Taking the slightly damp, stained paper napkin that had been sandwiched between his coffee cup and the plate-sized saucer beneath, he opened his book where his finger had been resting and appointed it to the position of replacement bookmark. Leaning his full weight on his feet he pushed the chair back upon which he’d been sitting, producing an awful discordance of wood on wood as the chair legs glided unceremoniously the short distance across the wooden floorboards of the coffee shop releasing him from the overhanging restriction of the square table he’d been sitting at. He smirked as he looked up peering around the room and noticed that this time no-one was paying him any attention, how well trained his afore willing audience were to coral their thoughts into familiar eddies, accepting that the sound of a chair moving noisily across a floor was more normal and acceptable than a mature man talking aloud to himself. How had they known he’d not been using a wireless device clipped to his ear and hidden beneath the steel-greyness of his foppish hair, he wondered?
One could witness people talking to themselves in such a fashion all the time, technology had made it so. But he was no Captain Piccard, well appropriated and in acceptable uniform. His uniform was one of learned dishevelment, as if he’d broken free from a 1970’s Open University television production, some forty years too late, in his muted browns and greys, corduroy trousers and checked shirt disguised beneath the manly comfort of a moth-eaten woollen jumper that had become a little too stretched to fit even his elongated form. His shoes were well worn and comfortable, and made of good old fashioned swine-skin, a strange adjustment he suddenly thought from his former expensive bespoke attire. But as quickly as the thought had appeared in his mind, he dismissed it again, relegating it to guard duty somewhere along the high fortifications of divorced memories.
He knew that the American had been responsible for triggering that particular strain of abandoned personal narratives, bringing them momentarily to the fore, reminding him of the man he had been but could not now reclaim, and that until recently had slipped his grasp almost completely. He had changed beyond all recognition in his own view, and all he could be now was the cynic with nothing more to lose, except for a few more hairs and the willingness to continue, frequently it seemed to him.
Tucking his book into his long-fingered grasp he extended his form until he was fully upright and standing tall above the entourage of his consciousness surrounding him. Those other unwitting manifestations of himself that were foolish and idealistic enough to believe that they were somehow separate from him, but were in fact extras in a dramatic production of his own life, of his erratic but seamlessly smooth psyche. He thought of the snake-oil salesman of the old Wild West that he’d grown up reading about as a young boy, masquerading now as the gate-keeper of his deviant mind. He knew without doubt that the people around him felt his pain and disappointment too, in a way that only they each could comprehend, but as needs must they would take their own paths, live their own versions to varying degrees of the life he now accepted as his. Not even Will Shakespeare would have made the story this complicated he conceded. He bade them all farewell in his thoughts and left through the wings of his stage-right, exiting the scene of the coffee shop to enter the set of Brighton Seafront, and the mild afternoon air bustling with the sound of eager and enthused day-trippers and locals entertaining a late liquid lunch. Until tomorrow, he thought.
He found himself wincing a little at that, a pained but momentary contemplation that tomorrow might just be too ambitious an aspiration. Knowing full well how events could turn on a sixpence and change one’s perceptions beyond measure. Things would change, and keep changing, but his tired head was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the implications of it all.
As he looked along the promenade to the west he spotted the American and the long-haired woman about twenty meters away engaged in heated conversation. She was petite and demure, but he recognised an intensity in her disposition that he had seen in few people. A character flaw, as he saw it, of a genius silenced by centuries of social convention. Of someone with so much self-awareness and potential to instigate change for the better by her sheer presence alone, but shackled by the lack of acceptance that her naïve and immature peers afforded her. He understood what that meant, and he understood that her American friend understood that too. Cut from the same bolt of fabric the three of them were, caught in a strange spiralling tornado of events that in their disparity would seem to any onlooker as nothing but the spin of Brownian Motion, a concordance of circumstances that were nothing more than a dance of chance encounters following rhythms beyond their control.
There was an orange glow about her like ethereal flames enveloping her and the space she occupied, deepening in tone and intensifying as it merged with the red fuge emanating from the American’s chest and head. Like a living depiction of Flaming June by the painter Frederick Leighton, brought to life by the obvious passion that the couple shared. It was entrancing to watch, for him at least, and ray of warmth touched his heart.
Jeromiah was a Synaesthete, and to him the world was a wash of sensory connections and experiences that rare few shared. To notice such things was ordinary fair for him. In fact he hadn’t even realised it was at all unusual until he was well into his adulthood and already beyond impressionable youth.
The American was a good head taller than the long-haired woman, and the age gap apparent, but they were well matched he thought. Something about them made him smile, something he did with lacking frequency these days. Anyway, it wasn’t really any of his business, he thought, and he fumbled around in his trouser pocket for the long paper bus-ticket that would serve as his return journey to Hove, and home. Often he would walk back, but today he didn’t feel up to it. His head hurt from all the recent stress, and the growing desolation he felt on receiving news that all of his assets had finally dwindled to nothing, having paid for exorbitant medical trials and treatments that had ensured his slow but not quite full recovery. He often wondered if he would have been able to engineer his own recovery without all the medical intervention, through will power alone, that knowing what he knew he might have prevented not only the financial cost he would incur, but also the stigma that he would encounter to his utter surprise and deep dismay. He understood that he was missing a vital piece of the puzzle in his estimations, that somehow he had sold himself short, curtailing his more than adequate beliefs in favour of accepted ‘convention’. A nervous breakdown was never an acceptable way of bowing out of a prestigious career, and despite there being no evidence of underlying causes, he knew that his time was short. There were things that were obvious to Jeromiah Windborne that barely scratched the surface of awareness in others, of that he knew. He could sense the direction of the winds of consciousness before they had even decided to blow, and the sand of his egg-timer was about to pass its final grains. The thought depressed him, made his face itch more, and saddened him beyond recompense. Though his demise, his departure from this plane of existence was the least of his concerns. He didn’t fear death, but the life that lead up to that moment, and the disappointment he knew he would feel at having made such a hash of his time here. It left a bitterness in his mouth that no strength of his favourite brand of Italian coffee could mask.
He rubbed the back of his neck, bus-ticket in hand, suddenly feeling flushed, his lower limbs heavy. He found his way to a nearby bollard and perched himself atop trying to breathe through the laboured palpitations in his chest, his throat tightening with the exertion. His head swam, and for a moment he feared that gravity would claim him, pulling his great lumbering form to the glass speckled ground, decorated by umpteen shattered glasses having slipped from careful grasps. He knew that if he sat still for a moment his vision would come back into focus and that this would pass, he needed to tell himself that it would pass, and repeat it until it did so. It had always seemed to work before.
“My reality is mine to create and this will pass, this will pass.” He muttered repeatedly under his shortened breath like a mantra.
He could feel people’s eyes burning into him as they passed him, too afraid or indifferent to stop, but he didn’t care, they were all just part of the winds of change. He was still gripping his book and his bus-ticket in either hand, as if somehow they helped maintain the illusion of his composure, if only to him. How ludicrous he thought that at the moment of his potential demise he should be worried about his composure. As if it mattered!
Suddenly he felt a tightening around his left arm the colour of deepest indigo, and for a moment his body became heavy. Colours flashed within his mind and he could smell the acrid aroma of burning paper, and the sharp clear resonant yellow of a voice tinged with red. He was certain that the burning he could smell was from his brain cells being singed one by one as his brain short-circuited, due to the strain his heart was under.
“Hey” Said the voice repeatedly and gently. The voice seemed to be attached to a strong hand that gripped his left arm, apparently having stopped him from falling.
Jeromiah lifted his head enough to see warm brown eyes staring at him intently and with concern.
“Will…” He found himself saying. Up until that moment he hadn’t been able to remember the tall American’s name, even though his face was as familiar as his own. Another piece of his memory that had been packed away for safe-keeping it would seem, until his private internal storm had passed. He was as surprised to see him, as the tall American’s furrowed brow now disclosed.
“Are you well?”
Slide and glide, Jeromiah said to himself, elongating the vowels to imitate the other man’s familiar accent.
He took a moment to catch his breath and find the words he was looking for.
“Yes.” He said nodding vigorously, “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” The American answered. “Do you need me to call and ambulance?”
This time shaking his head vigorously from side to side Jeromiah responded, “No. I’m… I was just… uh… having a moment.” He continued gesticulating with his right hand as if he were beating an egg in mid air. Except his head felt like the invisible egg he was trying scramble.
“Okay. You’re sure?” Said the American looking down the length of his nose, eyes wide and questioning.
Jeromiah feigned a smile and nodded again.
“Okay. If you’re sure.” He hesitated a moment, “Uh, how is it you know my name, do we know each other?”
“We knew each other. Unfortunately there are things that I still don’t um…” This was proving to be more difficult than he’d anticipated. Not because he couldn’t recall the circumstance of their acquaintance, indeed friendship, but because the man he was now was new to him. He’d had an answer for everything before, he was confident and assertive, and had a sense of self that now evaded him. He was feeling things now that he had managed to suppress as the suited entrepreneur that he had been not so long ago. For some reason he found that he was unable to speak, believing that he was about to have another attack, but the silence that issued from his open mouth was underpinned, he realised, by the dark earthy colours of emotional loss, the sadness of having lost a friend that no longer recognised him. His heart sank back into its cage, calmer now, but deflated.
“Where is your friend?” He found himself asking. Not because he was avoiding the American’s question, but because he was abruptly aware that the orange was missing from his internal vision.
“She went to fetch some water for you.” Said the American gesturing with his head in the direction of the coffee shop.
“Well she needn’t have gone so far” Jeromiah mused dryly waving the hand with his book still clasped between its fingers behind him toward the waves lapping against the pebbled shore.