A dinner party. A cabaret. The unforgotten past bursts into the present, ripping open the future.
When Phil, an undergraduate at Cambridge University, performs in cabaret at a party, he meets and falls in love with Melanie. As she in turn appears to have fallen in love with him, he cannot understand why she then plays hard-to-get, even after he learns of the traumatic events that shaped her teenage years. But the influence of former boyfriend Simon is still strong, and she and Phil part. Twenty-five years later, both now married, they meet again by chance and resume their relationship. Soon each faces a tough choice: Will Melanie decide on love or loyalty? Will Phil commit to his estranged wife or return to his first love?….
Loch Lomond, Scotland: July 1958
Melanie looked through the picnic basket in the hope of finding something else to eat, but could only find fragments of cheese that had fallen out of the sandwiches. They were too small to pick up; she licked a finger and dabbed at them to transfer them to her mouth. Not very satisfactory. She stood up and looked round, wondering what to do next. Her parents were still on their little collapsible chairs, Mummy reading a book and Daddy dozing over a newspaper. Her brother Mikey had gone off on his own, probably looking for more things to add to the broken skull of some animal he’d already found and balanced on a piece of jutting rock near where they were picnicking. Melanie thought it looked horrible.
She wandered down to the loch’s edge a few feet away and gazed across the great expanse of water, wondering if a monster like Nessie were lurking in its depths. She’d been looking hard while they had had their picnic, but there had been no sign of anything remotely monster-like. Now she stood as close to the water’s edge as she dared without getting her sandals wet, gazing over the loch, seeing the surface ruffled by the wind, trying to remember her father’s explanation about why there were proper waves on the sea but not on a loch. The moon came into it, but surely the moon shone on a loch at night as much as it did on the sea?
The water surface was glittering, and she stared and stared, hoping a monster would rear its head and scatter the glittering. With her mind’s eye she could see a great grey head rearing up, water cascading from it, flashing from it like countless sparklers on Bonfire Night being whirled around, and a gaping mouth with rows of sharp teeth, and huge staring eyes. Behind the head a series of grey arches also flashed with scattered water, and at the end of them a wildly thrashing tail… But no, with her real eyes she could see no monster.
Yet as she stared and stared, a curious sensation developed that she was somehow part of the loch itself – not simply as though she were on the water or in the water, but the sensation of actually being the water, and not just the water but also the mountains and pebbles and trees and the little islands in the loch. She could see, or she seemed to see, a vast network of lines of dancing golden fire.
Mikey had recently told her the difference between millions, billions and trillions, and she felt sure there were trillions of these lines connecting everything to everything, like the huge spiders’ webs she sometimes saw in the garden at home in the early morning sun when there was rain or dew on them, only stupendously bigger. These trillions of lines ran between the tiniest pebbles and the hugest mountains, between every leaf on every tree to every leaf on every other tree, between the distant birds in the sky and a little boat moving along near the opposite shore.
She looked at her hands. Golden fire glowed from them. When she turned to look at her family she could see each one radiating the same goldenness. Mummy still reading, Daddy dozing, and Mikey further off holding up some trophy; the car-rug spread on the ground and the open picnic basket; the toppled-over thermos flasks and the old tennis rackets: all were shimmering. Even the skull on the rock shimmered. Threads of golden fire connected it with trees and leaves and pebbles and water and people and everything.
Never before in her eight years had she had this feeling, this reassurance, that all is well. It felt wonderful, a trillion times wonderful. She stretched out her arms to embrace it as her ability or desire to think about it and puzzle over it and try to describe it to herself faded away, like seawater when the waves can go no further up a beach sinking into invisibility in the sand.
How long did it last? she wondered later. Although time had seemed to vanish, the trillions of threads of golden fire had begun to fade, slowly fade. Like the dying of the sparklers on Bonfire Night, when no matter how hard you keep whirling them they become just crispy grey ash on lengths of thin wire. The golden fiery threads died away as her everyday way of seeing the world and feeling her feelings reasserted itself.
Thank you, R.N.F. Skinner and Random Things Tours
About the author
R.N.F. (Richard) Skinner has published several poetry collections. He has a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge
University. He lives in Exeter with his wife, four hens and, until recently, two cats.
Still Crazy… is his first published novel.