It was the size of a cricket ball, but harder, and much lighter. It felt like the husk of a strange seed blown over several seas, but when they dropped it accidentally-on-purpose from the roof of the lab, it did not shatter. It didn’t roll, either, but sat smugly on the pavement precisely where it had landed. And there were strong winds that day.
They could not make it out. They applied fire; it did not blacken. They drowned it; not a wrinkle pulled at its smooth skin.
How could they have known it only worked at 37 degrees C?
Deep in the trees, if you knew where to look, was the line. It was where sandy soil became fruity mulch, where slim willows gave way to green giants. It was where the ocean had been, once upon a time nobody could recall, or comprehend.
It was where the animals began to have pockets. One side of the line, zebras have birth to bow-legged infants; the other, bore them safe in a black-and-white pouch until ready to walk. One side, squirrels stored nuts in secret larders; the other, flat against their stomachs.
The line mattered, but no-one yet knew why.
Few people were qualified to comment on Mr Barracuda’s hair, and Miss Bobbilly did not number among them. What business was it of Miss Bobbilly’s if he glued his hair on back to front of a morning? He didn’t mind if she came to breakfast showing her slip, gruesome grey-brown fish-skin clinging as she queued for omelette. He didn’t loudly observe her sausagemeat stockinglegs in the pause after the captain struck the gong.
He didn’t nudge her just so during her constitutional so she dropped like scone batter into the foam. Except – oh, wait – he had done that. Oh yes.
Furious buzzing of wheels over steel
sheer shrilling and shrieks, clatter of windows
not bolted tight, flapping in vain
against night air in love with another.
It is speed he admires, the stealer of scarves
and of tissues still damp, of kisses still felt;
he lives for the wonder of cold metal spine,
hard alloys and glass blown from stone,
this invigorating plastic whose heart he can’t break,
under him, under him, flowing through him
too fast to feel. He lives
for the pneumatic roar as the tunnel looms,
or the bend in the track,
or simply himself,
A family of six, they travelled in an old van painted a curious shade of ochre. With four hungry children, money was in short supply, and holidays arranged pragmatically. On a rainy after-school evening every February they would gather in the garden lean-to around the lawnmower and abandoned paint cans, and one daughter – whichever had waited the longest – would throw a dart at a map of the British Isles.
When July rolled round they drove to the spot the dart had landed, and found the nearest place with trees and water, and climbed and swam and ran the summer down.
Just beyond the brow of the hill, the path divides.
The western branch is paved with bracken and charcoal; it unwinds itself among trees. About three miles ahead, it passes a cottage, where a young woman with dark hair and a chain around her ankle chops timber by day and by moonlight. There is a kiln and the smell of something burning.
The eastern spit is laid out with bone, slippery to walk on, especially in the rain. It is always raining. You pass beneath a rib-cage bridge that rattles under the weight of unknown freight.
Choose the eastern path.
It was the world’s most expensive golf course, and the most dangerous, and it went roughly like this:
Hole one. Bunkers, two. Water hazards, two.
Hole two. Miles of fairway, six. Zeppelins, six.
Hole three. Large cliff, one.
Hole four. Mines, innumerable.
Hole five. Tigers.
Hole six. Vacuum.
Hole seven. Gateaux, Black Forest: fifty-three.
Hole eight. Hole.
Hole nine. Big hole.
Hole ten. Black hole.
Hole eleven. Knitting needles.
Hole twelve. Tigers, peckish.
Hole thirteen. Frigate.
Hole fourteen. Pigeons.
Hole fifteen. Here be dragons.
Hole sixteen. Unpasteurised cheese.
Hole seventeen. Tigers, hungry, cross.
Hole eighteen. No tigers to be seen.