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Resonance: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Thursday, July 14, 2005 21:04 EDT



    Graham left work that evening determined to put ParaDim out of his head for the entire weekend. He’d dig out his hardest jigsaw - The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania - the one with all the faces, five thousand pieces of obscure fairy parts and water lilies. Guaranteed to tie up anyone’s mind for two days.

    The thought pleased him, he loved jigsaw puzzles, he loved to lose himself in the pursuit of a puzzle that, however complex, never had more than one answer. The cover picture never changed, the pieces never altered shape or disappeared. Everything stayed as it should.

    If only life could be that constant.

    He paced between the flagstones, imprinting his brand of stability into the fabric of the street. The usual Friday evening rush milled discordantly around him. Up ahead a subway opened in the pavement like a giant mouth, Graham migrated into the centre of the pavement to pass by and stopped dead.

    She was there. The girl, Annalise, standing by the railing at the mouth of the subway, two suitcases by her feet and an A to Z in her hand. She was blonde this time but it was definitely her. She was staring straight at him, looking as though she’d seen a ghost.

    He walked towards her, not sure what to do. Instinct told him to look down at his feet and walk past. The girl was trouble, all people were. But she’d helped him, saved his life maybe. And he hadn’t even thanked her.

    He wobbled in mid-stride, unable to make up his mind. She looked older than he remembered, her clothes were less shabby too - no rips or weeks of ground-in dirt. She also looked lost. Lost and shocked. As though seeing Graham was the last thing she’d expected.

    Graham slowed as he approached. Should he walk past? Wait for her to make the first move?

    Her hand shot out as he drew level and closed tight around his forearm.

    “You’re real?” she said, answering her own question with a squeal of delight. ”You really exist!”

    Graham didn’t know what to do. Whatever he’d expected this hadn’t been it. Was Annalise playing another role for the benefit of some unknown observer?

    She withdrew her hand. “Sorry, you must think me a total flake but you don’t know what this means to me.”

    Her voice broke, a tear spilled down her cheek, she smoothed it away with a hand then grabbed his arm again. “We can’t talk here,” she said, sniffing loudly. “Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. Trust me. We’ve got to get you off this street. Now!”

    He hesitated, not wanting to be deflected from his routine but… He did trust her. She’d helped him when he’d needed it most. 

    She handed him one of her cases and led him down a side street. She seemed different somehow, her voice was the same but … Could she be Annalise’s sister?

    He sneaked a look at the address tag flapping from the suitcase handle. Annalise Mercado, 17 Fairchild Street, Boston, Mass..

    Annalise caught him looking at her luggage and smiled. “I flew in today. Came straight here from the airport. I had to see if this place was real or not.” Her expression hardened. “I didn’t dream it would be this real.”

    They walked on, past lines of meters and parked cars. The street curved gradually to the right, a green awning came into view, a few tables clustered beneath it on the pavement.

    “In here!” Annalise wove her way through pavement tables towards the door of a small cafe. Graham hesitated. He hadn’t been inside a cafe for years.

    “Come on,” said Annalise, beckoning him from the doorway. “I’m buying.”

      He followed, reluctantly. They found a table at the back, slid the suitcases to the side and sat down.

    “My name’s Annalise, Annalise Mercado,” she said, holding her hand out across the table towards Graham. Her voice started to quiver, “and I’m not crazy.” Graham shook her hand, Annalise closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You cannot believe how good it is to be able to say that.”

    A waitress appeared. “Can I take your order?”

    “What? Oh, sure, I’ll have coffee. And you?”

    Graham nodded and began lining up his cutlery - knife, fork, spoon - making sure they were all parallel and equidistantly spaced. Annalise turned back to the waitress, “make that two coffees.”

    As soon as the waitress left Annalise reached out and placed her hand on top of Graham’s. He flinched but Annalise didn’t seem to notice. ”Tell me,” she took a deep breath, “is your name Graham Smith?”

    He nodded, keeping his eyes well down, looking at Annalise’s plate and wondering if she’d mind if he took his hand back and rearranged her cutlery.

    “I knew it!” She clapped her hands in delight. Graham took the opportunity to retrieve his hand.

    “This is so amazing! Like, all my life I’ve known that there was something I was supposed to do, but no one would ever tell me what it was. And now I know. I’m here to save you.”

    Graham looked up.

    “I know it sounds weird but it’s true.”

    The coffee arrived. Annalise leaned back in her chair, grinning broadly, her eyes sparkling.

    “All my life I’ve been the odd one out,” she leaned forward conspiratorially, lowering her voice as she did so. “I hear voices. Always have. Even as a kid. There’s this girl inside my head who keeps calling my name. She won’t go away. She’s always asking me where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with. But whenever I answer she doesn’t seem to hear. I thought I was going insane.”

    Graham knew the feeling. Being different, not being able to trust your eyes, ears or memory. Living in a world where no one understands you.

    “I’ve done analysis, I’ve done drugs. Nothing ever worked. But that’s all changed now,  I can feel it. I’ve been given a purpose in life. Can you believe that?” Her eyes filled with tears. “I got this message on Monday. From the girl in my head. ’We’ve got to go to London, England,’ she said. There’s a man there. Graham Smith. He’s in danger. They’re going to kill him. We’re the only ones who can save him.’”

    She dabbed at her eyes with her serviette. Graham braced himself for another people-want-you-dead story.

    “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know any Graham Smith. I’d never been to London. And then on Monday night I started having this dream - a real vivid dream - that I was over here. There was this plaque, high on a wall. Westminster Street, it said. And I was following this man. You,” she jabbed a finger in Graham’s direction. “Now you can see why I freaked out back there. You walked straight out of my dream!”

    She smiled, looking down at the table, her right hand absent-mindedly playing with her spoon. “You had this weird game you played on the sidewalk - the not-stepping-on-the-cracks thing. And I’d follow you and do the same and I’d feel like a kid again.”

    She stopped smiling and looked up.

    “But then this big black car pulls up, two men get out and walk behind you, they glance over their shoulder then run forward, grab you from behind, the car pulls alongside, a door opens and they bundle you inside. I’m too far back to do anything. I can’t even scream, I’m skipping between the cracks, powerless to do anything but watch. The car speeds off and, suddenly, I start screaming. Then I wake up.”

    She put the spoon down and shook her head.

    ”That dream really freaked me out. It was so real. And then I had it again the next night and the next. More like a memory than a dream. I thought maybe I had a past life over here in England. That maybe I’d tapped into a past memory of a time when I’d known someone called Graham Smith. Maybe I felt guilty that I hadn’t been able to save him. Or maybe it was a vision of the future. Something I had to prevent. What do you think? Has any of this already happened?”

    She drew back and rolled her eyes. “Listen to me, I sound certifiable. I’m in a cafe with a man I’ve never met, asking him if he’s ever been dragged into the back of a car at gunpoint.”

    Graham wanted to tell her that they’d already met. That she’d saved his life in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But he couldn’t. He’d learned too many hard lessons over the years. Open your mouth and people change towards you. They laugh at you, run away or hit you.

    And he liked Annalise, she spoke to him as though he was normal - more than normal - she treated him as though he was someone special. Someone worth saving. He couldn’t ruin that by opening his mouth and sending her away.

    He still remembered the look on Robbie Osborne’s face. And how long ago had that been? Twenty-six, twenty-seven years? Robbie had been his best friend. They’d been inseparable for an entire summer.

    Until the day the stranger arrived and unlatched Robbie’s gate.

    The two children had been playing in the front garden, sitting on the grass with two armies of toy soldiers between them. Graham had seen the man first.

    “Who’s that?” he’d asked, nudging his friend.

    Robbie had swivelled round. “Dad! You’re back,” he’d shouted, jumping up and wrapping his arms around the man’s legs.

    The man had ruffled Robbie’s hair then grabbed him under the arms and swung him up over his head. “More! More!” Robbie had shouted.

    “Later,” said the man, setting Robbie down. “I’ve got to see your mother first. You play with Graham.”

    Graham had watched the man trot up the steps and disappear inside the house. He couldn’t understand it.

    “Why did you call that man dad?” he’d asked.

    “What do you call yours - papa?” Robbie had replied, putting on a posh accent and dissolving into giggles at his cleverness.

    “But he’s not your dad. Your dad’s dead.”

    Robbie’s smile had vanished in an instant. Graham could see it still. The shock in his eyes, the quiver in his lower lip.

    The two boys never spoke again.

    “Why do you say such hurtful things?” His mother had asked him the next day. And many other days after that. Every time Graham opened his mouth he either offended someone or convinced them of his stupidity. So one day he stopped talking. It wasn’t worth the pain.



    “You don’t say much, do you?” asked Annalise.

    Graham looked up from his plate. Annalise was looking at him expectantly. Graham smiled and shook his head.

    He had so many questions he wanted to ask her. Did she have any memory of saving him on Wednesday morning? Did she know anything about ParaDim, about why people were after him, who they were and what they wanted?

    “Don’t you like talking?”  

    He felt awkward, torn between his need to know and his fear of making things worse. How would she react if he asked her if she’d ever spent the night in a cardboard box? Would she laugh, get upset, change the subject? He hadn’t the slightest inkling. Conversation was a complete mystery to him. Normal people understood the rules, he didn’t.

    He closed his mouth and looked down.

    “You know, I used to be shy. About a gazillion years ago. Not now, though. Want to know how?”

    Graham shrugged and rotated his coffee cup, bringing the handle around until it was at right angles to his knife and fork.

    “Someone told me to imagine that everyone else in the room was in their underwear.”

    Graham went bright red, he couldn’t think of anything less helpful.

    “Can you imagine that?” Annalise laughed and peered around the side of the table, looking at Graham’s hips. “Why, Mr. Smith.” She clapped her hands to her face in mock surprise. “Not the purple boxers with the yellow elephants… again!”

    Graham giggled, he couldn’t help it.

    “You try. You can’t be intimidated by a roomful of people who can’t even dress themselves, can you?”

    “I can,” he whispered, head bowed, surprised at the sound of his voice, so thin, so fragile. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.

    “Why? Look at me. I’m the only other person at this table. And I’m a wreck! I hear voices, I quit my job yesterday and flew four thousand miles to save someone I met in a dream. I’m the last person you should feel intimidated by.”

    She was right.  

    “I’ve seen you before,” he said, his head still bowed.

    Annalise’s lower jaw dropped. “In a dream?”

    Graham shook his head and told her what had happened on Wednesday morning. Annalise listened, her eyes widening in amazement.

    “You’re sure it was me?”

    He nodded. “Your hair was orange, but it was you.”

    Annalise gasped. “The girl in my dream had orange hair! That was one of the reasons I thought it must be a past life. I’ve never had orange hair. That is so spooky.”

    Graham took several gulps of coffee. His mouth felt dry and his throat sore.

    “Do you think I might have a doppelganger out there? Or a twin?” She took another sip of coffee and then almost dropped the cup. “The girl in my head! I bet it’s her! She needs help so she contacts me. What do you think?”

    Graham shrugged. He couldn’t tell her what he really thought; that the orange-haired Annalise had unravelled into non-existence, that her life had peeled away just as another was brought to the surface - the blonde-haired girl from Boston. He may not know much about the art of conversation but he knew enough to recognise that unravelling was a topic no one wanted to talk about.

    “So, what next? Do we wait for this other Annalise to contact us or do we check out this ParaDim company? Whatever we do I’m going to have to stay real close to you. Is there some place I could stay near where you live?”

    Graham tried to remember the name of the guesthouse at the end of his road. Dunedin? Or was that the one that had unravelled into a block of flats a few years back?

    Then he had a better idea.

    “Do you like jigsaws?”



    Graham and Annalise sat together, their backs to the window, as the train rattled and swung from side to side. Every now and then the carriage was thrown into darkness and every time the lights flickered back on, Graham turned to see if she was still there.

    He wondered what would happen if he kept his hand tightly closed around the handle of her suitcase. Would that anchor her to him? Would it stop her from unravelling or would it pull him along with it?

    She smiled every time he looked at her. Unaware of his motives or the fragility of the world in which she lived. Should he tell her? Or was that too cruel a burden to place on anyone’s shoulders.

    And in between the smiles, she talked. She talked about her life in Boston, about how she‘d always wanted to visit London. But mostly she talked about her dream.

    “It’s got to be something that’s going to happen. Something I’m meant to stop.”

    Graham was unconvinced. The orange-haired Annalise had unravelled. The chances were she’d taken her future with her.

    “Maybe I can find out when it’s supposed to happen? It’s got to be summer because everyone’s wearing summer clothes. Maybe there are other clues? Like maybe there’s a clock somewhere in the dream or some guy reading a newspaper with a date on it. Or, I know!” She nudged Graham hard in the ribs. “The license plate! Next time I have the dream I’ll try and get the black car’s license plate. Then we’ll know who’s after you.”

    Graham didn’t say anything. A new world had formed over the skin of the old. The black car could have disappeared with the unravelling thread. Maybe the men too. Or maybe on this new thread of reality they hired a different car, or hunted a different target.

    Who could tell in a shifting world?

    The endless tail-chasing tired him. And he had something else to worry about. He had a visitor. He’d never had a visitor before. Ever. Where was she going to sleep? She couldn’t have his parent’s room. She’d have to have his, he’d sleep downstairs on the sofa. And what did she eat? Did he have enough food in, should they stop off at the supermarket?



    Graham turned the key anti-clockwise for the final time and pushed his front door open.

    “Wow,” said Annalise, “that’s some lock you’ve got there.”

    Graham pushed through into the hallway and set Annalise’s case down by the hall table. Annalise followed and closed the door behind her.

    “Can I use your bathroom?” she asked, setting her case down beside the other.

    “Up the stairs and first door on the right.”

    Graham dropped his keys on the hall table and walked towards the kitchen, he’d put a kettle on, she was certain to want a cup of something. Wasn’t that the first thing a host provided for a guest? Or would she want something stronger? Did he still have that bottle of whisky in the lounge?

    He dithered by the lounge door before deciding against the whisky. And noticed a small pile of dust on the carpet. Barely a quarter of a teaspoon but where had it come from? He was meticulous about cleaning. The house was hoovered every day.

    He stepped into the hall closet, fumbled in the darkness for the Hoover and lifted it out. He was just unwinding the electrical lead when he looked towards the front door.

    Both suitcases had gone.

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