Hello darkness my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel
A West End café, London, November 1945
Gary sat across from Phoebe in a West End place they often frequented. Gary sipped the last of his tea from the cup disappointed and surprised to have reached the end. He was looking down at the table not thinking of much. A man came into the café on crutches and Gary looked up with a start. For a moment he had thought it was Xavier although this man had slightly darker hair and a scar across his cheek.
Michael sat on another chair quietly chewing on a sandwich. The man went to a table nearby, as he sat he noticed Gary watching him and smiled. Gary instinctively smiled back and although he knew it wasn't Xavier he was touched by the similarities. A lump came to his throat, not a day had passed since their meeting without some thought of him; sometimes he possessed his mind so completely. Gary sighed as he turned once more to studying the leaves of tea in the dregs of his cup.
Somewhere in the space-time continuum Xavier endured another war as he and his family endured the relentlessly ever present rationing. Gary was very hungry; he had been driven to distraction for months, yet another thing he could hardly expect Phoebe to understand. She was suffering too though, had it been so unkind to keep them so well fed throughout the war?
"Taken up fortune telling now have you?" Phoebe asked with a sarcastic snap.
Gary smiled grimly, his mind miles away, "If only," he reflected.
"Have you been listening to a word I've said?" Phoebe demanded, she slapped a hand on the table making Michael jump, "Have you?"
Gary was forced to snap out of his memories and join Phoebe in the present, whenever that was; it made him angry, it was hard to grieve for a loss that nobody could understand. He was angry with himself too; it had just been a short fling, why did Xavier's memory haunt him so?
He slowly looked up at Phoebe, it didn't used to be like this; he might have known he couldn't survive in the past full time, he just disappointed her now. He was nothing but a barman and somebody to help out with the accounts. His dashing impressive spy persona had disappeared with the time portal and his endless supply of goodies. The song-writing thing had had to go too, he couldn't remember half the words to some of the songs he had already 'written'; he certainly couldn't accurately reproduce songs he had heard no more recently than six months ago when he had never sung them before.
"Everybody has had trouble adjusting to peace, what makes you so different that you have to sulk for the rest of your entire life?" Phoebe continued, people on other tables were staring, Gary hardly noticed.
"I'm all right," Gary said without conviction. He went back to staring at his finished tea; why couldn't they just leave this place and go home? At least there he could pretend to do something while his mind tortured him with memories of Xavier.
"You're all right?" Phoebe continued relentlessly, "You've hardly been the same man since you gave up your war work, I hardly know you anymore; you won't talk to me, how can I help if you won't tell me?"
"I will be all right, I just need time."
"There's a man over there who has been crippled by this war and he's younger than you are," Phoebe went on referring to the young man Gary had already been observing, "Do you see him sitting with his face as long as a wet weekend?"
The man on crutches was now seated at a table. Gary looked up and the man smiled at him again. The emotions welled up inside him, if Phoebe didn't stop he was going to explode with them and how would he explain that? He was screaming inside, all he wanted was for her to be quiet, to stop asking questions that he had no reasonable answer for; she was right, he wasn't the same man. He had no heart for lies and cover-ups; he didn't have Ron to help him out, to talk to. Only when Ron was lost to him did he realise how much he had relied on him; he had been the only one who knew, the only one that could provide support.
Gary suddenly remembered something; Xavier had said that they would be all right, Phoebe and he; he had told him that he had nothing to worry about. Yes, he would stick with Phoebe, he would need proof of adultery to get a divorce anyway; ironic really that he couldn't provide it. As far as history was concerned they would have seemed to be OK.
"One minute you're silent and morose, the next you're grinning at some private joke, then you're all morose again," Phoebe cut through his daydream one last time, "If you don't start talking to me I'm going home and I'm taking Michael with me. Then, Gary Sparrow, I'm packing some things and I'm taking Michael to see my Gran."
"But Phoebe, you can't leave me," Gary pleaded looking up.
"Oh, you managed to grasp the fact that this means I'm leaving you? Maybe Gary Sparrow is still in there after all." Phoebe snapped.
"OK, we'll talk, let's go home and we'll talk," Gary said grasping her arm.
Phoebe looked to Michael, who was starting to look upset, she turned back to Gary,
"No, maybe it's not such a good idea after all," she said, "It's too late, you're only saying this now because I've mentioned the leaving word, it didn't bother you so much a minute ago." Phoebe shook her arm free and put her coat on. Michael stood up and she took his hand.
"Don't go; I love you." Gary pleaded; Phoebe let a tear moisten her cheek as she turned to the door. As they reached the door Phoebe turned back,
"Have you any idea how long it has been since you said that?" she said before grabbing Michael firmly and hurling him out of the café and out onto the street.
Once Gary was left alone he began to feel overwhelmingly desolate. What was he doing, what was he thinking of? He was striking out at the only person he had left, that's what he was doing. It wasn't Phoebe's fault that he kept screwing things up, that his head was a mess. All she had done was dream of them finally being together and then patiently waited for the war to end. She hadn't asked him to go wandering through time portals the wrong way round, taking drugs, going to nightclubs, not to mention the other thing. What was he left with if he lost Phoebe? Reg, that's what.
Maybe it was that final thought that spurred him on or maybe he was always going to go after her, he didn't know. All he knew was that he was on his feet, putting his coat on and heading for the door with more purpose in his stride than he had in many months. He had struggled with two lives for so many years; he was just missing the buzz that was all. He needed to put his remaining future knowledge to some use. Not something that required a specific memory but something he could get involved in which he knew would succeed. All this was going through his head as he briskly walked through the streets on his way back to the Mayfair flat. It was all so straight and clear now, he wouldn't let Phoebe leave him, he would show her, prove to her he could pull himself back onto his feet.
Gary was rushing through the Saturday afternoon crowds or trying to, it was so busy and the way would not part for him to pass. The whole world was oblivious to his hurry. He had to catch up with Phoebe somehow. He could only gain heart from the fact that she wouldn't be making any faster progress.
The crowd thickened as Gary reached the walkway in front of a department store. What were they all doing, Gary thought, there wasn't much to be bought. Somewhere out in front of him he thought he saw Phoebe, it looked like her hat, which is all he could see. He tried his best to speed up, to stand half a chance of catching up. Maybe he should have just let her cool off and made his way back to Mayfair leisurely. Now that he had decided though he just had to do it, maybe she would appreciate the urgency of his actions.
Yes, there in front of him, the woman wearing Phoebe's hat hurried along dragging a small boy behind her, her head was bent and she held a handkerchief to her nose. She was having no more success than he at getting through the crowds; he gained a little ground. Phoebe approached a junction and just as Gary thought he could get close enough to call out a pram blocked his path. Frustrated, he called out 'Phoebe' anyway. She was stepping out onto the road but turned at the sound of his voice. She continued looking around, searching for him, she could not see him amongst all the people. She stepped backward as she looked.
Gary became aware that Phoebe was no longer surrounded by the other people; she stood on the edge of the road, Michael still clutching her hand. He called her name again; she tearfully looked around the people in front still searching for him. A bus was approaching the junction, it was not slowing down; the next stop was not for another hundred yards. Gary saw it coming and he called Phoebe's name again. She didn't hear this time, Gary tried to push forward but the crowd was too thick before him. He shouted and pushed but they remained immovable. Phoebe was looking into the distance directly at him, then she abruptly turned away and pulled Michael forward hurrying once more. Then there was screaming, an awful lot of screaming; so loud was the screaming that Gary thought his head would burst.
The Mayfair apartment, early morning, 4th May 1946
Gary sat up suddenly in bed gasping for air. Sweat was pouring down his back yet he was impossibly cold. He trembled with the sound of the screams still echoing in his ears. Somehow he was vaguely aware that the screams had been his. He grabbed the covers and slumped back down on the pillow, no he was too uncomfortable to even lie there now.
Gary got up and wrapped his dressing gown around himself, it pressed his pyjamas against his skin which made the clammy dampness feel worse; he would have to get changed. He stripped off his clothes and patted his shivering body with a towel; his heart was still racing far too fast.
Gary looked at the drawer that held his clean bed things and then to the pile of day clothes on the end of the bed. He wasn't going back to sleep, even if he tried and since he knew that, there was no point dressing as if he was. Sleeping had become useless despite his crippling fatigue; if it wasn't one nightmare it was the other.
He wasn't sure which one he preferred, the one where Phoebe and his son got run over by a bus in front of his eyes or the one where Xavier was smiling down at him from the window of the Mayfair apartment as it took a direct hit and blew apart. At least when he dreamt of Michael and Phoebe he knew what the truth of the matter was. Yes, he thought, the dream about Xavier was possibly the worst though it didn't carry the guilt factor; at least Xavier and he had parted well.
The Phoebe and Michael dream was almost the same each time only he kept getting closer to them before the bus struck. The crowd though, got thicker each time so there was still no hope that he could get through in time. All the difference it made was that he saw more horror as it happened; there had hardly been any blood the first time. All this was concocted by his imagination and fuelled by his guilt. None of this was the truth; he relived something he hadn't been there to witness. That was where the guilt came in; he wished that she had known one last time that he cared.
He had never said 'I love you', not within her hearing anyway. He hadn't had a sudden rush of conscience and gone running after her; he'd had a gradual coming round that had come too late. He had stayed in the café in a sullen huff after Phoebe had dragged his son from his presence forever. She had walked out silently with Michael and had never turned back because the words he had wanted to say had suddenly died in his throat as she stood glowering at him with her coat on, ready to leave.
He had ordered himself another cup of tea and had drunk it slowly. Then he had walked back to the Mayfair flat at a leisurely pace, he remembered it all as clear as yesterday. He had opened the door to the apartment feeling numb and had sunk into an armchair. He hadn't looked to see if their things had been picked up, packed into suitcases and taken. He hadn't done anything at all; he had just sat and stared at the wall until the knock on the door came. The knock on the door that changed everything, their things still weren't packed into suitcases; they were still hung in the wardrobes and laid in the drawers just as they had been that dark winter's day.
Life isn't a movie Gary, Gary heard Ron's words in his head almost as if they were being said then and not a year ago, there are no grand farewells, no famous last words. Too true, Gary thought; just trivialities; then the darkness comes and the darkness lasts forever.