Alfred Untold by Neil Clark

Alfred Untold

– Am I a woman?

– It’s Guess Who? Of course not.

– Are we twins, separated at birth? Do we sometimes feel a pang, like the tug of an invisible chord? We’re not sure what it is, but we’re certain someone else, somewhere else, feels the exact same thing at the exact same time.

– No

– Am I an elderly scouser in a parallel universe? Maybe I was in a pop band in the 60s that never came to anything for whatever reason. Maybe I was recently walking down the street with my granddaughter, whistling I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and she asked me what that tune was because it was “Toooooo catchy!” I said I didn’t know. “Just something that came into my head,” I said. “Sent from ancient stars.”

– No.

– Did my head get stuck between the bannisters when I was small? The fire service couldn’t cut through them, so they had to compress my head from both sides to get me out, leaving permanent physical damage that got me bullied at school. I didn’t like people after that. Or stairs. I joined a support group for people with unusual appearances, where I met someone else whose head had been compressed to get him out from between bannisters. The two of us are very much in love – with each other, and with the quiet life we now share. In a bungalow.

– No.

– Are we a group of old school friends who discovered a decomposing body washed up at a riverbed when we were thirteen?

– Yes

– Did I laugh when we first saw it? Not because I found it funny. That bloated flesh and the expression on that cold blue face haunted me to my dying day. No, laughter just always came out of me, like hiccups, in stressful situations. I could never suppress it, so I got around it by not getting into stressful situations. Which meant not being around people. Which meant the laughter eventually stopped. Then the feelings stopped. Then everything stopped.

– No

– Did we drink together after Robert’s funeral, the two of us? In his eulogy, they said he was always smiling, always laughing. We’d both been checking up on him less and less over the years. We promised each other not to let that eat away at us – not again. We reminisced about the group. Talked about drifting apart. “Maybe in another universe, we don’t go near the river that day. Maybe we start that band we always talked about starting.” “Nowadays, kids get offered counselling when shit like that happens.” We put the world to rights over one last drink before going back to our young families and our adult lives. We promised to stay in touch, then we put our glasses together. “To absent friends.” We hugged and felt the warmth of each other’s flesh. That night, we whistled unknown melodies from ancient stars.

– No. I’m sorry.

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Neil Clark is a writer from Edinburgh, Scotland. You can find his work in places such as Wigleaf, Spelk and Cheap Pop. His debut collection of cosmic flash fiction is called ‘Time. Wow.’ and is out now with Back Patio Press. Catch him on Twitter @NeilRClark or visit neilclarkwrites.wordpress.com.

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Art (author’s photographs)

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