Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Eleven

I've read and re-read this excerpt a dozen times, and I'll be damned if I can find a single suitable image in there to accompany this thrilling installment of The Barington Encounter; therefore, I've settled on this lovely picture of Beachy Head because a) it's in Sussex, and b) it's a place associated with death, which rears its ugly head here for the first time in this story. ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4] * [5] * [6] * [7] * [8] * [9] * [10]

It was more than an hour later when Gary Carlisle left number 14 Juniper Mews, and when he did he was whistling, or rather singing – or, let’s say, performing - the Andromedan national anthem. Indeed, he performed it to the other end of Juniper Mews, away from Castlewood Avenue, then along Wellington Boulevard, and down the busiest part of the High Street past the Balls chemist where he jauntily tossed a pound coin at its on-duty down-and-outer. At the next corner he turned sharply left and continued performing it while striding down the length of Cooper’s Close, making his way diagonally from one kerb to the other neither in the well-marked zebra crossing nor looking right before doing so. In fact, he was still performing it when he’d entered his own home at number 42.

That was what tipped off his wife...

You see, the Andromedan national anthem sounds an awful lot like an improvised series of slurping and gurgling noises, usually accompanied with the rasping from opening and closing a large jacket zipper in 7/4 time to an atonal melody which, when performed en masse, might remind one of Stravinsky being played backwards underwater. Only this May 12th, which so far and in so many ways had been so far from ordinary, had also been unseasonably warm. All of which meant Gary Carlisle had gone about his constabling perambulations earlier that morning in shirt sleeves - short shirt sleeves, and all - forcing him to improvise more than the slurps and the gurgles...

‘With the zip in your trousers?’ Mrs Carlisle, whose name was Trudy, was now shouting with some abandon, especially for Sussex. I mean, Essex definitely, Wessex possibly, but Sussex? Honestly...

‘Well I had to improvise,’ he said, as though that was an adequate explanation, and despite the fact that he’d never improvised a thing in his life. As a teenager he’d even painstakingly rehearsed his orgasms, though he was careful not to touch himself when he did, which his parents and Headmaster at the time all agreed was probably for the best.

That was when he told her the entire story of his day in the most policeman-like manner he could muster - from beginning to end, without prevarication; and the parts of it she understood she believed, as certainly as if they happened to her, as indeed they had. Unfortunately for her, though, the parts of his story she'd understood were the very beginning and the very end of the story only - namely those portions of her husband's recent adventure for which she’d actually been present - and since they weren’t the parts that dealt with aliens at all, let alone their national anthem and how he’d come to learn it, his explanation did little or nothing to alleviate her confusion in this instance.

‘Who or what in Hell are Andromedans?’ She stopped herself; lest she go quite wild with abandon she changed the subject, continuing in a kind of hoarse whisper so prevalent in the suburbs it was technically classed a sociolect. ‘And why are you suddenly obsessed with their national anthem anyway? You don’t even know our national anthem.’

This accusation so offended Gary Carlisle that he actually seemed to be physically injured by it; in fact, a bruise was already beginning to bloom on his left cheek. Not that he was aware of it; he was too busy wheedling. ‘I do too. I’ve been through police training.’ Whereupon without prompting he proceeded to sing the first verse of God Save the Queen, in a high quavering voice and with a Nigerian accent before lapsing into What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor in spot-on impersonation of Marlene Dietrich. When finally even he’d had enough of this he stopped, whereupon a quizzical look bloomed on his face over top of the bruise. ‘Hm. Maybe I don’t then. But I definitely know Land of Hope and Glory.’ Before he could demonstrate, though, Trudy Carlisle reflexively held one hand up to her husband’s mouth and the other to her own, hoping against hope to prevent any further or sudden emanation from either.

What happened next to Gary Carlisle is irrelevant, partly because it was both a seemingly minor event at the time and therefore irrelevant to the bigger picture inherent in the narrative, but mainly because within moments of its occurrence he died, thus distracting the author from discussing it further. However, the solace he found in his last few minutes on Earth by the continuous performance of the Andromedan national anthem greatly comforted him, no matter what havoc it may have wreaked on his wife and her digestive tract. It was that kind of song.

Though neither he nor anyone else alive on Earth at that moment (with the possible exception of the Centauri Health Minister, currently masquerading as a German welder on a beach at Torremolinos) could have possibly known it, the performance of the Andromedan national anthem is normally fatal to humans. Normally fatal within minutes, in fact... Simply hearing it will produce a violent reaction in most humanoid species, a fact which Trudy Carlisle and her stomach (currently performing dressage astride her intestines beneath her ribcage) knew all too well. Which is all the more surprising seeing as her husband had managed to not only live but seemingly thrive as well for more than two hours, while performing the song almost continuously at that.

It turns out that Gary Carlisle, while outwardly as ordinary a man and a constable as one could hope to meet (or not, depending on what you're into) was inwardly an extraordinary specimen of British manhood, a man and indeed a human whose DNA could have immeasurably improved the strength and endurance of the whole race if necessary. That is, if any of their number had known that, let alone known how to apply it.

The Andromedans had no idea either. In fact, they were quite in the dark – that is, until Gary Carlisle had showed up and shown them how their light switches worked, before demonstrating the correct way to wire up a plug on a DIYnot? torchiere that would not have looked out of place on a Doctor Who set attempting to replicate the Palace of Versailles. Their confusion was only to be expected, as the Andromedan national anthem had never been performed by a human before; they couldn't even have warned him not to perform it if they'd wanted to, which they would have done, since they were that kind of species. They merely turned up suspiciously promptly after the fact on their new friend’s doorstep with a welcoming basket of scones to find him recently dead (indeed, both cooling and stiffening on the kitchen floor) of some unspecified cause.

The aliens’ grief was inconsolable, but their attention span mercifully short; and so, while Trudy Carlisle was in the kitchen - ostensibly to make tea to go with their scones, but surreptitiously to ring 999 and babble semi-incoherently at the operator until he finally called her a nutter and rang off - the Andromedans merely absconded with the remains of their only friend in the world and hove back to Juniper Mews.

That they were able to do all of this in the curiously dignified manner which is the birthright of every Andromedan was a credit to them, seeing as they’d had to hire a mini-cab to do it in, and seeing as initially the driver had tried to hove them back to Hove, which was in the wrong direction altogether. Geography just wasn’t the mini-cab driver's best subject, you see; though he was a dab hand at geometry, his brothers thought it best if he drove the mini-cab today as they believed (mistakenly, it turns out) that the move they’d been hired to do today didn’t involve anything more geometric than an awful lot of flat-pack from DIYnot? and little else.

Somehow the aliens’ return to Number 14 failed to attract nearly the level of attention in Juniper Mews their arrival had, which upset them; four of them were still eager to test their assault vests, not to mention all of them being fond of idiosyncratic children’s stories and more than a little peeved at having had to miss the one Marlak had heard earlier, since his retelling did not do it justice. Then again, Emmerdale had just started, so no one saw the vicar’s car pull up at the ersatz Fripp Manor at the scandalous hour of two in the afternoon either.

While the tallest alien paid the driver then went ahead to close curtains, draw blinds, and shutter shutters in an effort to ensure both their privacy and discretion during the impending ritual, the other four whisked the five-foot-eight body of their dead friend the policeman through their faux-Georgian front door in the least mattressy manner possible.

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