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Resonance: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 19:48 EDT



    “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said, looking at him quizzically in the mirror while she patted at her hair. “You’re not starting all that nonsense again, are you? I’ve already told you it’s not funny.”

    Graham stood rooted at the woman’s shoulder, unable to take his eyes from her reflection. She didn’t look anything like his mother. His mother’s nose had been longer, her eyes bluer, her face fuller. Even seven years couldn’t have sculpted those changes. The woman was an impostor. Sat at his mother’s dresser, using his mother’s things. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t…

    His eyes fell on the picture. The one on the dresser. The wedding photograph. His father’s face smiling up at him. His father’s face pressed up against a younger version of the woman sat at the dresser. Not his mother. Though it should have been. It was practically the same wedding picture he’d grown up with. The same church, the same smiling, youthful dad.

    Something was wrong, very wrong. His mother couldn’t have unravelled away completely. Without his mother, he couldn’t exist. He wouldn’t have been born. He shook his head and stepped back from the dresser. No, this could not be happening. It had to be a trick or…

    Or what? Virtual Reality? Was this part of the brainwashing technique? Mess with his mind until he had nothing left to trust or cling to?

    He couldn’t believe that either. The world was real, solid and unforgiving. Imperfect - yes. Unstable - definitely. But it obeyed rules. And one of those rules was that when people unravelled completely they took everything with them - including their children.

    It had to be a trick. And if it was a trick, how thorough had they been? They’d doctored the wedding photograph but what about the others?

    He raced downstairs to the lounge. The sideboard had three photograph albums in the bottom drawer - family snaps from every holiday they’d ever had, every outing, every family occasion captured forever on film. He took them out and flipped through the pages. Not one picture of his mother. She was there instead - the impostor, the woman upstairs - smiling and posing and wrapping her arms around Graham and his father.

    It wasn’t right! It wasn’t right at all!

    How could anyone think that this woman was his mother? He didn’t look anything like her. There wasn’t the slightest hint of a family resemblance. Not around the eyes, the nose or the shape of the head.

    He looked again at the picture of his father - a portrait from about twenty years ago. He traced the outline of his face, the curve of his jaw, the nose, the slightly hooded look to his eyes.

    And realised.

    He didn’t look anything like his father either.

    He prised his father’s portrait out of the album and looked for a mirror. There was one on the chimney breast, above the mantelpiece. He walked over, picture in hand. What would he see? Would his face have unravelled along with his mother? Would he find a stranger staring back at him, a stranger with this other woman’s features?

    He stared deep into the mirror. A familiar face stared back. He hadn’t changed one bit. He placed his father’s picture against the mirror and compared the two - photo and reflection - scanning every line and feature. There was no family resemblance. None at all.

    He summoned back a picture of his mother. The one from the shelf where the TV used to be. He knew it by heart, he’d picked it up so many times since her disappearance. And he tried to see it in the face in the mirror. Just one feature would do - eyes, nose, mouth, chin, forehead. Something!

    He saw nothing. No similarity, no resemblance.

    How was that possible?

    Had he been adopted? Was that the significance of 16/10/66?

    Who could he ask? Not the woman upstairs. And there were no close relatives. All the old neighbours had moved away. And as for family friends - the few that might remember that far back - he’d lost touch with them many years ago.

    There was no one.

    Except for her. The stranger in the bedroom.

    And he could hear her coming down the stairs. He turned towards the door and waited for it to open. It didn’t. He heard the click-clack of her shoes on the kitchen floor. The opening and closing of cupboards. 

    And then her voice.

    “Graham, where did you put the shopping I asked you to get? I can’t see it anywhere.”

    He replaced the picture of his father, slammed the albums shut and stuffed them back into the sideboard.

    “Graham? Where are you?”

    The lounge door opened. The woman came in.

    “There you are. Did you get the shopping like I asked you?”

    Graham shrugged, not sure what to do. Should he confront the woman or play dumb?

    The woman shook her head. “I despair of you sometimes, Graham. I really do. Did you get the shopping or not?”

    Graham shook his head. The woman rolled her eyes.

    “Have you still got the list?”

    He checked his pockets. He found a shopping list in the same pocket as his note.

    But no black and gold business card.

    He searched his pockets again.

    “It’s there in your hands,” the woman said impatiently, pointing at the small strip of light blue note paper. “I can see it from here.”

    Graham stopped looking for the business card and held out the shopping list.

    “I don’t want it,” she snapped. ”You know perfectly well you do the shopping on Tuesdays. It’s all the heavy stuff.” She looked at her watch. “There’s still time if you leave now. They’re open to half past.”

    Graham nodded, folded the list into his pocket and hurriedly left. He was glad to get out of the house.



    Graham shook his head as he walked along Wealdstone Lane. What was happening to this world? Every day there was something new, some new twist that, if ignored, changed tack and came back twice as scary the next day.

    There must have been a major unravelling. It was the only thing that made sense. Something enormous. Something that reverberated through the outer layers of the planet, fracturing reality and generating host after host of aftershocks.

    He’d just have to ride them out.

    After all, he’d done it before. He’d been through far worse as a kid. Twice he’d woken up to find his father had died in the night. Twice he’d watched his mother grieve, unable to comfort her. ‘He’ll come back,’ he’d told her the second time, rubbing her back, trying to console her. ‘He came back last time, didn’t he?’

    Not a pleasant memory; his mother’s head spinning round, the look in her eyes, the anger so intense she couldn’t speak.

    But he’d been right. His father had come back. Appearing out of the blue one morning as though nothing had happened. Only to vanish again within the year.

    He’d lost his mother twice as well. The first to a heart attack, the second…

    He never knew what happened the second time. He woke up one morning and she just wasn’t there. Her bed hadn’t been slept in, no note. She’d just unravelled away, leaving a room full of clothes and a house full of memories.

    But he’d endured. Survived. Moved on.

    This too would pass.

    He turned the corner, lined up his right foot with the back edge of that big cherry tree, and started to count.



    Graham looked at the shopping list as he manoeuvred the shopping trolley towards the supermarket door. He liked everything arranged in supermarket aisle order so that he could walk along the aisles and go down his list one by one. But this list wasn’t in any order. Unless they’d changed the shelf layout again.

    They hadn’t.

    He wheeled the shopping trolley down the first aisle. Music blared out from an unseen speaker, a few last minute shoppers darted purposefully back and forth between the shelves. He took another look at the list. What was the woman buying? All those processed foods, products he’d never touch. He liked his food fresh and home-made. He liked a strict order to his meals. Roasts on Sunday, pie on Monday, fish on Friday.

    The week had an order to it. His stomach expected it.

    God knows what he was going to have to eat tonight.

    He rearranged the list in his head and started loading the trolley - tins of soup, baked beans, ravioli. Up and down the aisles, more tins, more ready meals.

    He stopped by the frozen food display and leant over to rummage through the packs of frozen fish. He liked to take the ones from the middle, they felt more…

    A hand reached in and touched his. A woman’s.

    “Graham Smith?” she whispered.

    Graham glanced to his side. He knew who it would be but had to check just the same. His eyes widened in surprise. It was Annalise but…

    “I know,” she said. “I have a slight weight problem. But way I see it, if I’m VR girl then all diets are off.”

    She grinned and waited. Graham blinked and quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching.

    “You’re supposed to laugh,” she said. “That was my ice-breaking joke. I spent hours on the plane thinking that one up.”

    “Sorry. It’s just…”

    “You do know who I am, don’t you?” she said anxiously. “I’m Annalise Mercado. The other Annas were sure you’d know.”

    Graham nodded and straightened up. He could hardly take his eyes off her. She was so familiar and yet so different. It was like seeing a close friend who had gained three stone in a day. The friend was still there but all her features had softened.

    “You forgot your fish,” said Annalise, handing it over to him and looking at him quizzically.

    He checked the aisle again - still empty. But for how much longer?

    “I need you to get in touch with Kevin Alexander,” he said. “It’s urgent. Three men from ParaDim came to see me this afternoon. They want me to go for two days of medical tests. I need to know if it’s safe.”

    “Three men from ParaDim, two days of medical tests,” she repeated. “Is it okay to ask Gary Mitchison? He’s my contact in this world.”

    Graham wasn’t sure. A trolley appeared at the far end of the aisle, a woman ambling by the meat counter. Graham backed away from Annalise and pretended to be interested in beefburgers. The woman continued on her way.

    “You really think people would follow you in here?”

    Graham shrugged. “I didn’t think people from ParaDim would show up at work. And,” he looked over his shoulder, one more check up and down the shelves. “I didn’t expect to come home and find someone pretending to be my mother.”

    “Someone’s pretending to be your mother!” Annalise said in a voice much louder than Graham would have wished.

    “Ask Gary Mitchison about that as well.”

    He looked at his watch, five minutes to go before the shop closed. He’d have to hurry.

    “Sorry,“ he said, “I’ve got to go. The shop closes in five minutes.”

    “Wait! I don’t understand. Why don’t you throw this woman out?”

    “I …” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Throw this woman out? The thought had never occurred to him. He’d never thrown anyone out of anywhere in his life. He adapted, avoided, ignored. He never confronted.

    He’d found a strange woman in his house and accepted it. The idea of asking her to leave or who she was or what she was doing there hadn’t crossed his mind once. Should it have? Should he go back and ask her to leave?

    Could he?

    “Look, here’s my number.” She handed him a card. “Give me a ring if you need help. I’m staying nearby.” 

    He took the card, his mind already elsewhere, wondering what he was going to do when he returned home.

    “I’ll meet you in the park tomorrow,” she said. “Anything you want to know, write it down and we’ll swap notes.”



    It didn’t take Graham long to bury the idea of confronting his new house guest. He’d run a few scenarios - what he’d say to her, what she’d say to him. They all ended with her saying ‘no’ and storming off upstairs.

    He’d wait, maybe she’d go away?

    He put two of the plastic shopping bags down on the floor as he closed the front door. Music filtered through from the lounge, followed by voices and explosions. She had to be watching TV.

    He went through to the kitchen and set the groceries down on the table. Another room that had changed. The cabinets, the fridge, the sink, the lino - all different. There was even a phone on the wall. Only the kitchen table was the same.

    He started unpacking the bags. The lounge door opened.

    “Is that you, Graham?”

    Graham nodded and continued unpacking. The woman walked in, pulled back the lip of the nearest bag and peered inside.

    “I thought I’d do sausages tonight, what do you think?”

    Graham shrugged. He usually had sausages on Thursdays with Macaroni cheese and baked beans - the way his mother used to make it. His real mother.

    “I’ll take that as a yes. Did you remember to get the oven chips?”

    Graham nodded and moved on to the next bag. More tins. He stacked them in a pile on the table, he’d find out which cabinet they belonged in later.

    An orange escaped from a string bag and rolled off the table onto the floor by Graham’s foot. He swung down to pick it up. And remembered another time - one hand resting on the table top, one hand swinging down to locate a bug. Was it still there?

    It was.

    He folded the last of the shopping bags and placed it with the others. He’d check the hall next. He left the kitchen while the woman’s back was turned and drifted into the hallway, quiet and casual, making sure he never looked directly at the hall light fitting. The camera was there. Same place as before, same model probably.

    He pushed open the lounge door, the television flashed and blared. He walked over to the arm-chair by the fireplace and sat down. The rogue junction box was there too. He caught it out of the corner of his eye, nestling up against the ceiling directly over the door.

    Everything was as it was.

    Except for the woman passing herself off as his mother. Why was she here? Was she an extra pair of eyes? Someone sent to confuse him, drive him mad? Was this part of that interrogation program Annalise had talked about? Was the program degrading so fast it had lost all data concerning his mother and had had to construct a new one? Or didn’t they care any more. Just throw in any old woman - he was too far gone to notice?

    He got up. It was impossible to think clearly with the television so loud. He‘d go to his room.

    The woman stopped him in the hallway.

    “Don’t forget about that medical tomorrow. The car’s coming to pick us up at seven.”

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