Aloysius stared wistfully after Bracken, little knowing she had just been bundled into the back of a car by a burly bunch of mystery miscreants.
Adric picked up an elastic band and pinged it at his head.
"Come on lover boy," he said, "you need to set up the Wii Golf Tournament in such a way that everyone gets a shot and no one kills anyone."
Aloysius nodded, not trusting himself to speak without the wobble in his throat betraying his lady like emotional state.
'She clearly thinks I'm with nigella, or esmeralda, or both,' he thought to himself in a tortured kind of a way. 'When all I want to do is buy her a day ticket for Lothian buses and help her scour the city looking for that little baby.'
He pressed a fiat to his temple in deference to iPhone's autocorrect feature, then followed it with an anguished fist. After all, he was a complex man, with convoluted emotions.
"What're you angsting about, Al-mate," asked one of the teenagers. He couldn't remember her name but she came in after school nearly every day, because teenagers hate to go home. It's just too uncool there.
"Oh, nothing," he replied, more melodramatically than he had intended.
She wasn't fooled.
"Aye right," she squeaked, "dinnae tell me then. Got any change for the vendor?"
"Why don't you go across to the shop? It's cheaper than that thing."
The library vending machine was notoriously overpriced, but for some reason very well used.
"it's raining," she offered, by way of explanation.
He searched the pockets of his well cut beige chinos for change. Having not done any laundry since his mother passed on, he was getting to the point where you have to wear your posh clothes to work.
The search brought forth a handful of change, half a packet of chewing gum and a slightly wonky paper clip.
"Here," he said, giving her a few coins, "that enough?"
"I only need 5p," she said, putting the rest into the charity box on the counter.
"oi," Al complained halfheartedly, "now I'm short for the bus!"
He poked at the box, although even if he'd known how it opened he would have refrained from doing so.
"That's despicable that you would want to take money off a charity," the teenager said with a laugh in her ears. "or do you think you're a charity case yourself?"
A cloud passed over the moon of Al's face at this, and he allowed himself to engage in a flashback to times of yore. And because this is a novel, we can follow him there using the power of words. Fantastic.
In the world of memory, a version of Aloysius around seven years younger than the incarnation we already know comes bounding down over the crenellations of his family home. He is skinnier than the Al who works in the library, and has an air of wealth and privilege.
“Mother,” he shouts, “I’m just going to take the jag into town.”
His mother appears through an ornate archway, dripping with jewels and walking upright like a full human.
“Darling,” she says, “have you forgotten? We’re having the Edgerton-Molasses round for tea.”
“I know,” he says, I’ll be quick. That car goes pretty fast you know.”
He gives her a peck on the cheek and struts away, throwing the keys up in the air and deftly catching them using his hands. His expensive Italian shoes click musically against the shining mahogany floorboards and he whistles a credit card jingle to match.
Young Al barely notices the priceless oil paintings lining the walls of the home he grew up in, or the chandeliers made from fresh cut diamonds, or the smell of frankincense wafting on the breeze. The Al of the present day gazes at the finery with regret. If only he had enjoyed it whilst he had the chance.
The memory shifts, like smoke on the water, to his return from town.
He is concerned that his parents will be angry, because he is late, and Mr Edgerton-Molasses will take this as a personal attack. They have some old fashioned notion that Al is going to marry Leilani Edgerton-Molasses one day, but this is unlikely to happen. For one thing, Leilani is madly in love with the beautiful but unattainable Portia Di Rossi. And for another, Al has fallen for a mysterious science student who is at university with him.
As he slowly brings the car up the curved driveway and the house comes into view, Al’s heart seems to stop beating. Don’t panic though, this is just a feeling – his heart doesn’t actually physically stop, or there’d be no future Al to remember it all occurring.
His extreme reaction is because the house he left just a few hours before is gone. In its place lies a pile of rubble, which looks as though some of its constituent parts – window frames, bricks and so on - might feasibly have belonged to a house once.
He steps out of the jag in slow motion and walks towards the pile. Without thinking he pulls his mobile from his pocket and dials the emergency services, although at this point it doesn’t seem there’s a huge amount they can do.
“Mother,” he whispers, “Father? Mr Edgerton-Molasses?”
He hears a groan from underneath an old oak door inlaid with gold. It used to guard the entrance to the dining room.
To get to it he has to wade through dust and bits of rock that reach up to his shins. His fancy shoes are ruined, but he doesn’t care. Future Al remembers how he breathed in the thick white dust and it stuck to the back of his nose and throat. He can taste it on his tongue, and coughs. So does Al from the past, but he battles through it to pull the heavy door off the originator of the pained moan.
It is his mother, lying all twisted up with her limbs pointing in different directions. Her jewels are gone, and her wig has fallen off. There’s blood on her too. She looks a bit of a state.
Al from the past can hear sirens in the distance, but doesn’t really register them. He falls to his knees, pulling the bits of debris away from her with his hands. Al from the present watches it all in slow motion, with tears in his eyes.
“What happened,” he asks, then, “no, don’t try to talk. The ambulance is coming. It’s going to be OK.”
She tries to move her head into nod formation.
“Don’t try to move,” he says, a little bit redundantly as she has worked this much out from the searing pain racing down her neck and back after trying to move.
“Your dad,” she whispers huskily.
“I don’t know where he is,” Al says, “was he with you?”
He looks fearfully at the rubble.
“Is he under there somewhere? Are the Edgerton-Molasses there too?”
An ambulance arrives, and the paramedics leap into action. His mother passes out.
Al wants to ride with her to the hospital, but is torn because he also wants to stay and help the fire service look for his dad. He takes the latter option, and future Al curses him for the decision. But it’s too late to change his mind now. She is carried off, frightened and passing in and out of consciousness, with nobody to hold her hand.
They search for hours, but Aloysius Hunkington-Smythe senior is nowhere to be found. The Edgerton-Molasses had cancelled at the last minute, so they were all at home without a scratch on them, although Mrs Edgerton-Molasses sustains a small paper cut on her left thumb whilst opening a bank statement the following morning. They send flowers of condolence to the hospital, and Leilani takes the distraction of this drama to come out.
A few days later, when Al’s mother has been told she will never walk again and his father has been declared missing presumed dead, it turns out that the house is not insured. To add insult to injury, all the family money has been frittered away on gambling and ridiculous investments like jam made from lunar rock. Rumours abound that Hunkington-Smythe senior wanted to cut his losses, so he blew up the house and did a runner. A warrant goes out for his arrest.
Al and his mother are shunned by the antique ideals of polite society because of the actions of a man they will never see again. The Edgerton-Molasses could have been killed in the explosion as well, and this is seen as an unforgivable slight. They demand the return of the condolence flowers. Al burns them in a fit of pique and shoves them through the letterbox in the middle of the night. Mrs Edgerton-Molasses’ shitzhu, Mimi, eats some. She dies the following day.
We fast-forward a year. Al and his mother have moved to Kent and are pretending that they are still rich. They can do this because news of Al senior hasn’t made it this far south, but are living on borrowed time. They are using credit cards and optical illusions to make people believe they are better off than ever.
Al is still haunted by the memory of the fantastically sexy science student from university, and one day he runs into her in a small village in Kent. They go on a date, and become lovers. It is a whirlwind romance, and they are very much in love, but for some reason Al never feels able to tell her about his rapscallion father.
Forward another year, and Esmeralda – for the sexy student is she – has left the country for several months to conduct research in foreign climes. When she returns she is different, somehow. Colder, and more detached. She and Al fight a couple of times, and he tells her he is destitute. His disgrace and penury are a combination of things that her family will never accept in a husband for their daughter, and Esmeralda turns out to hold similar prejudices. She leaves him forever.
The mists descend again and now Al and his mother are living in a rickety shack on a dark purple moor. The credit card companies found out the truth about them, and now they have nothing once more. They live on rabbits, caught by Al in a snare fashioned from an old snare, and various roots and berries found about the place.
“Please,” Al’s mother says, as she says every day when his brooding session is complete, “can’t we move back to a city and get jobs? The hospital said I would be eligible for disability benefits. It wouldn’t be like the old days but we could fashion some semblance of a life for ourselves.”
This time, Al takes on board what she says.
With a heavy heart, he goes to the only relative they know of who will still speak to them.
“You can start on Monday,” her whispery voice tells him.
He regards her office, a dark underground cave of a room littered with musty old books, cobwebs, and the past.
“Thanks,” he says, “I really appreciate this.”
“You’d better,” she responds in a menacing way. “Library jobs are like gold dust in this town. You put a foot wrong, and I will end you.”
He bows awkwardly and shuffles backwards out of the room, as though she were royalty of some kind.
This was the Aloysius of three weeks ago, about to embark upon the first proper job he has ever had.
Present Aloysius rubs his eyes.
“Hellooooo,” the teenager is saying to him, sitting on the counter and waving her hands in front of his eyes.
“Sorry,” he replies in a half whisper. “I was just… remembering.”
She snorts derisively.
“And get down off the counter before I shove you off.”
“You cannae say that,” she giggles, delighted. “I’ll sue!”
“Sue away,” he says grimly. “There’s nothing left for you to take.”