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.
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.
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.
Tam Daiche is twenty-two and, miraculously at his age, in his first job as a tutor in the School of Art. Despite being excited by recent events in Paris in 1968, Tam is politically naïve and ignorant about local politics in the city.
Fotheringale Hall, the ancient pile of the Rogerson-Stukeleys, is falling into ruin. It has one occupant, Reginald, aka Reggie, Rogerson-Stukeleys, the scion of a once rich and famous family. Reggie is lazy and filled with an inherited sense of entitlement.
Harry is ten years old. Every day he wishes he could earn money and buy food. Perhaps then his Mum, Mel, wouldn’t be so sad; she always tries to be cheerful but he hears her crying every night. During term time Harry eats at school but, in the ‘hungry holidays’ they use the St Giles’ church food bank; it’s that or starve.