The Second Track

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the Second Track is a short story, that I've written some years ago. It might not be up to my current standards and the plot could have been hidden a little better. It plays with dreams and with the perception of reality. It's hard to describe for me. Read it and then judge.

Mr. Frank Harper, of 254 Highstreet Londonderry, was very proud of living a respectible and quiet life. He occupied a small appartment near his office. Since 10 years he was with McLessman and Baker, a wellknown estate agency. In that capacity he had to travel a lot. The bit of sparetime he had left, he passed playing chess with old Kernel Darnley, his neighbour. You wouldn't look twice, if you met him in the street and he might even have been proud of that, too. A perfectly nice and ordinary chap, you see.

On the 4th of June 2004 now, he was to handle the affaire of selling an old house over in Larne. So early that morning he got up, preparing for a difficult day to come. At half past seven his car turned onto the motorway. Mr. Harper inserted a tape into his cassetteplayer. The rest of the drive he found himself blissfully distracted from the work at hand, by Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's guide through the galaxy". When he reached Larne it was a quarter to one. Before he stopped for lunch he called his client, Mrs. Earmshaw, to inform her, that he'd be there at two o'clock. The house was a large victorian affaire in good condition. Its former owner had been a proud collector of art. "Keeping of the beauty is keeping of the culture", he liked to say. Particularly remarkable was his drawingroom. You entered it through two pairs of silk curtains. Marvellous green and silver examples of late victorian embroidery. "And here, Mrs. Earmshaw, we have the drawingroom", the smooth curtains whispered quietly, when they went through them. A shudder went down the estate agent's spine. The interior of the room looked really magnificant. When the tour was finished, they reentered the drawingroom. "So Mrs. Earmshaw", Frank Harper began resolutely, "This is it. A fine piece of victorian art." With that he swept his hand through the air, including the pictures, carpets and delicate tables. "First of all", Mrs. Earmsahw started pleasantly, "I want to thank you for the extensive tour. I quite like the place." "I'm glad to hear that", the agent replied pleased. "I'd like to take another walk through the house on my own. Shall we meet in the kitchen in... Hm half an hour?" "Very well", Mr. Harper nodded.

When his client had gone off, he opened the glass doors and stepped out into the garden. When he returned to the kitchen he did so by the outside kitchen door. Let's make long things short: Mrs. Earmshaw was only too happy to buy the fantastic estate. Thus by six in the evening Frank drove back to Londonderry, happy, that this deal had come down alright. At home he reviewed some documents on a farm house and some old contracts, which recently had been subject of some inqueries in court. After that, he turned off the lights and in for bed.

His sleep was deep and dreamless that night. The following days would be a pain in the... - Oh dear, pardon me, I should really mind my language. - So it came to be a week later, that he found some time to visit Kernel Darnley for their party of chess. On saturday, the 12th of June, he finally took a moment to reflect about the past week. It had been strange in a way. For a few days now, he'd felt weak and confused. He supposed, that he should consult a doctor about that. Yet time is money and life is expensive. Thus he postponed the doctor. But only after the game of chess, he started to realise, what had been wrong all the while.

He'd certainly made good progress with the Berley affaire and the sessions in court were apt to yield positive results soon. But on tuesday that stupid Rosamund had mixed up his contracts. to Bach's Brandenburg concertos he mused. Suddenly the thought of little Mike entered his mind. He didn't know any Mike. Or did he? Oh yes, Mike had again forgotten his homework. Also he had beaten up Josh over a couple of comics. His confusion pressed in on him. The strangeness, that had been haunting him the last few days rose to a climax. He remembered arguing the Berley case on wednesday morning, yet he also remembered setting a math test on that same day. He saw himself getting up on thursday and knocking over his nightstand and yet he had gotten up and went calmly down into the kitchen. Only that there was no downstairs in his tiny flat. While the Musica Antiqua orchestra went about playing the third movement of the third concerto Frank Harper sat on his couch, thunderstruck. He sipped glass after glass of brandy as conflicting memories of the past days kept coming forward. At last he couldn't bare it any longer and stood up. Kernel Darnley opened the door. Perplexed at seeing the young Harper chap again, he stepped back. "Oh it is you. Did you forget something?" "No, hmm, I... I... W..." "Well mate, you definitely look pale." Politely the kernel bowed him in. "Come in", his fatherly voice invited warmly.

After Frank had told the old man of his problem, which took three more brandies to start with, he sank back into the fluffy armchair. "Well, that is certainly most extraordinary." After a long meaningful pause Darnley asked: "You did work a lot over these past days? Didn't you? I haven't seen much of you at all of late. Perhaps they've put too much strain on you. I mean,..." He fell silent, apprehensively gazing at the estate agent. "Oh", Mr. Harper finally understood, "You think it's my nerves. Well, I'd had more work at times. Infact this week had gone quite alright. Some tideous affaires were to be handled, yet... It's not that. If I come to think about it, those memories were there at least for the last three days. And they are real. They are so real, as the ones of us playing chess. It's like living in two places at the same time." "Perculiar", his friend mumbled lost in thought. "Very perculiar in deed. Perhaps you should see a doctor after all." "Perhaps I should. No, I will! Right tomorrow morning, I will!"

"Mr. Harper please", the nurse announced. "Good morning Mr. Harper." Doctor Harris was a man in his 50s, with graying hair. He shook Frank's hand and complimented him into the armchair at his desk. "So what is your problem, Mr. Harper?" When the estate agent had finished his tale, he leaned back wearily. "And do these memories still continue?" "Yes, they do. Now that I've noticed them at all, I feel them building. It is as if I live two possible lives at a time." "Very curious in deed", the doctor mused quietly. After a long pause, during which the doctor appeared lost in thoughts, he leaned forward again. "Mr. Harper, this is very perculiar. It seems to me like a special form of schizofrenia. Are there times you can't acount for?" Harper thought back for just a second. "No. I'm sure of that. I had so much to do in the last few days. There wasn't a moment to spare and besides I really have memories of the same periods of time. I mean, those memories are parallel to each other."

Doctor Harris had asked some more questions, but Frank Harper had the distinct impression, that the doc was lost. So he left without making any further appointments. Frustrated and still confused by his building memories, he fastened his seatbelt. Yet he couldn't do anything more about it. There were houses to be sold and contracts to be signed. So life went on as usual. It was later in the day, when the idea hit him. Signing a tideously long contract, he suddenly jumped up crying out. "That's it! that's the solution." His secretary, Rosamund, looked in on him then. "Mr. Harper? Are you alright?" "Yes, I'm perfect! Never felt so good in my life!" After a glance at his watch he announced: "It's already past five, you can leave." "May I really?" The woman's face lit up. "Yes you may." He was still smiling, when the office door had closed. From a draw of his desk he produced a large sheet of paper. Usually they used it to draw plans of their objects or tape photos to it. In big orange letters he wrote his name on pargement. Carefully and craftily he drew letter after letter, thinking of special characteristics he could add to each letter. so his first "a" got it face and his second "a" got horns, like a devil. Below his name he wrote his address in much the same fashion. Having finished that, he studied it long and hard. He then taped it up to his office wall and made a copy by hand. He tried to do it from memory as best he could. Only occasionally he glanced up to asure himself of the correctness. The second painting he took home with him. There he pinned it up in his living room. Then he chose another Bach lp and while serving himself a brandy, he made up his mind to spend the evening sitting and looking. Looking at the painting of course.

In another part of the town a school teacher also had restless nights. She had - you might say - a similar problem. Only her second memories were of going to the office, signing contracts and of that damn Rosamund. Yet she didn't know any Rosamund. For reasons of excitement her name shall not be devulged here. The next morning, tuesday the 14th, she rose. Her two memories awaking instantly with her. A slight duisiness swept over her. As it had done for the last couple of days. She went down into the kitchen to make coffee and reassert her little grey cells.

Thinking of the lessons she had to prepare, she remembered yesterdays events. Starting with school of course. Mike had for once done his homework, thank God for the little things in life. The office and the stupid doctor wouldn't vanish though. She resolutely ignored them and continued. Yesterday afternoon the unpleasant school conference. Mike's beating had been the subject of that. Then a clear and persistent memory floated up. When it reached her consciousness, it wiped away the lessons to prepare, the conference, unpleasant as it was, and everything else. clearly she saw the orange letters looming in her mind. Just to be sure, that this was real, she pulled a piece of paper towards her and sketched them. Now the letters looked up at her from the small sketch book, she leaned back breathing deeply. Her mind made up, she phoned her headmaster, to tell him, that she'd been taken ill and would probably return in three or four days. "It's the stomache Sir", she lied without skipping a beat. Then she was off in her car, to Highstreet number 254.

After a long night of staring at his poster and drinking a lot of brandy Frank Harper had dosed off. He slept on the couch that night. For once his sleep was heavy and undisturbed by confused dreams. When the doorbell chimed at half past eight, he drifted slowly up from the depth of his being. Drowsily he walked to his door and pressed the buzzer. Sweeping his hand through his hair and rubbing his eyes, he slowly regained real consciousness.

A few moments later a woman in her early thirties faced him. Her eyes danced and sparkled, yet her face was marked with all the signs of sleeplessness. "Yes", he inquired politely, stifeling a yawn. "I think you've been expecting me." A question more then a statement, it carried hope and excitement. "Are you...?" all at once, he was right awake. "Yes I am. Clever trick of you. Congratulations." Frank Harper, estate agent with McLessman & Baker, well respected citison of Londonderry, broke down. Crying he sank to the floor. Happiness, relief and the strain came home to him. He wept openly and shamelessly. "Mr. Harper", the woman peared anxiously at him. "Are you alright? What is it?" It took him quite a while to regain his composure. "It was just everything coming down on me. Please do come in madame."

Theora Darnley of 62 Queen Victoria Rode, school teacher at Jefferson school entered the appartment. A bit uneasily Frank seated her at his kitchen table, while making coffe. Awkward silence stretched between them.

An hour later, they had finished their tales and started to think about a solution. Theora's logical mind kicked into action. "I think first of all we should stay together as much as possible, thus our memories will be the same, or at least as close as possible." "Good thinking", Frank admitted giddy with eagerness. "Then", he continued, "We should remember where we had been and whom we'd met in the last few days. There could be a similarity." So they started going backwards in time. At last they reached theora's saturday. "Well on saturday I'd been to the grocery store and then I visited my friend Victoria. She has bought a new house." Frank Harper pricked up his ears: "Where was that?" "In Larne. She had bought a nice victorian house. Very big, but beautiful and..." "That's it!" The estate agent jumped up excitedly: "Is your friend Vicotria's last name Earmshaw?" "Yes it is. Ah", understanding dawned on her face. "You sold her the estate." "Yes in deed I did. What did you do there." "We took a look around the house. she showed every single room and all the treasures within." Mr. Harper, his hands on the table, leaned forward: "Do you remember anything strange or remarkable?" The teacher cast her mind back wandering those rooms again. "Yes", she hesitated. Frank leaned closer: "What was it", he demanded intensely. "can you remember the drawingroom?" "The silk curtains", he hit himself. "did you feel a kind of shudder then?" "It was more like an inexplicable warmth", she remarked. "We must get back there", Frank was up and going. "At once", he added forcefully.

When the bell sounded Mrs. Earmshaw was startled. she'd planned to come here on the spur of the moment. Yet she opened anyway. "Goodness Theora, Mr. Harper", she exclamed. "What a surprise. Please come in! Do come in! Do you want a cup of tea? I just brewed a pot." "No thanks Victoria, perhaps later." "gosh Theora dear, what has happened?" "We need to see your drawingroom!" "It is of the utmost importance, that we see it", the estate agent added urgently. "Why the...? This is curious. Come through, I think you know the way. I need to look after my tea kettle." At the end of the wide hallway the silken curtains whispered in the air. The silver embroidery glinted impishly. Apprehensively they stepped closer. Just before the green veil they stopped. Then their hands joined Theora parted the first pair of curtains and they stepped through. A soft shimmering light embraced them. the whispering of the delicate material intensified, until they were convinced to be surrounded by giant sparrows hurling themselves through a storm. At last Frank threw his hand at the second curtain and in smooth folds it glided open, revealing the drawingroom. the instant they'd stepped inside the strangest feeling overcame Mr. Harper. He would describe it like that: "I felt like breaking apart and being united at the same time. as if a second pair of senses was taken from me and my own senses were restored to ful alertness." Theora Darnley would describe it very similar.

Now they are married and very happily so. When they were asked, how they came to meet they would invariably answer: "Oh we had some memories in common." Noone understood, what seemed so funny about it. Only they and old Kernel Darnley, who by chance happens to be the uncle of Theora. Well and that infact is it. No moral, nothing to learn, no second meaning, only a second track of memory.