90 Pippa on the brink of no return

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90   Pippa on the brink of no return

As soon as the lift-doors enclose us, Kim says, "I tell you, when you came back into the room shaking your head, I just wanted to say, 'OK, Pippa, you made those waxworks, didn't you?' But I chickened out, because then it would have had to come out, about me snooping through keyholes and spying on her with opera-glasses, and anyway, if she's kept it a secret so far, why would she admit it now?"

"You were right to keep quiet. Don't worry, we'll get to the bottom of this. Are you going back home now?"

"Yes. But again, if you and Alaia want to come over later, do. We'll be gone the day after tomorrow."

"OK, thanks. I'll call you." We shake hands and he sets off.

The clouds are darkening and the wind is rising. It's going to pour down any minute. I could head back to the Metropolitan right now, but on a whim I consider: how often do I sit outside, in what I know is going to be a warm rain, with no particular place to go, just getting soaked for the sheer hell of it? Not enough! Neither law nor regulation requires dryness. So I walk back down Wesley Lake to the very same secluded nook I occupied before on the ledge between the ruined Casino and the beach. The afternoon light dims to grey, the gulls fall silent and the wind picks up more, rippling the Atlantic; till here the rain comes indeed, growing quickly in strength, pelting my head with tepid drops and splattering down onto the sand-blown ledge beside me.

I conjure up my hostess this afternoon, lob her outwards and send my attention after her, to see just what she's doing, up there in her high-rise, now that Kim and I have left ... and I find you, Pippa, descending the building's concrete stairwell, where the wind pushes in through the cracks around a rusty window frame beside you. You peer out and down into a small garden that no one ever visits, where a few tired leaves flap limply on stunted shrubs. You emerge from your tower through the back door and drift down the empty street, without an umbrella: glazed dim sky, grey rain. You're sinking, Pippa Vail, and I wish that I could help you, but I can't. A woman and a small child are coming down the pavement towards you. You could say hallo when she reaches you—but she would either just look at you funnily or, if she were polite enough to greet you in return, she would still think there was something odd about you and would want to hurry on, and what would be the point of that? So you don't meet her eyes and she doesn't meet yours, while the rain streams down over your furious blushing and the child stares at you rudely; and you never liked children (even and especially when you were one in Arverne) but you manage a weak half-grin at it, like thin porridge, and of course then the idiot child looks frightened and stares all the harder and more rudely, and they both scurry on, away down Sewall Avenue. Then a curtain twitches in a window, of course, and you know that there too will be a hard, curious stare at you, cutting through the thin rain sliding down the air on its way to the gutter. You look through the sad scene ahead of you, which might as well be behind you, and you move your legs forward—left foot, right foot, left foot. Yes, you're one of the lonely girls. You've seen all this before, and you'll see it all again.

The only bright thing is Lucan's phone call this morning, the first time he's phoned you for years. He told you that I, Jaymi, was spying on you; and this made you happy. To be spied on! A human connection. Please keep spying on me, you thought. Stay with me, please. "Oh, thank you!" you replied, to a nonplussed Lucan, and then by mistake you did what nobody does—cut him off. Oops. Oh well, too late to mend that.

But otherwise, it's not good, especially the other phone call. That friend of yours served you up a silence on the phone—unmistakable, the truth of his dislike carried plainly in the silence and deliberately implied. The last look he gave you was cold, too, the other week. That silence on the phone, and the last look he gave you was cold; silence and cold... A small strangled screech wriggles out through your windpipe by force and stabs up Cookman Avenue, unheard.

At the end of Wesley Lake, behind the boarded-up Carousel, you stumble round the colonnade beneath the tall chimney of the little dead power station. "Hail Satan," says a graffito on one of the pillars, scrawled in unSatanic felt-tip pen. You wander down the Boardwalk to the old Howard Johnson's diner, closed and dark today as it almost always is nowadays, where a wall-mounted radio has nevertheless been left on, aiming a small tinny music out across the ocean.

You drift onwards, anti-clockwise around the edges of the entire town, with wastes of empty space to your right and cars hissing away through the slosh to somewhere else. Grey sky hangs over wire-netting alley-ways around a corner shop, where the wind blows litter along. You come to a bus-stop where an old man sits talking to himself, a beer in his hand and his face full of fear and endless loss.

By the time you've wandered inland and some way out of town to a highway intersection where only cars move, the light is dimming into evening. In among the slip-roads you find a slip of grass, and there you sit and smoke, where nobody has ever sat and smoked before—and nobody will ever sit and smoke again, most likely.

This is the last game of all, Pippa, here among the slip-roads. The rain upon a bandstand that only you can see thaws out a music that was played here and frozen in a silent ring, awaiting your arrival now—notes rubbed thin by the ghosts of many tears. "What a nice day," you say, and wish that it were so.

Here is the border of reality, the boundary fence, before you reach the rest outside. The fence is broken, here and there, where other lone wolves have pushed holes through it, setting off on journeys where the rest of us can't follow. The air above the highway becomes arched over like a tunnel ceiling, with the wider environment merely an optical effect projected onto the tunnel walls—and this is when I know that you are really in trouble.


For some nice reviews and interviews about The Imagination Thief, in The Guardian and elsewhere, see http://www.rohanquine.com/press-media/the-imagination-thief-reviews-media/

For a quick synopsis of it, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/synopsis-and-characters-list-the-imagination-thief/

For the 12 Films in The Imagination Thief, see http://www.rohanquine.com/video-books-films/12-films/

For the Audio-book version and the Video-book version of each of its 120 mini-chapters, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/audiobook-tumblr-wattpad/

For links to the retailers, see http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-ebook/ and http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-paperback/

And for its Amazon pages, see http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909

The Imagination Thief is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people's imaginations and memories. It's about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds.

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