Henry Falworth goes to the Central Cinema every Saturday, paid for from his paper-round earnings. This Saturday, in 1954, he sees ‘The Black Shield of Falworth’ starring Tony Curtis as Myles. He’s so excited: how could there be a big Technicolor film with his name in the title? He leaves the cinema, as usual, in a state of euphoria. What is different is that though he knows he isn’t Myles, as he’s only eight years old, he, like Myles, has to stop the baddies.
Blanche is thirteen years old, an albino, and tall for her age, but not as tall as her mother, Eugenie, who is a high-wire walker in the circus where they live and work. Blanche’s eyes are ice blue in an unblemished white face. Her circus costume is a black and red spotted leotard, crimson tights and red Dock Marten lace-up boots. Her hair is pure white, silky, heavy, and hangs to the back of her knees. She wants to wear black lipstick, black mascara and eye shadow to make the most of her natural attributes and look like a Goth. Eugenie will not, under any circumstances, allow this. We’re artistes, darling, not freaks, she tells her daughter.
Robert is always anxious about crossing borders, runs on a short fuse and impatient with any obstacle. He shouldn’t have been on this train but, thanks to a drunk trying to get on the plane from Heathrow to Warsaw, followed by a delayed departure, he missed his connection to Minsk. He’s in a blue and yellow ancient wooden coach tagged on the end of the modern Trans-European Express from Paris to Moscow. It is the only way to get to Minsk by the next day – as is sharing a couchette with a stranger. Decision makers like me shouldn’t have to put up with shit like this, Robert thinks.
It is 1970 and Trevor is engaged to Bethany (never abbreviated). He’s been saving in order to buy Bethany a very special, secret wedding present – this is over-and-above the other expenses he’s had for his wedding. He spent an age wondering what to get, but when he looks in the window of the shop on Paragon Square, his problem is solved; the shop agrees to put it in store until needed.
They come from different directions – she from the east, he from the west.
The eight-lane motorway is almost deserted. The Mercedes in which he is being driven passes slowly through a pall of yellow smog. There are plants in the central reservation where each leaf, tendril, frond of limp grass is dusted, choked, almost fossilised, making the present seem to come from a time lost in antiquity.
It is 9.30 pm as Anne and Gordon emerge from the motor coach; it isn’t raining in Portree. This is a surprise. The rain had been heavy for hours and the wind still howls on Skye. After hours on the coach it’s a relief to be in the open. They decide to walk to their hotel. A mistake. The heavens open. The raindrops huge and icy. In a less than protective bus shelter they put their backpacks into protective covers and walk on up the long hill in the dark. The road is awash. Within minutes they are drenched.
Lenny is a movie fan who wants to be a private eye. He’s unsure how he’s going to make the transition from part-time mortuary attendant to the status of his hero Philip Marlowe. Anything is possible in the US of A, he thinks.
On the evening of March 26th 1959 a cadaver under a white sheet on a gurney is wheeled into the San Diego mortuary.
Brother Giovanni is a Franciscan and lives in the Convento San Francesco in San Miniato Alto in Tuscany. He is short, tubby, bald and wears a plain brown robe tied with a white cincture; he has sandals on his bare feet. At the age of sixty-nine he is excused work outside the Convento in the lower Arno valley. He now welcomes Via Francigena pellegrini who are walking to Rome. This, he struggles to enjoy.
His mother’s end of terrace house is silent, even tranquil, filled with summer sunlight, but for him the clamour of memory is deafening. Standing in the dining room, overlooking the neat back garden, he draws his finger across the table and the backs of the chairs and smiles; it is as if her life-long enemy, dust, has realised that their battle is, at last, over. He sits at the table and looks at his feet resting on the salmon pink carpet and wonders, as always, why she chose such an impractical colour; it was uncharacteristic.
It is October 1951. Pip, aged five, is with his mother, Gwen, and his father, Arthur, in the New Theatre at a charity variety show. They are sitting in the front stalls next to the aisle. His parents are smartly dressed and Pip, in short trousers, blue shirt and short sleeved jumper, sits on his mother’s folded up overcoat so that he can see the stage where an aged male comedian is in the middle of his act.