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Resonance: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Friday, July 8, 2005 18:51 EDT



    He turned right at the corner, dropping down to a fast walk, turning his head every few seconds to check he wasn’t being followed, praying that the woman had given up and gone back inside.

    It seemed she had.

    But what if she’d called the police?

    He crossed over, waited for a gap in traffic then hurried across to take the next turning left. He had to get out of the area, stick to the back roads and not look suspicious.

    And he had to find his way home. Wherever that was.

    His hand reached instinctively into his jacket pocket, searching for the piece of paper he knew it must contain, his lifeline whenever the world and his memory became detached.

    He took it out slowly and unfolded the note.


    Graham Smith

    Home Address: 47 Wealdstone Lane


    Wealdstone Lane? He couldn’t believe it! He’d left there six years ago! He remembered packing, he remembered waiting all morning for the removers to turn up. He’d moved to the flat in Pierrepoint Street … until that had unravelled four years ago and he’d found himself at Oakhurst Drive. 

    Had the last six years unwound?

    He read the rest of the note.


    Job: Office Messenger

    Work Address:  Post Room (Room 001), 12 Westminster Street


    At least his job hadn’t changed. He’d worked at the Department of Trade and Industry since he’d left school at sixteen. 

    He stared at the note, rereading every line, hoping the words might magically alter in front of his eyes and give him back the life he remembered.

    They didn’t.

    A group of children pushed by, running out into the road to pass, laughing and shouting and seemingly unaware of the fragility of the world they were growing up in. A lawnmower engine started up a few doors down, a car cruised by. Normality all around, seeping in to cover the cracks.

    Graham slipped the note back into his pocket and took a deep breath. Wealdstone Lane was about three quarters of a mile back the way he’d come. Back through Oakhurst Drive if he wanted the shortest route.

    He didn’t.

    He took the circuitous route instead, settling back into his walking ritual, looking for landmarks when the streets weren’t paved, markers he could use to pace between, counting the strides and making sure he always finished on an even step. Finding comfort in the simple ritual and the hope that, somehow, he was helping the world bed down and the healing process begin.

    It was nearly seven o’clock by the time he turned into Wealdstone Lane. The street looked much the same as he remembered it. The house on the corner had a new drive. Number thirty-five had been repainted. But beneath the trimmings the structure of the street remained unchanged. The same red-brick semis, tightly packed. The same undulating pavement of cracked and badly laid paving stones.

    And there was his home, number forty-seven, just coming into view. He’d been born in that house. He knew every inch of it. Nothing had changed.

    Except the wrought iron gate.

    It was black. The old gate had been silver. He’d thought about painting it black but had never gotten around to it. 

    He unlatched the gate and stepped through, keeping his feet cleanly positioned in the centre of the patio paving stones - one, two and turn, breathe and reach, switch hands and swing - once, twice, three times, release and click. He smiled, he couldn’t help it. The beauty of ritual and the unexpected joy of seeing an old friend. The gate could have performed the ritual by itself, all those thousands of times it had swung back and forth to his touch. Every caress, every motion, ingrained into its fabric.

    He took a deep breath and felt for his key as he walked the few yards to his front door. Would the key fit? He counted to four then slowly slipped the key into the lock.

    The key turned, smooth and unchecked. He counted to two, relaxed his grip and let the pressure of the lock slowly force the key back to its original position. Another count, another turn, left, right and push.

    The door swung open.

    Inside, it was like stepping back six years. The carpets, the stairs, the furniture - all exactly as he remembered. Only his face in the hall mirror had aged, everything else looked straight out of a time capsule. 

    He walked from room to room, picking up familiar objects, opening cupboard doors, fingering ornaments. He recognised them all.

    Even the ones that shouldn’t be there. Like the sofa he’d sold when he moved to Pierrepoint Street. And the electric kettle he’d bought only six months ago.

    He walked upstairs, slowly taking in his surroundings. Everything familiar, everything clean and orderly. He crossed the landing into his bedroom at the back. Again, everything was present and in its place. His small pine bed, his blue quilt, his dressing table, lamp and clock.

    And his notice board. Covered as usual in yellow Post-it notes. Everything he needed to know would be recorded there. The name of his doctor, his dentist, any appointments he had or addresses he needed to know. Everything he’d need for times like this, when the world slipped a thread and became detached from his memory.

    He read them one by one. All were written in his handwriting and yet he had no recollection of writing any of them - even the one dated yesterday.  

    He crossed the room to his bookshelf and ran a hand along the spines, checking the titles. A few he didn’t recognise, a few that should have been there weren’t. A story repeated with his clothes. The new jacket he’d bought last week was missing and there was a pair of black jeans he’d never seen before.

    Another thought hit him. How far had this thread unravelled?

    He stepped uneasily onto the landing. His parents’ bedroom door was closed. But then it always had been. At least, since the last time, the time his mother had disappeared.

    He stopped in front of the door, unsure, his hand hovering over the door handle. Should he knock? Call out?

    He knocked tentatively, the word ‘mum’ lodged in his throat.

    No answer.

    He closed his fingers around the knob, twisting and ever so slowly easing the door open. The door creaked. He peered in. Not sure what to expect. Would he see his mother, his father, an empty room?

    He could barely breathe. His hand began to shake. He pushed the door wider. Their double bed came into view; the pink bedspread, the fluffed pillows, the two bedside tables.

    His hopes fell. Both tables were empty; no book, no glass of water, no open box of tissues. No sign of occupation.

    He forced himself further into the room and checked behind the door. His mother’s dressing gown was still there. He opened the wardrobe. It was full; dresses and suits; skirts and jackets. All their clothes were there, wrapped in the smell of mothballs. He wondered if he should call out. Was there a chance they’d hear? Was there a chance they were still alive? Somewhere?


    He didn’t call and no one answered. The story of Graham Smith’s life.



    The next day he set off for work at his usual time, walking to the tube station at Harrow-on-the-Hill, waiting on the platform for the Baker Street train. The train came and he jumped on, quickly moving inside to take one of the few remaining seats. He liked to sit and gaze out the window on the opposite side. To while away his journey by looking out for landmarks. He’d tick them off as they flew by; that school, the big fir tree, the funny shaped tower. They gave meaning to his journey. He wasn’t just travelling from A to B; he was helping preserve the fabric of the world.

    A fabric in need of constant reinforcement. The more something’s observed the stronger it becomes. Its edges become sharper, its colours brighter. But ignore something long enough and it always goes away. That’s the nature of the world. One day you ride by and it’s gone.

    The train pulled into and out of stations; people got up, sat down, walked by, hung from straps, the train filling with every stop. A large man carrying a suitcase shuffled in front of Graham and grabbed a strap. Graham shifted in his seat, looking for another unobstructed view of the window. A girl stared back at him. He looked away, gazing hurriedly at someone’s back while watching the girl out of the corner of his eye. She was still looking at him, her eyes fixed. Had he left some remnant of breakfast on his face?

    He moved his tongue in a wide sweep around his mouth, checking for crumbs. The girl did the same and smiled.

    Graham reddened and slid along his seat as far to the right as he could, away from her line of sight.

    The train entered a tunnel; there was a sudden whoosh of noise and a momentary blackness followed by the stutter of the carriage lights.

    Graham leaned even further to the right, trying to catch his reflection in the blackness of the window opposite. Was there something strange about him today? Had he cut himself shaving? He strained his eyes, peering at the badly focussed image. He ran a hand through his hair, over his face. He found nothing. No breakfast, no blood, no enormous spot.

    He looked down at his clothes. Had he misbuttoned his shirt? Was there a stain?

    There was nothing, nothing that he could see.

    He checked the other passengers, was anyone else looking at him? He slowly scanned the carriage, watching people’s faces in his peripheral vision, never looking at anyone directly, never giving anyone a chance to take offence.

    No one appeared to be watching him.

    Except the man by the doorway! He was looking. Wasn’t he?

    The man looked away.

    The train lurched and swung, tunnels came and went in quick succession.

    Graham was confused. He was anonymous. People didn’t look at him. Ever. Even if the man by the door was a coincidence there was still the girl. She’d smiled at him. No one ever smiles on the tube.

    He glanced back towards the girl, with her face hidden behind the ample body of the man with the suitcase he could watch her in safety. She was wearing jeans, her legs crossed, her right foot bouncing up and down with the motion of the train, her shoe loose and flapping, her…

    No, it couldn’t be!

    She had a tattoo, just above the right ankle, just below the hem of her jeans. A tattoo of a blue bird.

    Graham’s mind raced. Was it the same girl? Her hair wasn’t red, was it? It was more orange from the brief glimpse he’d had. But that didn’t mean anything these days. It might have been dyed. Or a wig.

    And if it was the same girl…

    He was intrigued. And panicked at the same time. Intrigued by the possibility that here was someone who saw the world as he did. Who appreciated the danger of stepping on cracks. And panicked by the fear that she didn’t; that it was all an act, a joke primed to explode in his face. He’d been the butt of too many jokes to trust the first stranger that smiled at him on a train.

    And even if it wasn’t a joke what could he do about it? He wasn’t like other people. Any attempt at casual conversation would end in disaster. He’d learned that lesson a long time ago. The rest of the world was on a different wavelength to him, anything he said would either be laughed at or cause offence.

    The train began to brake hard. Graham looked up, was it Baker Street already? The train continued its long deceleration, commuters grabbed hold of straps and hand rails, newspapers were folded, bags picked up.

    The train stopped. Graham stayed in his seat, watching for the girl as an endless stream of people filed between them. He caught glimpses of her between the bodies. She smiled, he looked at his shoes. She was attractive in a street urchin sort of way, her features angular, her hair bright orange and unbrushed. What was she; twenty, twenty-two? A few more people filed past. He looked for her again. She’d gone.



    He was still thinking of the girl on the tube as he performed his morning unlocking ritual on the Post Room door. He’d looked for her on the platform, he’d looked for her on the Bakerloo train, he’d half-expected to see her walking ahead of him on Westminster Street. But he hadn’t.

    He pushed open the door and switched on the lights. The Post Room flickered into life. He walked over to the terminal in the near corner and switched it on, waited for the screen to come to life so he could log in and print off the staff list.

    “Morning, Graham.” A young Indian woman came through the door. Graham smiled and nodded in her direction. Sharmila smiled back and hung up her coat.

      “Oh, I nearly forgot, Mr. Anton was in the lobby. He wants you to call round at three this afternoon. Something about a large batch of documents that need to go out on the afternoon van.”

    Graham picked up a Post-it pad on the desk and searched for a pen. Which room was Mr. Anton in these days? 336? He browsed the staff list on the screen to make sure. There it was, U.S. desk, room 336. He carefully wrote out the details and stuck the note to the side of his in-tray. A dozen other Post-its ringed his in-tray like an early Christmas decoration. Another twenty adorned the notice board above. They were his memory made tangible. Whatever happened to the world outside, however dislocated his memory became, he knew that here was one place he could trust. One place that kept pace with an ever-changing world. 

    He didn’t know how other people coped. He used to ask - his parents, other kids - but they’d look at him as though he was stupid or swiftly change the subject.

    His father had taken him aside one night just before his eighth birthday. “Sit down, Graham,” he’d said. “We need to talk.” Graham had sat down, shuffling along his bed to sit back against the headboard.

    “Children can be cruel,” his father had said, smiling and making room for himself on the edge of the bed. “They pick on kids who are different. They’ll pick on you if you keep asking these questions. See?”

    Graham had nodded, bouncing his head up and down in exaggerated agreement, his arms clenched tightly around his bear.

    “Good,” his father had said, looking relieved. “We’ll never talk about this again. Right?”

    “Right, dad.”

    And he hadn’t, though it hadn’t stopped him thinking about it. It was obvious people didn’t want to talk about unravelling. He understood that now. It made them uneasy. So they pretended it never happened. And hoped to God they were somewhere else, safe and untouched, whenever the next thread worked loose.  



    Graham pushed the mail trolley along the short corridor back into the Post Room.

    “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Post-it.”

    Graham’s heart sank. Surely it had gone eleven. He always timed his rounds to be out of the Post Room whenever Ray was driving the mid-morning van. He glanced at the clock on the far wall, just the slightest of glances, enough to confirm the time - eleven fifteen - and then quickly turned the glance into a deferential nod towards Ray.

    And added a smile, his shield against the world.

    “Shut up, Ray, you know he doesn’t like it.”

    That was Sharmila, undoubtedly the reason Ray was still hanging around the Post Room. She was sat at her desk, probably trying to work, while Ray hovered behind her, looking down her dress.

    “Of course he does,” said Ray. “Look at him, he’s smiling.”

    Graham turned away, retracting his smile and pushing the trolley over to the sorting stacks. If only he could push Ray away so easily.

    “I’m surprised he hasn’t stuck one of those notes on you, Shar.”

    Ray laughed. Sharmila hissed something inaudible. Graham started sorting the mail from the trolley. He picked up the first envelope and looked for the name; G Stevens, 5th floor. He didn’t recognise the name, not that that in itself was unusual. People had a habit of coming and going.

    He checked the list for G Stevens, and found her in room 510. She must have taken Jerzy’s old job. He checked the list again. What had happened to Jerzy? He wasn’t anywhere on the list and he hadn’t heard anyone talking about Jerzy leaving. There’d been no collection or leaving card. At least not that he remembered.

    But then that’s what often happened. Sometimes people just disappeared. Their name would be removed from the staff list and all record of them having worked in the building would be erased. They’d never existed, never worked for the Department and no one would ever talk about them again. The office taboo; you don’t talk about the unravelled.

    Even when they came back.

    Which Graham couldn’t understand at all. How could you not talk to an old friend who’d disappeared for six months? But it happened so many times. They disappear, they come back and everyone treats them as strangers. Even close friends, people they’d gone drinking with every lunch time, would pass them by in the corridor without a second look.

    It was like they’d broken some unwritten rule. They’d come back. They’d made people face up to something they preferred not to. So they had to be punished, made to start over as though it was their first day and everyone was a stranger.

    Laughter broke out behind him. Ray again. He had an unpleasant laugh, more sneer than humour.

    “Shush!” hissed Sharmila, “he’ll hear.”

    Graham tried to block Ray out of his mind as he filed the first envelope in 510’s pigeon hole. Not that he understood why Ray was still employed by the department. He’d been arrested last year for abducting little girls. Even used the department’s van. Or so Graham had heard. You hear a lot when you keep your mouth closed and your ears open.

    Though he’d never heard what had happened to the charges against Ray. Dropped most likely. The legal system was in a mess. Everyone said so. You only had to read the papers.

    “Well, nice talking to you, Graham.”

    Ray’s departing shot, loaded with sarcasm and fired in Graham’s direction. Graham ignored it, as he always did, lifting a hand in acknowledgement and keeping his eyes on his work.

    “See you tomorrow, Shar.”

    Ray whistled into the distance, the delivery bay doors swinging shut behind him.

    “He’s all right really. Once you get to know him,” said Sharmila looking almost wistfully towards the door.

    Graham had known many Ray’s over the years. None of them had improved with acquaintance.



    The cloakroom door swung closed behind him as Graham stepped out into the second floor lobby. He liked to use the men’s room on the second floor on Tuesdays – it was part of his rota; five men’s toilets, five working days. Visit them in turn and keep them all functioning. So easy for a room to lose cohesion without regular use. Once you took people out of a room anything could happen. Store rooms were notoriously fragile.

    He pressed the button for the lift and waited. The seconds ticked by, he checked his watch, rocked back and forth on his heels and counted the first row of ceiling tiles.

    The lift bell rang as he counted the twelfth tile - always a good sign. Lifts that arrive on an odd number never feel right. They’re either packed or stop at every floor or there’s someone inside you don’t want to meet.

    The lift doors opened and Graham walked in, carefully avoiding eye contact and turning to face the doors as soon as he could.

    “Hello, Graham, haven’t seen you today.”

    Graham beamed. He hadn’t noticed Brenda in the corner. He turned and grinned and gave her his ‘maybe this afternoon’ sign - a shrug and a fist rotated clockwise, one of the half dozen or so signs he’d developed over the years.

    “I’ll look forward to it.”

    He liked Brenda - always had - they’d joined the department at the same time, Brenda as a clerical officer, Graham as a messenger. She made him feel almost normal. She didn’t treat him as deaf or stupid, she didn’t slow down her speech or raise her voice or talk about him as though he wasn’t there. She wasn’t brusque or patronising. She made him feel visible, something that Graham Smith appreciated more than most.

    He waved goodbye to Brenda on the ground floor and slipped back into the Post Room to pick up his jacket and sandwiches.

    And found something unexpected.

    There was a second note in his jacket pocket.


    Do it now. They’re on to you.


    He read it again, shocked. What did it mean? He flipped it over - blank - flipped it back. Do it now. They’re on to you. Do what now? Who was on to him?

    And who had written it? He didn’t recognise the handwriting. Which was odd. He was used to finding strange notes in his pocket but they were always in the same handwriting. And it was always the same note - even if he never remembered writing it - it always contained the same basic information - name, address, job, place of work. All the information he’d need to get home or find his way to work. But this?

    Had someone slipped it into his jacket while he’d been out of the room? Or maybe before that - on the street or on the tube? It hadn’t been there when he’d left this morning, had it?

    Not that he could trust his memory.



    Best to ignore it, he decided. Ignore it and it will go away. It’ll be a joke, probably Ray. He stopped at the kerb and waited for the lights to change. People milled all around him; the noise of lunch time traffic and conversation, music spilling out from the shops and passing cars.

    The lights changed and a wall of people surged over the road. Graham hung back and let them flow around him. Then he was back on the pavement, his mind free of strange notes and soothed instead by the calming mantra of ritual. Left and right, back and forth, one foot after the other, each step preordained and symbiotic. Streets were like pets - they loved to be stroked. They loved the repetition, the constancy, the daily caress of a well-measured stride.

    He noticed her shoes first, walking alongside him, matching his stride and avoiding the cracks. Her blue bird tattoo rising and falling to the amplitude of the street.

    Then she spoke. Her voice low, soft and, unexpectedly, American.

    “Don’t look around. Look straight ahead. They’re watching.”

    Graham wobbled momentarily, his eyes swivelling nervously from the girl on his left to whoever might be lurking in the shop doorways to his right.

    “Pretend I’m asking for money.”

    She walked a little ahead of him, her body half turned towards him, her face boring into his. He kept on walking, not sure what he was supposed to do.

    “Did you get my note? Look, I don’t know what it is you do but whatever it is you better do it soon. They’re on to you and they’re gonna stop you. Anyway they can. You know what I mean?”

    He shook his head. He didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.

    “It’s all right, you can talk to me. I’m a friend. Probably the only friend you’ve got at the moment. Trust me, there is some way serious shit going down and you’re right in the middle of it. People want you dead. Important people with a lot of money and a lot of friends.”

    Graham swallowed hard and kept walking. This had got to be a joke. He was invisible to the world. No one could possibly have any interest in him.

    “Trust me, it’s for real. You don’t have much time. And burn that note I gave you, they go through your garbage.”

    She peeled off and immediately latched onto a middle-aged couple walking in the other direction.

    “Spare some change, lady?”

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