Father of the Man - a sort of time travel tale
The hotel room wasn't quite as he had left it that morning. Nothing was stolen, but there were strange cluttering additions as if some child had been setting up the room for an impromptu drama or science-fiction game. The alarm clock was decorated with a twist of silver foil, like a miniature space helmet; the bookshelf was adorned with two tiny plastic kangaroos facing each other, and similar additions were carefully posed on every available surface. Frank rang the reception desk.
"Did you give my key to anyone while I was out?"
"No, Sir, that would be unthinkable..."
"Well then, do the chambermaids make a habit of leaving plastic animals and toy space helmets in new guests' rooms?"
"I should very much doubt it sir. I'll check who's been assigned to tidy your room straight away Sir..."
The incident was not resolved that night, but Frank didn't let that worry him. After all, he had notes to prep[are for the plenary session next day, and would require great order of mind to clinch the deal with Michronix Ltd on the best terms
He spent spent a couple of hours writing and phoned London twice to check all was well with the family.
Cocoa was brought up to him and he nestled it between a woolly mammoth and a furry anteater, so it wouldn't get cold too quickly.
The night was warm and restful and the notes he had written were hoving placidly round his brain, lulling him to sleep.
The tiny space helmet landed suddenly on his pillow as the little hammers of the alarm clock battered themselves against the bell at seven sharp.
A day of destiny thought Frank, as he rang for breakfast and reached out for last night's notes to refresh his memory
The paper was not the same. It was lined like an exercise book, widely apart, and the handwriting was not his own narrow studied style, illegible to the unpractised eye, but rather the broad innocent plain-as-day writing of one who had only just learnt to write.
The wording was different too: childish, with the words mashed to an easily digestible form like apricot purée for babies.
Instead of "Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to propose the following plans for a cooperative venture to provide effective competition against ever increasing Japanese imports", it read: "Come on lads, let's stick together and show the Nips a thing or too."
Instead of "Our trading partners in South America have indicated their interest in the product we are producing in collaboration with the Munich factory ." it read "They told us gringos that the Krauts were onto a good thing and they might buy a couple of dozen over in Rio."
Frank decided it might be better to leave the notes behind and rely on his memory. So he put his notes back in the folder and got up to unlock the door and retrieve breakfast. However, it wasn't left on a tray on the floor by the door as on the previous morning, but it was held in the hands of a small figure who looked disconcertingly familiar.
"Thank you... you needn't really have waited..."
"I wanted to see you" interrupted the boy - in a strange faraway voice.
"Do you know anything about the notes, the woolly mammoth and these other paraphernalia?"
asked Frank slightly menacingly.
"Who could have put them there except you yourself sir?" the boy inquired sweetly and innocently.
"But you know about them?"
"Yes, you asked my Boss last night and he asked the whole staff in turn. The chambermaid claimed it wasn't her and why shouldn't we believe her?
Woolly mammoths don't come cheap you know!"
"I know your voice from somewhere", started Frank slowly, and your face... where have I seen you before?"
"You shall know in the end", he answered i n the same sweet innocent way, "but the time is not yet right..."
The boy left the tray in between a plastic rhinoceros and a furry anteater and Frank ate in silence, reconstructing his the notes for the day ahead.
The boy's face hovered, grinning in his mind's eye, distracting him, taking his mind from silicone to sand pits and from computers to star-war machines. It took an hour to regain his concentration for the job on hand. But Frank carried through the day and was able to impress the committee with his second-hand ideas.
Eventually the committee adjourned for afternoon tea. It was brought in by the tea-boy...
the very same boy who had brought Frank his breakfast.
Now he knew where he had seen that face before - it was his own face, that freckled grinning face which confronted him with the morning toothpaste in the bathroom mirror before the weary school-day,
the twelve-year-old face which could never keep straight in front of a camera.
"Frankie.." said the adult softly, oblivious of the other members of the committee.The boy turned slowly with no flicker of surprise on his little mask of a sweet smile. "Frankie, that's your name isn't it?"
"What's that to you, old man?", came the unhesitating reply, "I don't recognize you any more, you know... You're not really what I expected ...
"Any more? Since when? This morning?"
"No, since the time we parted company twenty years ago" he whispered gravely.
"You're too young..."
"No, you're the one who's the wrong age" interrupted Frankie the child, "You'll see when the time is right. By the way, your speech was tediously boring. You really should have my version you know"
"So you admit.." Frank started almost shouting, but the boy had left hastily and Chairman suggested they continue the meeting. Frank had a vision of an insolent impatient yawn of a freckled face and the wink of an insolent eye.
Back in his hotel room he was not really surprised to find a row of Plasticine models representing the evolution of the horse, a crown of tinsel above the bedhead and even a lifesize picture of Superman affixed to the ceiling in flying position. He looked around to see if Frankie had left any written clues to explain his presence twenty years late. But the time was clearly "not yet right". Tomorrow of course, his birthday, that would be the right time.
His thirty second birthday... or was that his twelfth? He could not quite get his thoughts straight on that point.
The night was not so restful:the plastic kangaroos haunted his sleep, chuntering that they had come on a special mission from Mars and were illegally detained in this room; the furry anteater and the woolly mammoth conspired in some unknown language and, of course, the picture of Superman kept repeating over and over again that he must be let out of this place before it was too late to save Earth.
All these incoherent morsels of childish fantasy crowded the businessman's brain and sleep became impossible.
At the fiftieth revolution under the sheets Frank sat up in a sweat and shouted wildly: "Frankie, stop it, stop it!", at which of course the neighbours hammered their objections.
Then a quite tap at the door attracted his attention. So he got up to open it. The boy, of course, was there, smiling slightly more menacingly this time.
"The experiment is at an end.", he remarked as if to himself, "the businessman may disappear. He serves no further purpose."
He looked straight through Frank as if his command had already been obeyed.
Frank, who was vainly searching for a suitable reply, shrank visibly into his crumpled pyjamas, and wasn't sure whether to laugh or to be afraid
"Don't try your free will", continued the child. "It was an illusion, which I have now removed from you like an unnecessary growth.
Although his words were now addressing Frank directly, his tone kept the same expression as if nobody else were actually present. Not only was the boy the only one in the room, but it was no longer a hotel room either.
A supreme effort of will on Frank's part made it return to the hotel room state for a few brief seconds, after which Frankie's bedroom, Frankie's will and Frankie's woolly mammoth prevailed.
There was even the smell of mother's own fresh bread and fruitcake wafting from downstairs
"I can see you doubt your inexistence" muttered Frank's juvenile self-appointed creator. "It's a natural reaction after so many years of invented life. Can't you see it's better this way though? You're not the first possible future I've invented for myself, you know.."
"But I'm the real future... I mean: I'm the real present...", and he looked round vainly for clues to his existence. "I can't be thrown away like some paperback trash. And what about my wife? Won't she have any say in this?"
"What say could she possibly have? I never even knew her at this age!"
"Caught you, you're talking in the past! You're no more than a ghost!"
"Double bluff, my elderly child... I'm simply giving you my thoughts as you would perceive them."
"I never used words like that at your age," mumbled Frank, vaguely trying another tack and thinking that, even if Frankie claimed to be his creator, the tables might yet be turned, and he, the "elderly child", might turn out to be imagining the youngster.
"Oh yes you did... oh yes I do...We are both of us quite articulate, my imagined friend. Try to remember yourself when you were twelve. Don't you see yourself articulating your great expectations and doubts to yourself in the mirror? Giving yourself airs as if some great scientist or artist, social benefactor or space explorer. Which way will it be, Frankie, I say to myself...which way? So here I am, drafting out all my options. You're just one of them, and one of the dowdiest, however much you earn with your dreary committees and board meetings."
"The meeting was far from "bored" with what I had to say to them", quipped Frank weakly and desperately. "I know, I'll prove this is my present, not yours, I'll phone the Chairman."
He stretched out his hand to where the hotel phone used to be and tightly gripped the invisible receiver. So tightly that the thin air rushed out, leaving his clenched fist, which he raised to his ear and imagined a tone.
The hotel manager's voice came through the tiny gap in his fist, faintly and hoarsely, as if the sound had to travel through miles of sandpaper.
"Hello..." said the voice, "can I help you, sir?"
"Yes!" The urgency in Frank's voice was making his words clipped and breathless. "You are there, aren't you?"
Once the doubt was expressed, of course, the voice had to traverse even more miles of sandpaper, and it appeared to be answering:
"Only just, sir, only just..."
"Well, can you get me Mr Henchley, who's at the Abelard Hotel? Please! I must speak to him..."
But the answer was totally blotted out as Frankie's mother called from downstairs that lunch was getting cold and the dog was getting hungry.
"I'll see you later" announced the child, to Frank's wavering image, "Don't go away now ... I may still have a use for you."
The wavering image stumbled towards the armchair and tried to recollect its thoughts, now that its alleged creator had left the room.
"Those twenty years must have been real," he muttered, "No child could have invented so much. Besides, I never carried on like that when I was twelve did I? Is this the room I used to have then? Were there really woolly mammoths, plastic kangaroos and am image of Superman? It's hard to squeeze out those details of memory. Was that my mother's voice? Is this the view out of the window? Is this right? Did the bedcover... ah! the bedcover! It's the same as at the hotel. Concentrate now! We can get the whole room back to sanity thanks to that puce bedcover... Concentrate!.... No good, the thing's changing before my eyes. The light blue I chose when I was ten completes the vision!... Am I really lost? Can I gain a foothold by going outside the room? Or is this an illusion, so I risk falling down an unseen hotel lift-shaft when I think I'm going across a solid landing?"
He risked it and immediately recognised the old green carpeted landing, and downstairs the energetic bustling of his late father...or rather: his previously "late" father, who hadn't yet had time to become "late".
Frank called downstairs: "Dad! Is that really you?"
But there was no response. He picked up a tennis ball that the child had left on the landing and rolled it down the bannister to atract theold man's attention threw it to try and attract his father's attention. The ball described some eerie feat of geometry and returned to its original spot on the landing.
Frank bend down to pick it up again and threw it with great force at the dining room door downstairs, but the same rules of geometry applied, if anything more eerily and rapidly. He hit the bannister with a great force of frustration and was rewarded with a solid wooden note, but the old man didn't hear it. Only Frank heard it, and perhaps Frankie downstairs.
So Frank rushed headlong down to the front door and forced his way out onto the street, across the familiar park of his childhood, past the brand new boating house, which he vaguely remembered having seen destroyed when he was fifteen, and as he progressed, his existence became more and more tenuous and his image wavered, weaker and weaker
....And Frankie began again...
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