Handcuffed in the police car, I wished the lamp hadn't been magical. "That, sir, is a genuine antique," the stallholder had asserted when I'd stopped and inspected it at the secondhand market. The oil lamp looked like a prop from Disney's Aladin. And I thought it would polish up and earn me a tidy profit.
Eighty is the new fifty, or so I'm told. But my back wasn't this dodgy when I was fifty, and my knees lasted longer than a circuit of the park with the dog before seizing up. And I wasn't caught short so often that I needed to memorise the location of the nearest public toilet for emergency pit stops!
"Are we there yet?" Milly whines from the back seat. "I'm bored," adds Tyler. "Oh, for goodness sake!" I snap, eyeballing the pair in the rear vision mirror. "It's only been two hours." Kids nowadays! The drive has been smooth and fast compared to the narrow, windy roads of my childhood family holidays.
I dread mornings like these when Facebook floods my timeline memories with posts and photos of Jas and the kids. On social media, we're still a happy family. And in the real world, I live alone and only see the kids on weekends. But that's not Facebook's fault. It's just an algorithm.
This story begins at the end. But my time spent observing your planet has taught me humans like to process events and information in an orderly, if not entirely predictable, sequence. So forget the first sentence, and I'll serve you a linear tale. Just don't skip to the end and spoil it.
You know what it's like when you lose something. It's always in the last place you look. So I write down all the possible places the lost thing could be and work through the list in reverse order. But how do you find a lost hour? It's not like it can slip down the back of a sofa like coins or keys!
It's 1997. I'm fifteen, and Dad's delivering another lecture on my poor prospects: "If you carry on like this, son, you'll end up in prison." I won't admit it, but he may have a point. Because today on the drive home after catching me shoplifting again, the local cop issued a "last warning".
Airports are the same the world over. Full of frenetic activity, people coming and going, joyful reunions and teary-eyed farewells. Though not in the middle of the night. And apart from the passengers sprawled across and under the international airport's departure terminal chairs, it was empty and silent.
A long time ago, poverty, floods, droughts, famines and war blighted a pale-blue planet. But the people endured the hardships and were happy. They believed life in the Here and Now and Ever After was predetermined and fixed like the stars in the sky. And the people found solace and solidarity in their faith.
The tree stood in front of a vacant block at the end of the street. It had thick, leafy branches and was easy to climb. It was Matty's special place. And then, one day, he saw a sign on the tree. Matty couldn't read the big words and went to find his sister. Jess was a school captain, so she'd know what the sign said.
Their eyes locked across a crowded room at the cocktail bar. He looked well-heeled and handsome, and his brazen gaze told her he knew it. But she was his equal with pert features and confidence. They raised their glasses to each other and soon found themselves shoulder to shoulder at the bar.