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.
It is 1962.
In Vietnam the US Air Force spray South Vietnamese forests with Agent Orange.
Margaret, aged ninety-two, is dressed all in black. Her widow’s weeds are not of the regal flouncy variety once favoured by Victoria and her progeny but the simple black of a working-class Welsh woman and therefore almost identical with her counterparts right across the mainland of Europe.
John and Rob are eleven and have been saving their pocket money for months. They want to buy two six-guns from the toyshop next to the bus stop they pass each day on the number 46 to school.
On Saturday the bus has hardly stopped when they jump off. They are anxious. Will the two silver six-guns still be in the window?
Evan sits in his armchair beside the coal fire holding a copy of the South Wales Echo in front of him; the newspaper is upside down.
His two teenage nephews, Mick and Ken, stand in the doorway whispering.
He’s not reading, Mick says.
Nobody reads upside down, Ken answers.
He’s always hiding from us.
Billy Spider is admitted, via A&E at Guy’s Hospital, London, to a vacant bed in a mixed surgical ward. He’s been in a fight. He refuses to sleep in the bed he’s offered; he’s a regular at Guy’s, has a temper and is thus allowed to sleep under his bed in a blanket. He’s eighty years old and can’t remember where he was born; he only knows his date of birth, 1896, because it’s tattooed on his penis. His body is entirely covered in tattoos; his head is decorated with a tattoo of a huge spider.