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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Three takes

Three takes

I survived the poetry phase of the writing class I am taking this summer so now I am floundering in prose. For this week assignment we were asked to choose a memory, a snippet from our past, and tell it in three ways.

1. First person - present (as if it were happening now)

Daylight is slowly streaking in. So is my consciousness. Sounds of streetcars help usher in a new day. Their ringing seems suspended in the air, like an invisible hand offered to a lady descending a stage-coach. I realize I am not at home. I see books I never read, I see unfamiliar walls at unfamiliar distances. My reasoning is slowly emerging from its nocturnal eclipse, one by one its internal circuitry comes online, the velvet curtains of slumber are pulling up. I think I just heard a voice. Was it the door that creaked? The setting is gradually coming back to me. The apartment belongs to Helen, a woman I barely know. After a great evening with my friend Theresa, she let me stay in her boyfriend's bedroom, while Theresa crashed in hers. I am also beginning to recall that she mentioned that her boyfriend might be coming back in the morning. Thank God, the world is starting to make sense. The person at the door is a male indeed.

I try to form a coherent sentence, preferably one that might have some explanatory potential. Composing a speech while looking for socks can be demanding though. My memory sputters reluctantly into functionality - his name is Robert. Then I notice something that makes me question my liberation from the dream world. The person at the door is holding a gun. I also notice that the gun is deliberately pointed at me. This guy is really protective of his girlfriend flashes through my mind. As I try to take stock of the situation, I hear a firm request for an identification. I refocus. It is the police. But the gun is just as real as it was a moment ago. They are very curious who is the owner of this apartment and who am I.

I get up. I make a brief introduction and lead them to a living room hoping to find traces of Helen. Theresa is gone, she mentioned she had an early train to catch, so it is up to my orientation sense to find Helen. Where could her bedroom be? The place looks different in the daylight. I look around like a confused monkey looking for a banana heap. I see slim wooden furniture, a rug on the wall depicting a mountain stream, a sofa with a sliding heap of fashion magazines, but no sign of bedroom doors. Time is canoeing through the scene. I try not to act too suspicious, but my obvious failure at finding Helen is enough reason for the policemen to keep their guns ready. Finally she emerges from the depths of the apartment, as if an invisible wall somehow opened. She looks as confused as I am. But somehow I feel that this is a turning point.

2. Third person - past (as if it happened to someone else)

Joe spend an entertaining evening with his friend Theresa and her friend Helen. The conversation flowed like champagne and soon they all found themselves on the a.m. side of midnight. Theresa had an early train to catch from a nearby station, so she decided to stay at Helen's place, a spacious apartment in a high rise building in one of Prague's western districts. Helen mentioned that her boyfriend Robert is out on business and Joe was offered an accommodation in his bedroom. Up to this point nothing extraordinary. A friendly meeting and makeshift sleeping arrangements. The real twist began to take shape in the morning when Theresa left for her early train.

She didn't want to wake up the whole floor so she closed the door rather timidly. As a result the bolt didn't fully engage and while she were speeding downstairs the door wafted open. It probably felt that it had the same right to yawn like everyone else. At around 7 a.m., a neighbor noticed the gaping door on her way for fresh milk. That still wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary had she simply closed it. But there is one thing which made her think twice about doing so. As luck would have it, that same high rise complex witnessed a homicide couple of weeks ago. One of its Ukraininan tenants got into a dispute with the Russian Mafia and the disagreement was settled the Soprano way. Needless to say that the gruesome murder left the tenants rattled and highly suspicious of any irregularity. The ominously open door scared the neighbor and she called the police.

Two officers arrived shortly and entered the apartment, their guns drawn and their eyes scanning the interior for trouble. Helen just moved in, so she didn't have time yet to build a reputation of a solid neighbor. The apartment looked a bit tentative and that made the policemen proceed with extreme caution. Their shoes squeaked on the hardwood floor. They searched the hallway, the kitchen, the living room - but still no sign of life. The layout of the apartment lead them to Joe's room next. Carefully they opened the door. Joe was about to have a morning of his life.

3. First person - past (as if it is recalled from memory)

Staring down the business end of a gun is quite a unique feeling. You are scared and curious at the same time. You feel like a fish released into a kitchen sink. You feel like standing naked in the middle of Times Square. You feel out of place. And you wish you could call Quentin Tarrantino and offer him a great directing opportunity. Or at least grab a video cam and preserve this moment in its dripping urgency.

That is what I experienced firsthand few years ago, when I had to crash at a place of a distant friend. Due to some wheelings and dealings of the Prague underground, which happened to take place in the same house, I was awoken by none other than the Czech police that morning. The vigilant protectors of the law were alerted to an open door to my friend's apartment and caught me in the middle of regaining my consciousness. I will never forget that wake-up call. The ring seat view of their fine weaponry. The sense of having taken a wrong turn somewhere and stubbornly continuing to drive against the flow of traffic on a busy highway. To make things worse I didn't even have a proper id on me. Since in the Czech Republic I don't usually carry my passport around, I had only my expired Czech driver's license to prove my identity. That made for an exchange of some deeply puzzled looks on the part of the officers. While they questioned me, I started wondering what kind of matresses they used in Czech jails.

Fortunately everything was explained. My friend Helen entered the scene like Deus ex Machina and saved the day. After it became clear that she is the rightful owner of the apartment, that her offer for me to stay didn't involve any extortion and that we didn't hid any dead bodies in the closet, the policemen turned the blind eye to my expired ID. When I heard the door close behind them, I thought that was the full stop after the whole story. But Helen added a little cherry on top of this tart. We were sipping coffee and exchanging our own stories of the morning when she slapped her forehead as if she just remembered something. She went to the kitchen sink and opened a little cupboard underneath it: "Good that they didn't snoop around too much - they might have found this" - and she pointed to two bags of something that looked like prepackaged hey to me. But it was marijuana. Good Lord, that was the last time I set foot in that house.

Moral of the story: Kids, it's ok to stay with your friends, but if you have to stay with friends of your friends, please, look under the kitchen sink before you brush your teeth.


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