The concierge was right about the kebab. Alex woke up in the annexe with terrible stomach pain, and spent nearly an hour on the toilet – slightly increased flatulence and faeces was an understatement. His stomach felt raw and abused. Not surprising considering it was brand new.
Alex looked at the selection of clothes provided. “Not my style, not my style at all.”
The promised selection consisted of a Hawaiian shirt - hot pink, floral hibiscus – the tightest white trousers, and blue canvas deck shoes. Used to a fat man’s choice of baggy garments, squeezing into the trousers was tortuous.
Abstract paintings of androgynous nudes adorned the pastel pink and blue walls of the annexe. The white leather and chrome Corbusier seating looked more sophisticated than comfortable, and the mirrored high gloss storage units enhanced the space and light. Alex was pleased to discover that the various large leafy green pot plants positioned about the annexe were artificial – although he did not relish the thought of dusting them.
The connecting door to the main house was in the large upstairs master bedroom, where Alex continued his struggle with the trousers.
A sharp knock at the door, and a familiar voice, “Alex, are you in there? Is everything alright? Alex?” It was Harry Eden, Alex’s father.
“Hi Dad, just be a minute.” Alex slowly pulled up the trouser zipper, carefully avoiding any painful mishap.
“I’ve been knocking for a while. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I was in the loo. I didn’t hear you.”
Slipping into the lace-less deck shoes, Alex finally opened the door.
“Alex, it’s so good to have you back.” After greeting his son with a firm, though brief handshake, Harry lifted an eyebrow, “Going on a cruise, or are you … you know? It doesn’t bother me. It’s just that your mother …”
“Hey Dad, I didn’t choose this stuff. It’s the profile.”
“Cruise wear. That’s good. That’s what we’ll tell your mother.”
“I never used to wear clothes like this.”
“It’s based on your profile. Just look at your decor. You’ve got a Miami vibe going on in there. Are those naked men?”
“I have no idea. Is this really from my profile? Is this the real me?”
“Don’t worry about it. When I was resurrected, my first clothes were hippy style, all beads, and tie-dye. The whole house was a decorative homage to Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Not my thing. Not me at all. I admit I had a couple of Beatles singles but not the real psychedelic stuff. But you know I quite liked it. It made me feel good. Then they resurrected your mother. Now it’s all Austrian blinds, gold frames, and marble tops.” Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Come on Son; let’s go downstairs. Your mother’s in the dining room having her early morning Merlot.”
Alex and Harry descended the delicately filigreed staircase. It was strange having a father the same age. Harry had always been slim but was now solid rather than skinny. Alex had never seen his father with hair, it was very similar to Alex’s albeit shorter, and a more conservatively styled. Also more conservative, were Harry’s clothes - grey polo shirt, beige chinos, and anonymous brown lace-up shoes.
“What about Charles and Emma, are they here? Are they resurrected?”
“Yes, they’ve got their own families. Emma’s grandson Gnarly is the spitting image of you. They’re resurrected but not in this Viro.”
“Viro? What’s a Viro?” asked Alex, wondering why anyone would call their son Gnarly.
“Oh, that’s slang for Environment. Everybody uses it, except for the concierge’s of course. There’s a few things I have to show you.”
“Such as how to find information, and contact other Viros. It’s all pretty easy. The technology looks and feels 21st century. All flat screens and consoles.”
“Will I get to meet all those famous people from history?”
“Did you meet any famous people in your original life?”
“Well then, probably not. Anyhow, you can’t contact anyone that wasn’t alive when you were alive, and there’s a similar restriction on information and products. Look, you go in with your Mum and I’ll fetch her breakfast. Do you want any?”
Alex shook his head and entered the dining room. As in the rest of the house, the décor was expensive chintz – crystal chandeliers, blue Georgian stripe, gilt framed everything. He found his mother, Margaret Eden, sitting at an ornate marble-topped dining table. She was already eating breakfast, taking a swig from a crystal glass champagne flute. Her hair was just as Alex remembered, short dyed blonde with burgundy streaks, her make-up now too thick for someone in their mid-twenties. Alex sat opposite, bothered that his mother had not noticed him.
“Nice vintage? You always liked Merlot,” smiled Alex, breaking the ice. “Good to see you again Mum.”
Margaret put down the glass. “Welcome to Eden Manor, Alex. It’s cranberry juice. I don’t drink much wine, especially in the morning.” She regarded Alex with stony indifference. “I’m glad you’ve lost the weight. It’s a shame you had to let yourself go like that.”
“Oh, it was Dad told me you were drinking wine. He’s getting you breakfast but I see you’ve already got something.”
“It’s melon, and I always get my own breakfast. Your shirt’s a bit bright. It suits you. In those clothes you remind me of Raoul.”
“Oh you won’t remember him, you were dead. Raoul was my hairdresser. He was very good, even if he was one of those … you know.”
“I was going to say French but I’m sure he was one of those too.” Margaret smiled at Alex, and returned to her melon. Using a tiny silver fork, she daintily retrieved another chunk from the delicate Wedgewood bowl. She chewed on the left, where her false teeth used to be, a small dribble escaping from the corner of her mouth - geriatric habits lingered long in the recently young.
Harry called from the kitchen, “Margo, how much bacon do you want? You’ve got two eggs. I didn’t break the yolks this time.”
“I’ve got melon,” said Margaret. “You know I don’t eat that unhealthy food.” Margaret shook her head in scornful disbelief.
“But I’ve done the eggs.”
“Throw them away. And don’t you eat them.”
“We agreed not to waste …”
“Harry!” Margaret was on her feet, her face fuming.
Alex leaned over and peered into the Wedgewood bowl. “That melon looks nice Mum.”
“It is.” She sat down and ate the last chunk.
“Isn’t that a Charentais?”
“No no no, it’s Marks and Spencers. It’s the best.”
“No, I meant …”
“Nothing, It just looked really nice.”
Harry sat at the table, grinning proudly as he set his plate down. Alex could see the faint shape of extra bacon rashers hiding under the baked beans. Harry enthusiastically began to eat.
“So you actually cooked this?” asked Alex.
“Yep, the product dispenser supplies the ingredients and I cook them. You can get it ready cooked but I like to cook. We ... I mean I have a full English every morning.”
“Are you going to eat all that?” asked Margaret with obvious envy. “Remember what Dr Sharma said about your cholesterol. Do I always have to remind you?”
“Margo, that was in our old life. The concierge told you we could eat anything we like without bad consequences.” Harry sighed, put down his knife and fork, and stared sadly at the plate.
“I don’t think Dr Sharma would lie to us,” said Margaret, Harry obediently returning his plate to the kitchen.
Something outside caught Margaret’s attention. She walked to the window, and stood transfixed. “Oh no, not today. Alex you might want to look away or leave the room.”
“Why…who the Hell’s that?” asked Alex. Strolling across the cobbled bridge was a naked man. The man was too far away to make out any small details, apart from a striking shock of golden hair, but it was another not so small detail that had so obviously caught Margaret’s attention. Once across the bridge the man turned and walked alongside the stream, heading for a large patch of woodland.
Harry casually stood next to Margaret, “That’s Dean, our neighbour. He’s an American. He does this most mornings. He’s a bit of a sex maniac, I believe.”
“Oh my god,” gasped Margaret, “he’s pointing his anus at us. Harry, make him stop.”
“He’s not pointing it at us,” explained Harry, calmly rationalising the situation. “He’s just bending over to drink from the stream. I’m afraid there is no law against this type of behaviour. The world’s simply full of unreasonable people.”
“Depraved people,” spat Margaret.
“Why don’t you just look away, or draw the curtains?” suggested Alex. “You don’t have to stare.”
“We have a right to look out of our own window,” replied Harry.
“Yes, and he’s no right to ruin our view,” added Margaret.
“But you weren’t staring out the window before he walked past.” Alex watched as Dean disappeared into the woods. “Hey, is this nakedness some kind of normal thing around here? Mum, have you got anything to tell me?”
“What are you saying?” asked Margaret, an ominous glint in her eye.
“Nothing, just joking.”
Margaret feigned outrage, “Alex, I think we have higher standards than that. Is that what you think of us?”
“No … I was joking.”
“I’m a joke now, let’s all laugh at the silly little woman. I feel terrible. You’ve made me feel terrible. Harry, you talk to him. Harry!”
“Alex, there’s no need to insult your mother. We do not agree with the nudist way of life. What someone does in the privacy of their own home is their business but public nakedness is unacceptable.”
“I’m going to lie down. I can’t stand this.” Margaret stormed out of the room.
“Don’t forget we’ve got dinner at the cottage this afternoon,” said Harry.
“I’ll be there. I don’t feel well, I have a terrible headache, but I’ll be there.” Margaret stamped noisily up the stairs, her bedroom door slammed deliberately.
“Now look what you’ve done Alex,” scolded Harry, loudly enough so Margaret could hear, yet providing Alex with a knowing wink.
Margaret out of the way, Harry retrieved his breakfast, and sat with Alex at the dining table.
“So what’s up with Mum? She doesn’t seem too pleased to see me.”
“There’s more going on than you know. Give her some time, she’ll get over it. This is all a bit too much for her. So, drowning. Horrible way to go. I went in my sleep, heart attack.”
“All I remember is going for a wee, then…nothing. If you could tell me what happened next I’d be grateful, and don’t spare me the gruesome details. I mean, was it Julia? Did she have me killed?”
”It was nothing to do with Julia. You fell in the sea and drowned. We’ll talk about it later, after we get back from the cottage, and I can show you how to contact other Viros.”
“What is this dinner at the cottage? Am I invited?”
“Of course, you’re the guest of honour. You like Indian don’t you? The cottage by the stream is a multi-purpose amenity. It’s a restaurant, doctors, dentists, and hairdressers all in one, although thankfully not at the same time. Round the back, it also has visitor cubicles. The cottage is where we get together. We’re all going to be there.”
“Everyone from the Viro?
“Yep, although apart from us there’s only Dean and Kaylee. We don’t have the richest concierge so the population’s very low. It means we get a lot of space to ourselves though. Look, dinner is at five so do you fancy a game of cards? Once my food’s gone down I’ll show you the wall.”
“The Viro wall. We’ll walk, it’s not far.”
“Sure, although isn’t five a bit early for an Indian? What about eight or nine, that’s more usual?”
“We all fall asleep at midnight. Think about it.”
Alex was surprised that the nearest Viro wall was only about 500ft behind the house. The wall seemed invisible, a realistic view of gently rolling countryside and numerous hedgerows. One such hedgerow ran alongside the Viro wall, interspersed with trees and thicket. It was short, and sparse, not intended as a barrier, that job taken by the wall itself. Harry led Alex to a small gap between a large oak tree and the hedge. He told Alex to reach through. Alex tentatively complied, reaching out into what should have been just air. His hand touched the wall. Steeling his resolve, he pushed his hand hard against it. The wall felt firm yet spongy, like tough memory foam. The view briefly warped around the contours of his hand, before violently popping back to shape. The force threw back Alex’s hand, sending him spinning backwards like an amateur Latin dancer.
Harry laughed as Alex steadied himself. ‘Got a bit of a kick hasn’t it?”
Alex nodded incredulously, and looked across the hedge. No matter how hard he stared, he could not see the slightest hint of the powerful barrier. The scenic display was in a definition higher than his eyes could detect.
“How strong is it?” asked Alex. “Could you poke a hole in it with a sharp object?”
“Not a chance,” said Harry. “Everyone’s tried that. Dean reckons that the materials in the Viro are designed to be ineffective against the wall. Try pulling at it.”
Alex tried but could not get a grip. The wall material simply slipped from his grasp.
“I’ve tried pliers, sandpaper, everything,” said Harry. “Nothing can hold that stuff.”
“Are you that desperate to get out?”
“Not at all. We’ve got a good life here. However, you can’t help being curious can you?” Looking at his watch, Harry decided, “It’s only a couple of hours before dinner, we had better get back. I have to wake up your Mother.”
“Sure, but can you lend me some different clothes?”
Stephen Ayres: Copyright 2009