Date Of Birth
Many people believe that death is not the end. This is a fair and correct assumption. They ponder their own mortality, and overlook the other boundary of life. They never wonder if birth is the beginning, or merely a continuation from what came before.
Marcus stood in a room with two doors. Neither of them would open for him, until he had finished cleaning. The walls, once marked by a lifetime of choices, were scrubbed and dusted. They were almost bare, almost good enough. Except for the stain. A blotch of red that refused to come out, no matter how hard he tried. It moved around, warping into grotesque shapes, endlessly enacting a scene he would rather forget. He looked down at his hands. They were almost transparent now, just like the rest of him. But like the walls, there was still a trace of red. A single choice that shackled him to this place, and kept the doors firmly locked. It moved throughout his being, a crimson line that refused to dissipate.
‘Marcus’, said a voice behind him. He turned, and gave a small bow. This was customary when greeting an angel.
‘What news for me, seraphim?’ he asked. ‘Am I to be free?’
‘Your task is not finished,’ the angel replied. ‘You cannot become One with the universe whilst you are still marked.’
‘So much of me is cleansed now’, said Marcus. He knew that debate was futile, but it had been so long since he had the chance to speak with something other than himself. ‘Why must I suffer for a single mistake?’
‘Your choices built your prison. Your regrets sustain it. I do not hold the key to your way out. You believed you were a good man, Marcus. Good men do not easily forget when they commit murder.’
The images on the wall intensified. Marcus cringed as he watched. His glasslike eyelids made it impossible to look away. A man, prone on the ground. A caricature of Marcus towered over him, a cruel whip in his hand.
‘He was a slave, but I should not have killed him,’ he muttered, as his wall mounted counterpart struck the man hard and repeatedly. ‘But then, he should not have looked in such a way at my sister.’
‘Your actions have consequence only for yourself in the afterlife’, the angel said. ‘Your justifications are not needed. You chose your situation, no one else. The man you killed has long since ascended to Nirvana. Yet your actions cling to your conscience’. It looked around the room, then back at Marcus. ‘I remember when you arrived here. The walls seeped with regret. You have cleaned your soul of most of it. But even after all this time, you cannot assuage your guilt. I do not believe that you ever will. For this reason, you will not find your way to Nirvana.’
‘There must be hope’, Marcus replied, desperate. ‘I’ve learned so much in this time of reflecting. I believe I’m close to redemption. The next stage seems close at hand for me. I even hear sounds from beyond one of the doors. They’re muffled, but I hear them. Voices, and music sometimes. The language is unlike anything I know, but I believe that the messages are those of comfort.’
‘You will soon leave here, Marcus, but you will not join us in Nirvana. Not yet, at least. We do not take souls such as yourself out of benevolence. When someone comes to us, they join their life force to ours. All of their experiences become our experiences, and ours become theirs. We only accept those who provide some form of benefit. Our existence is one of tranquillity. Your invincible regret would threaten that. There are murderers who have joined our ranks. They found a way to forgive themselves. It is not the memory of the act that we avoid, but the negative feelings that come with it. I could destroy this room, and wipe away any trace of your actions. But then, all of you would be empty. Your other memories are intact, tuned perfectly to exist in harmony. They are the toll you would need to pay to open the door to our world. Without them, you offer nothing.’
‘Then what is to become of me?’
‘You are correct in that you have learned much, Marcus. I do not believe that you would repeat the mistakes you made, if you were given another chance to live. Only one of the doors in this room leads to Nirvana. The other leads to a place you have visited before, although it has changed much with the passage of time. The voices speak to you from behind that door. The people there have forgotten your language. The Caesar you know and glorify is no more than a vague face on an ancient coin. But already, their speech begins to seem familiar. Over the last nine months, you have grown accustomed to listening to them. A woman’s voice, in particular. You will go to these people, and try to live a valuable life. Perhaps then, you will find a room that you can wipe clean of all of your choices. Now push, Isabelle! Push! Keep going, you’re doing great!’
The angel’s voice had changed from an ethereal whisper, to the muffled voice of a man. Marcus struggled to make out the words. In fact, he struggled to make out anything. Suddenly, he did not remember how to speak, or that he ever knew how to speak. He felt a crushing pain, and an indescribable feeling that he needed to get out from his surroundings. A woman’s voice, so familiar, cried out in agony. Then, a blinding light. He took a gasping breath, and his cries were music to the people in the room he had arrived in. No one noticed a rather striking change of personal circumstance.
‘It’s a girl’, said the doctor, cutting the umbilical cord. He handed the baby to her mother, who was exhausted and elated in equal measure. ‘Date of birth, Saturday the fourteenth of March. Just two minutes after midnight, you almost had a Friday the thirteenth baby, Mrs Evans!’
The new mother didn’t hear the doctor, as she was too enraptured with her baby. The infant had opened her eyes, and was gazing up at her. Isabelle thought about how strange reality must look to her daughter. She was right, although perhaps not for the reasons she expected. The world was almost two thousand years younger when the child had seen it last.
Date of birth—hmmmmm, even when we know or think we know a lot about someone, betimes we don’t even know the day they entered the multiverse.
With that in mind, we can do something about it!
Below find a mini quiz to enjoy. No, you are not sitting for any exam.
No, you do not need to pay a registration fee.
No, you will not receive a grade by e mail, snail mail, or even in person (if that last possibility still exists ☺ ).
Yes, please have fun and do not dismay if you do not know the answers.
The quiz has 10 regular questions. Then there are four bonus questions dedicated to writers. (After all, this is Hour of Writes, write—I mean, right?)
See the date of the person’s birth, read the brief information—hint—about the person, and then guess his or her name.
Row # / Date of Birth / Brief info about the person/
in the blank fill in the name you guess or
1 July 20, 356 BCE Ancient king, conqueror,
ME☺litia personage ____________
2 Dec. 27, 1965 B o l l y w o o d yes!
3 Oct 2, 1869 You will walk out of here.
4 Jan. 1, 1752 I’m hiding out in the back room while
I finish my project.
5 Jan. 30, 1505 Music for your ears
6 Feb. 2, 1905 St. Petersburg’s Atlas ☺
7 Mar. 1, 40 CE Fruity release
8 May 21, 120 BCE I wish I could have saved you
from that brutal fated day.
9 October 3, 1899 Jake, I need to talk to you before
Rosie gets home.
10 September 7, 1936 Christmas Day, that’ll be the
day you might expect to see me.
Bonus Contest: Fill in the names of these four writers
11 October 7, 1966 I’m already Spokane for.
12 October 14, 1906 Tot ally me!
13 October 31, 1795 Night all. Oh, no, they forecast a gale.
14 March 6, 1806 “Down the way where the nights are gay,” family’s paradise lost
Even to this day, no one knows the birthdates of some famous and infamous people.
After all is said and said and said, yes, even written, sometimes beauty shines even from what we don’t know.
Oh, excuse me please; accept the bonus original, yes, new poem, sonnet, especially written for Hours of Writes by one of the poets, re-emerging to donate this work to HOW:
Sonnet # 45
Although my name to some extent mimics
a reigning one, my aim is not to reign
nor rain, instead to shine some sun on times
I hear beset you all so far away
from mine. So listen up and try to learn from one
who watched the world in different times but not
alone you know. We bobbed together through
the bumps, and I hung around for more or less
five and fifty years, without, you understand, a
single cell, ap, bus, plane, or all the stuff you dudes
seem to need to nourish you. And that we
did, despite the hue ;-) we pasted on, in Eng-
lish first and last, not the kind my dad would have
liked, so he never spoke to me again.
“Please turn the clock back to precisely this time last week. 6.45pm. Friday.
“If that should fail, then please fast forward exactly seven days. That’s a significant day for you isn’t it? Something at least to celebrate.
“Finally, if none of that should work, simply select some vague time in the future, more appropriate, of your choosing.”
Message composed, he pressed the well-worn button on his ‘brick’ of a phone, that his now long-since-exiled children had mercilessly teased him over.
A short electronic ‘beep’.
Gold, brilliant gold of the winter sunset had sparked the memory. He caught it on his camera phone. Shared the dramatic skyline with the world, thanks to some ‘social media’ those same children had taught him about. Persuaded him ‘sharing’ was quite ‘the thing’, whatever your age.
The golden sky was so dramatically brilliant, so vivid, so other-worldly, like some ‘end of the world is nigh’ image, it even had him ‘trending’ in different parts of the world whatever that meant. He got a message within the hour to tell him that. He didn’t care. He didn’t see what was ‘social’ about it anyway. Didn’t bring him any real ‘friends’. No-one to talk to, no-one to laugh with. No-one who really ‘liked’ him for who he was. Why would it? It was only a damn phone. Not a time machine. It couldn’t perform miracles.
And anyway, he had his own time machine. His mind. It wasn’t quite fuddled just yet. He could still remember the events of the week before. Vividly.
It was all in the gold. Just like it streaked across the darkening sky now, so it did on the canvas at the gallery the week before. All regal and theatrical.
It transported him back in an instant.
She’d picked up her paintbrush and explained the painstaking technique, the art behind the masterpiece.
It was like he’d blinked, long and tight, then opened his eyes for the first time, and been hit by the sheer brilliance.
The golden brightness.
It was glaring. Staring him in the face. He could see it now.
The painterly painting. The light, the brushstrokes, the tones on the canvas.
How had he been so blind before?
Side by side they sat on the gallery’s leather sofa and stared at two portraits.
On one side her favourite – all precision, the deft, delicate touch, the perfect light, the calm composition of the man at his desk, the dedication, the skill of the artist.
On the other his – all wild, wide, sweeping brush strokes, a tempest, a tortured human soul, a manic mind, a love-torn writer.
The paintings were worlds apart.
So were they. Just to look at them, any stranger could tell you that.
Him all ageing, wrinkled skin, and balding in his shy, faded country gent tweed suit. One foot in the grave.
Her all porcelain complexion and shiny silk-black hair in her London fox fashion look. The vibrancy and confidence of youth.
But in that gallery, beneath those flashes of gold, their worlds had collided.
He’d spoken first.
He could see from the intense look in her pale blue eyes, from the way she studied the canvas, she had plenty to say.
He was right.
Before long, they had got so engrossed in their respective views on the paintings, the passing gallery visitors became just a blur of colours and textures, all dark blue woolen overcoats, and black leather jackets, sheer black and red tartan skirts, twists and folds of fawn corduroy trousers and yellow Cashmere scarves.
They chatted some more.
Found they were from different centuries.
Their date of birth told them that.
It was his birthday today. It had come out in conversation. She was sad he was spending it alone. He knew no different anymore.
Her celebration was exactly two weeks away.
Although she didn’t ‘do’ birthdays. For some reason. He never did find out why
From those dates of birth they’d no right to even be on the same planet at the same time, let alone in the same room, the same art gallery.
He should have been long gone by now.
She still had her life ahead of her.
But somehow in thousands of years of humanity they’d managed to share some time on this earth and, even stranger still, a few minutes, a few hours as it turned out, in each other’s company.
The wonder of coincidence. The wonder of humanity. Or just that Friday evening freedom feeling. Whether you like your thoughts on a grand, biblical or far more mundane day-to-day scale, either way, this was cause for some sort of celebration.
There was something simply life-affirming about two people poles apart sharing thoughts and smiles on life and art.
Finally they got up to wander into the gallery’s different rooms, the theatrical lighting accentuating their relatively fleeting moments on this particular stage.
When all was done. When the security guard ushered them towards the exit, they prepared to push through the swing doors out onto the pavement and to head off in their separate directions, him stage right off to his West End hotel, her stage left to her East London flat.
But the weather pushed them back.
Driving rain, and a shrill whistle of swirling wind thrust them back into the revolving doors, into each other. This was their encore.
“Sorry,” he said, all fumbling apologies.
“Look, why don’t we hail a cab, grab something to eat, wait for the storm to die down,” she said.
“Why not?” he replied, surprising himself at seizing the moment, not sure why his more usual anxious, cautious habits, were suddenly replaced with such self-assured confident style. He was in rarefied air.
They went to her favourite Friday night haunt. French. Piano player and jazz band. The type of bistro you only get in the capital.
Over the music, above the buzz, they talked, and laughed some more.
Turns out they did indeed have lots in common, albeit from different generations.
The waiters looked at them strangely – as if perhaps a father and daughter – granddaughter even – shouldn’t be having that much fun together.
He’d not been as fascinated by the conversation of another human being – a man, let alone a woman - for he didn’t know how long. Probably 50 years or more since his student days.
She’d not laughed as much in a long while. Probably since she was on a hen-do down in Essex with her friends the summer before.
But for both the night had to end.
She had the last train to catch to the east end.
He had a writer’s conference to prepare for the next day.
They said goodnight at Westminster station and parted down different escalators to different platforms.
They’d exchanged mobile numbers before they went their separate ways.
Just in case he happened to be in town again.
He knew it was futile.
He’d intended to delete it from his phone.
Just one chance meeting. Just one night of enjoyment. One night to feel alive again.
Real life wasn’t like that. Real life was pain and loss for the ageing. Keeping in contact would only prolong the agony.
Laughter, life, and love was consigned to the stuff of movies and memories for lonely old men like him.
But back home in the country, a week later, as he looked across the fields and the October light left for the last time to be replaced by November’s darkness, the flash of brilliant gold brought it all back.
It was like he could touch the canvas, feel the painting, read it like braille, from the brushstrokes she’d taught him.
And, against his better judgement, that golden sunset prompted him to write just one more message on his phone.
Don’t ask him why, he won’t be able to tell you, he just wanted one more Friday night, one more conversation, one more meeting, however fleeting…