Edgbaston, Early March 1962: Celebration & Reflection (reprise)

Edgbaston,  Early March 1962:  Celebration & Reflection (reprise)

The Screen reconsidered sometime after New Year’s, stopped playing critic, and graciously, for the first anniversary celebration, provided Stan and me with a tack piano and snare drum backing, as he and I played sitar and guitar, in our only performance ever of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Everyone laughed heartily and applauded – as good a result as we could’ve hoped for.

celebrationWe kept comedy going with Dowland’s “Fine Knacks for Ladies,” as Stan mimed a frustrated, true-hearted peddler with bags full of junk for sale, while I played guitar and sang. I’ll always admire Stan’s recent success at Oxford, but still, as I look back over the years, I often wonder whether he shouldn’t have followed through on his plan to do a gap year study with Lindsay Kemp (until Dr. Gupta talked him out of it). He’d have made an excellent mime. Or what if I’d come, too, made the grade and we’d both, studied with Kemp? Who knows what might have happened.

Asked for something more serious, after Stan’s mime, I followed up with a solo voice and guitar version of Dowland’s “What If I Never Speed.” Then I called Stan up for a final comic turn with “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight” (him singing melody and me singing angel descant, dedicated to – who else – my former guitar instructor). Everything was well-received, though Stan and I might have been given a “dispensation” by life’s being so stagnant then that anything remotely animated looked good.

Even by age ten, I’d developed a practice I have to this day of monitoring audiences, (although I didn’t know how to cater to them yet).

I’d predicted how Stan’s and my parents would react to our recital. But Stan’s didis were another matter: After a year, I still barely knew them. Both attended our prep’s twinned grammar school, and rode with Mum, Stan and me every morning. But although I was in Stan’s house at least one weekday afternoon a week, plus Sundays, I’d only caught sight of them in passing.

The older girl, Paravati, was now 17 and – in my ten-year-old eyes – virtually an adult. Very traditionally Asian, she seemed more at home in a sari than in the school uniform. She’d a touch – only a touch, mind you – of Bethany’s ways, and a delicate, exotic beauty that was not very different from Auntie Gene’s, adjusted for culture.

She was enrolled in the grammar school’s “domestic science and gracious living programme,” and was indubitably headed thereafter to a finishing school or such like, to be closely followed by the advantageous marriage Dr. and Mrs. Gupta were doubtless arranging for her even then.

The grammar school was already phasing out the “domestic science and gracious living programme” for girls in the lower forms.

But the younger girl, Rashmi, would’ve had none of it, even if it had been available (to be fair, Dr. Gupta agreed, expecting her to attend university and take up a profession). She was doe-eyed and pretty, indisputably feminine, and yet not “girly.” Though she was 12, we were the same height and build. She’d attended the same school in India as Stan, had no use for saris and seemed to be easier for me to relate to and understand. But, moments still remained when I couldn’t fathom her at all; only years from then, when I’d moved to Los Angeles and had become a generation 1.5 kid myself, would I understand why.

She enjoyed Stan’s and my comedy, even coaxing us to perform at the Minors Club’s talent show (to which we quickly demurred), but looked bored when I sang “What If I Never Speed: (the only time Paravati displayed even a flicker of interest).

After we finished performing, Stan and I decimated the grilled cheese and sausage on English muffins, onion bhajis, chakli and popcorn that had been set out. We washed it down with Tizer, and bolted next door to my family’s side to watch “Supercar.” When the program was over, we went up to my bedroom to ruminate a bit more over the past year a bit more, then let our minds wander as we looked at “fairy canyons” the icicles had made under the eaves between my bedroom window and Rashmi’s (whose bedroom, not Stan’s, occupied the “mirror image” position on the Guptas’ side).

Then we returned to Stan’s side, dove into the balushahi, gulab jamon and Kunzle showboats that had been set forth in our absence, washing it all down with chai.

We then tore back to my side to watch “Sir Frances Drake,” before bolting back upstairs on Stan’s side to play with his castle. Only hours later, reminded that next day was a school day, did I reluctantly trudge home, then bolt up the stairs to my bedroom.

Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep. I dug in the bottom drawer of my dresser until I found it. There was the candle I’d bagged from the tea place where Auntie Gene had taken me as part of my birthday celebration. The one that I’d lifted when both her and Lulu’s attention had been momentarily directed elsewhere. One of the unlit ones that had been beside a similar one that had stood lit between two mirrors on one of the tables. I’d found the illusory “row of candles” in the mirror diverting, but Auntie Gene had hurriedly jerked me away as Lulu hastily moved the candle and mirrors to another table.

Aunti Gene had looked more worried than anything else.

“Stoy awoy from the’er, Reggie. That ain’ y’typical candle,” she’d said, as gently as she could manage. But there was an edge of worry and concern in her voice.

I’d lifted an old mirror from one of Mum’s vanity drawers. It was a mirror she’d not likely miss for a while, which I’d return before she did. I placed it about 25 centimeters from my dresser mirror, lit the candle, put it on a small dessert dish I’d borrowed from the kitchen, and put the dish halfway between the two. Again, a column of candles, each behind the other, stood before me, as if they were in a tunnel and the tunnel were curving towards infinity.

Except, unlike most rows of candles, it wasn’t quite infinity: at the far horizon, just before the curve passed from view, barely discernible, was a door. I stared at intensely, fascinated, wondering what might lie beyond. My focus grew more intense, one-pointed, until there was nothing else except me and that door.

I had to know what lay beyond.

Suddenly, to my astonishment, the door flew open and I was knocked backwards against the opposing wall of my bedroom, blinded by the light that shone from beyond. I was able, just barely, to stumble to my bed, perhaps three meters away, and lie down, still unable to see.

But now, as I lay there, still blinded, my eyes still closed, an assortment of visions came to me: I was standing on the proscenium of the ABC Edgbaston; and then on the proscenium of a movie palace unfamiliar to me; then on the stage of a grand Victorian theatre; then in the auditorium of that theatre; a cemetery; another cemetery; a third cemetery — the last with ghosts and ominous beings I couldn’t quite make out — then ghosts and ominous beings in a grand Victorian house.

Stan’s and my abandoned, bombed out cinema, turning into a cathedral; an 18th century parlor; a Victorian playroom; a riot; another riot; a third riot; Roman ruins; a vast fairyland; giant chess pieces; dolls turning into girls; girls turning into dolls; Bethany; then, a girl her age with eyes that glowed in the dark; the face of kindly but strange looking old man; a young girl with long, chocolate colored ringlets, whose face I couldn’t quite make out; and, throughout it all, an endless succession of corridors and passageways, leading nowhere and everywhere. Unable to absorb it all, I lost consciousness.

To this day, I can’t say how long I was out. Probably no more than 15 minutes, certainly less than half an hour. I was still on my bed when I came to.

I was trembling a bit, but otherwise none the worse for the experience. Opening my eyes I was relieved to find I could see again. I returned to my dresser. The candle had burned about a quarter of the way down. There was some candle wax on the plate. But it was wet, nothing I couldn’t remove in the bathroom sink if I moved now. I’d slip the dish downstairs to the kitchen sometime tomorrow, probably before I left for school. I blew out the candle, slipped into the hallway and from there into the bathroom. I washed the dish mechanically, my mind still absorbing the vision I’d just seen. Auntie Gene was right to have warned me away. I shouldn’t have done this. I looked at myself in the mirror.

“What does it all mean, Reggie?” I whispered. “What does it all mean?”

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s here! Here at last! The first edition of Volume 1 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” second novel of the Reggie Stone series, is now available from Amazon.

Yes, I’ll continue to serialise the novel. After all, we’re still in the “getting-up-to-speed” chapters necessary to the tale, but with the “main story” just on the horizon. Not only will I serialise all the “promised” chapters, I’ll be expanding the serial to include at least a few more chapters. Maybe more than a few (how many more to be determined).  This is just for letting Reggie and his friends into your life.

They thank you, and so do I.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.