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I was sitting on a bench in St. James Park when Leo started work on me again. This time he was a lot more insistent.
He began with my left hand. My arm was stretched out loosely along the bench top. As I watched the fingers lifted and started to tap out a regular rhythm against the wood. I had been quite relaxed, enjoying the sunshine and watching ducks in the lake and young couples on the bank as they went through their elaborate courting rituals. So it took me a few seconds to realize that the finger-tapping was not my idea. Leo. It had to be Leo.
Over and over. My head was aching again, like a resonance to the tapped signal. The rhythm was inside me, and a harmony built to go with it.
Tom, Tom, the piper's son.
Why in God's name would Leo be hitting me with that, an old children's song? He wouldn't. I had to be imagining it, mistaking a random thought of my own for Leo.
I sat quite still for another two or three minutes, trying to push the rhythm out of my mind. When it wouldn't go away I stood up and began to limp slowly west along Birdcage Walk and on past the palace. The stiffness in my right leg was less and less, but I didn't hurry. I had been told not to overdo things, even though the bone graft looked perfect on the X-rays. If only I were doing as well mentally as I was physically . . .
Leo was becoming more persistent every day. Last week there had been uncontrolled movements in my hand, and a couple of days ago it was double vision. If I could find out what was disturbing him, maybe we could get back to normal. No one at the hospital could offer any sort of explanationrelax, wait and see, was all they would say.
By the time I reached Brill's my fingers were under control. Even so, the sales assistant in the store looked at me oddly when I went in. No doubt the limp and the facial scars didn't help - that, and the fact that I suspected my left eye was roaming independently of my right one. I braced myself against the counter and did my best to look relaxed and casual.
"I'd like a book of nursery rhymes."
"Yes, sir." He looked surprised. "Er, what age group is this for?"
What age group indeed, sir? Only Leo could answer that one.
"Do you have a complete collection? I'd like a book that gives the alternative versions, if there is such a thing."
"I'll see what I can find."
When he brought it over and I had paid for it, I ignored the inquisitive look and leafed through on the spot to the right place. Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Stole a pig and away he run. The pig was eat and Tom was beat, And Tom went howling down the street.
I muttered the words aloud. Nothing. No surge of emotion, no sign that Leo was tuned in and getting the message. Second verse: Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Learned to play when he was young, But the only tune that he could play, Was "Over the hills and far away."
Now there was something. Something faint and vague, a prickling in the nape of my neck, as though a hairy-legged insect was crawling there. And that was all.
So what now?
I went back outside the shop and leaned on the wall. Even though I hadn't been able to pick up anything definite, the long scar across the back of my skull was still tingling with feeling, as though the stubbly regrowing hair there was trying to stand on end. I tilted my head back and looked up at the clouds, drifting along at the lazy pace of early autumn. The tune was right, I had no doubt about thatbut could it be that I was tying in to the wrong set of words? Who else had taken that tune and used it?
Inside the shop again to where the assistant looked at me reproachfully.
"I wondered when you'd be back. You forgot to take your book."
"Never mind that. I don't really want that one. Do you happen to know where I could find a copy of the libretto to The Beggar's Opera? If you have the collected works of John Gay, it would be in that."
He was looking at me as though his worst fears were confirmed. He picked up the book of nursery rhymes.
"I'll take this back and give you credit for it. If you'll wait here for a moment I'll check in the other room and see if we have the other book."
He leftto look for my book, or maybe to summon reinforcements. I'm over six-two, and the accident has left signs of considerable wear and tear on my face. While he was gone I hobbled up and down in the store, trying again to control my arms and legs. Not so successful this time. Leo was excited, no doubt about it. But if I'd known where the events of the next five minutes would be taking me I'd have been excited too (and run out of the shop, assuming Leo would have permitted it.)
Here he came again.
"This should do it, sir. Allowing for the credit on the other book, you owe us seventy pence." The man hesitated a little before he handed over the volume of John Gay. "We'll be closing in just a minute or two. If you would be kind enough to examine this outside, rather than in here . . ."
He didn't lie well, but I didn't mind. If this led nowhere, I'd shot my bolt anyway. Now, at what point in The Beggar's Opera had he used that tune? Some scene between Polly and Macheath, if I remembered it right. Here we are. I leaned against the wall again, feeling that strong itching in my scalp.
Were I laid on Greenland's coast, And in my arms embraced my lass, Warm amid eternal frost, Too soon the half-year's night would pass.
And I would love you all the day, Every night would kiss and play. If with me you'd fondly stray, Over the hills and far away.
The prickling was stronger, and I was panting to myself as I read the words.
Something was coming, coming closer.
Were I sold on Indian soil, Soon as the burning day was closed, I could mock the sultry toil, When on my charmer's breast reposed.
Contact. As I read the words, a torrent of sensory inputs hit me and left me shuddering. The London street was gone. I was bathed in a bright, dusty sunlight, surrounded by a babble of familiar/unfamiliar language. There were strong, tantalizing odors, of spices, burning charcoal, flowers and musky oils. I felt a stab of lust, surprising and mindless, and my fingertips tingled as they moved over soft, cool skin. On Indian soil, soon as the burning day was closed . . .
I swayed against the wall of the shop, struggling to catch a breath. Leo had found a new way to get through to me. He was sure as hell making the most of it.
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|My Brother's Keeper
|© 1982 by Charles Sheffield