupboards when I was cleaning. Found lots of coffee, and even more wine. Not much food. I hid a few bottles of vino in the back yard – didn’t want anyone thinking I was a lush.”
“Fair’s fair,” Pete agreed. “Are you ready to go now?”
“I think so,” Eliza nodded. She glanced around the now spotless living room, then down at her body one last time. “Come on then. Home, James, and don’t spare the horses.”
Pete smiled, even though this reference flew right over his head. He took Eliza by the hand.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” he said, suddenly nervous. Eliza squeezed his hand, and together they walked through the living room wall.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Face Of The New World

The Daisy Wyatt Interview
She sparked a global scandal, made history, and has been on the receiving end of endless fan mail and death threats. Vanity Fair editor Rachel Black sat down for an exclusive tête-à-tête with Daisy Wyatt and found out just how a bookie’s daughter from Yorkshire became arguably the most famous woman of the 21st century.
I first meet Daisy Wyatt in intimate surroundings; after the location of her hotel in North London was leaked to the press, she was forced to take refuge in a small guest house.  I can see straight away that Wyatt feels more at home in this cosier environment.  She wears simple jeans and a cardigan, and her dark hair tumbles over her shoulders in what has become known as her signature style (and has been imitated by many of her fans).
When I comment on her newfound status as a style icon among everything else, she laughs, then looks away.  Clearly, then, Wyatt is a girl for whom appearance has never been a priority – although she possesses alabaster skin to die for, and her eyes have a soulful, pensive quality that make me wonder if, in another lifetime, she might have been an actress.
Wyatt, née Sullivan, was born in Harrogate, the only child of Mick and Carol. Her mother died when she was a toddler, and she was raised by her father.  “He did the best he could,” she says now, her voice warming as she speaks of him. “He would always go without to make sure I had books, shoes, school uniform.”  When I ask Daisy what her father thinks of her newfound notoriety, she refuses to answer.  It can’t be easy, I go on, for her to maintain a semblance of ordinary family life, when she has been hounded by a media circus for much of the last year.  “It’s amazing what you can get used to,” she says defiantly, which I suppose is just as well, considering where she is headed in less than a month.
“Did you know,” she asks, gazing into the fireplace of this tiny parlour, “that there was more coverage on my wedding day than the Royal Wedding?”  I tell her yes, I do know.  Every channel imaginable gathered a panel of talking heads to express their opinion; everyone from Jeremy Kyle to the Archbishop of Canterbury had their say.
I want to ask her about Edgar Wyatt, her first husband, but he is on the long, long list of subjects I have been forbidden to discuss.  Still, since I will never again have the chance to be in the same room as Daisy, I feel it is worth the risk.
“Are you still in touch with Edgar?”  I ask, preparing for her to flinch, or for her expression to harden.
“Not for a very long time,” she answers, remarkably calmly.
“He has been markedly silent since the story first broke last Spring.  Why do you think that is?”
“He’s a good man.  A better person than I, certainly.  I hurt him terribly, but he would never seek to profit from that.”
“It is common knowledge that you and Edgar were on your honeymoon that night in Cornwall.”
Daisy raises an eyebrow.
“That night?”  She smiles.  “You mean the night my life changed forever?”
“The night the entire world changed,” I say. It is a date seared into living memory. The night that humankind first made contact with alien life.
“I was just out for a walk,” Daisy mumbles, clearly tired of telling the tale.  “Ed was in the camper sleeping. I went down to the beach, fancied paddling…”
“And then, like a comet, it appeared,” I finish for her.  Every man, woman and child in the world knows the words to this bedtime story.
“Yes,” she says.  “My first thought, although it seems ridiculous now, was that I would die that night.  I thought it was an asteroid, or meteor, that would drop into the ocean like a pebble into a pond, and the ripples would send a tidal wave to snuff me out.”
“But that’s not what happened,” I prompt her, aware that our interview time is running out. Soon Daisy will be ushered out of this B&B and sent to a new, more highly confidential location.
“No, that’s not what happened.  Although my life did end that night, in a way.  The life where I worked in Ladbrokes and married my sweetheart.  Nothing was ever the same again…”  She tears up, and I decide to push her no further.  We all know how this story ends.
A saucer, so similar to those in the films, descended from the clouds, spinning out of control.  It crashed into the water, skipping just like Daisy’s pebble, until it collided with the beach, a mere twenty yards from where Daisy stood.  Edgar, having heard the unearthly sound, ran from their VW to find Daisy, and together they watched as the saucer opened, and the first extra-terrestrial to set foot on Earth staggered, injured, onto the beach.
The rest is history.
Edgar and Daisy split soon after, around the same time that Downing Street and Buckingham Palace introduced the visitor to the world.  Following the break-up, as more and more ships gathered around Earth to meet the new neighbours, Edgar became unavailable for comment, retreating to his family home in Leeds, where his loved ones closed ranks.  Daisy found it harder to shake the press.  First, she was known simply as The UFO Chaser’s Wife.  But months later, when her marriage with Edgar had been annulled, she did the unthinkable.
Daisy Wyatt, née Sullivan, became the first human woman to marry an alien.
“I never wanted to make history,” she tells me now, as her guardians tell me my time is up.  “I just fell in love.”
And what more is there to say, really?  It is a twist, albeit a groundbreaking one, on the oldest story in the book.  Soon, Daisy will set yet another precedent by being the first person to leave Earth on an alien ship.  As we stand, shake hands, and part ways, I sense fear in Daisy, as well as endless wonder.  Hers will be the first eyes to see her husband’s home world; she will explore the galaxy in ways that Earth’s astronauts can only dream of.  An indescribably adventure, yes, but also a daunting one.  I wish her every happiness as we part ways, and can only hope that this second honeymoon is an improvement on the first.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Juliet 2.0

It is never a good sign when your phone starts to ring in the middle of the night.  I reach out from under the duvet and fumble around on the nightstand, accidentally knocking the phone onto the floor in the process.  I mutter some choice words into my pillow and retrieve the phone, answering it while still face down.
“Ty! It’s me, I need your help.”  It takes me a moment to recognise my cousin’s hushed voice.
“You need to get over here,” she tells me. “Now.”
“What’s the matter?”
“There is some guy in our yard!”
“He’s creeping me out. Can you come over?”
“Who is it? Do you know him?”
“Yeah…” I can practically hear her biting her lip. “I may have danced with him earlier tonight.  I thought he was cute, but that was before I realised he’s that psycho who’s had the hots for Rosie.  Real stalker material, you know?”
“And what exactly is he doing in your yard?”
Juliet sighs.
“I think he’s professing his love for me.”
“For you?”
“I know.  Rosie will be so relieved he’s not bothering her anymore.”
“Do you think he’s dangerous?”
“I don’t know. All the doors are locked, so he can’t get in.  But Dad’s away and Mum took one of her sleeping pills, so I’m all alone out here.  I think I’d feel much safer if you came over and told him to get lost.”
“Of course.” I stumble across the room in the dark, in search of my trousers. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.  Just shut the curtains and pretend you’re not home.”
“Thanks, Ty. I owe you one.”
“Don’t worry about it cuz.”  I hang up and pull on a shirt, before grabbing my car keys and heading out into the night.