Tess

No matter where you are or how confusing you find it, things will always start to improve when a friendly dog says “hello”. Tess was an Irish wolfhound. A gentle giant with a talent for seeking out anyone in need of comfort. She came up to me and leant her shaggy, wiry frame against me and suddenly I was able to breathe again. Dogs make sense. They don’t ask questions or hide themselves behind social conventions. You can tell when they are happy and they let you know in no uncertain terms when they are not. Tess stood and let me stroke her narrow head before wandering off towards the open fire that was blazing at the other end of the bar. I ordered a drink, “err, a small red wine, please… umm, no, just anything you have, thanks” and waited.

I’d been scrolling absent mindly through a news feed on my phone earlier that afternoon when I had first heard what had happened. I hadn’t believed it, of course; there are so many fake news stories and internet scams these days that it is impossible to believe anything unless you witness it personally; so it wasn’t until I left the office that it started to sink in that this was real. The worst had really happened.

The madness hanging in the air clung to me as I walked home. Cars were speeding through red lights; their owners having switched from electronic chauffeur to manual in an attempt to shorten their commute; shops were closing early, their dull shutters blind to the world; and the pavements were nearly empty. People who, like me, were walking were ashen faced and silent as they marched quickly homewards. I’d turned on the television as soon as I had got home and blinked. It was the main item on the news, of course, but there had been no more updates since the story had broken at 15.37. Then, the broadcast cut off and and let the room descend into darkness and silence. Was the emergency rationing of resources starting already? Numb with disbelief, I pulled out my phone and dialled Will’s number.

“What are we going to do now?”  I knew I didn’t need to ask if he had heard the news. It would have been impossible for him to miss.

I could see his face crumple slightly as he thought. “I’ll be back in about an hour. Our crisis meeting point is The Globe. Meet me there.”

I looked over at the group that was beginning to congregate in the main room of the pub as they introduced themselves to each other with incomprehensible ease. I recognised a few of their faces but couldn’t remember where from. Were they neighbours? The people I worked with? People I saw in the local shop? Whoever they were, they were an odd collection of characters united only by the international catastrophe that was swiftly unfolding.

I considered waiting for until Will arrived before I tried to join them. Then we could both not know what to say together then. A knot grew in my stomach. It might take him another 40 minutes to arrive. Could I wait that long? I looked over at Tess. Her tail wagged and her eyes smiled: “It’s alright. I am here.”

I went and joined her by the fire. “Do you know what is happening?” I asked surreptitiously, aware that talking to dogs was not likely to help me make friends in situation such as this.

Tess wagged her tail and lifted her head, waiting for me to stroke it.

“Turn it up, turn it up!” shouted someone in the main bar as the President of the Intergalactic Commission for Peace and Harmony appeared on the television. Her voice, clipped and concise, sang out through the air.

“Dear citizens of Earth, following your continued non–compliance with intergalactic laws and legislation, it is with deepest regret that, following the recent referendum, the citizens of Laniakea voted in favour of you leaving the LSU.”

A non-committal cheer went up from a small group to the right of the fire.  Lost and small, I rubbed Tess’s rough head. Her shoulders sagged and ears pressed flat against her head as if weighted down by the news.

“Trading privileges will be terminated”, the President continued, “intellectual collaborations will cease and you will no longer be entitled to technical advancements beyond your own limited capabilities.

To talk plainly, you are on your own.”

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A welcome home

After work we collapse. Tomatoes, red wine, and garlic simmer in the kitchen. Warm and still we sit in chaotic peace made up of silent words and predictable patterns.

There is an understanding here and we don’t need to explain.

Above the fireplace, there is a picture. We had just got married and out of sight of the camera somebody had told a joke so we are laughing.  Looking at it I am a time traveller, back there, the warm July breeze brushing my skin, the happiness and music in my ears.

The timer in the kitchen beeps. We serve up our food, juicy olives and tangy chorizo. You ask me how my day has been and I ask you about yours. You tell me that you had red pepper soup for lunch and I sympathise because I know that is the worst kind of soup. I ask you if there is anything you want me to add to the Asda order. You ask me what I want to watch on television this evening.

It took a long time to meet you. Years and years, of wrong turns and stumbling through overgrown footpaths. I blame our poor sense of direction. Thank goodness for Google Maps.

When they took you into operating theatre in the middle of the night they told me it was time to say goodbye. I took them literally and my legs buckled and fell against a wall as soon as they wheeled you away. Alone in a near empty hospital, I was broken.

After the operation, you lost yourself. The walls of reality collapsed around us, the ground fell away from our feet. You were 0.8 miles away but it felt like you had travelled half way around the planet.  One day a nurse told me you had written my name on a piece of paper and drawn a heart around it and I realised that you hadn’t gone that far, your sat nav had just broken down.

That’s when I found you again and together we made it back to the warmth and peace of our chaotic home.

“Thank you”, you say, smiling and gesturing to your meal.

“You’re welcome.”, I say “And Thank you”,  I gesture towards the ginger beer that you poured out for me. There is an understanding here and we don’t need to say any more.

Above the fireplace, the picture of our wedding doesn’t exist yet but I am a time traveller and know that it will one day.