First Dates Aren't Usually Amongst Fish
Jack Robinson was huddled in bed hidden like a hibernating bear beneath a pile of bedclothes. The odd lock of his long blonde hair crept across the top of the blankets, the hair that made him look quite like Vordor. He was always having to disappoint kids who had had the courage to come up to him and ask for his autograph. Most Hertferd kids knew he wasn't Vordor now so no one bothered anymore, except kids from out of town. People used to call him Vordor or just 'V' to wind him up. It always worked even though Jack had tried very hard to not let it wind him up.
He could hear the squeak, crunch and rumble as pieces of furniture were being moved about on the wooden floors above him; new neighbours thank God. Maybe the new lot wouldn't be deaf and have the TV blaring all day. Often they forgot to turn it off at night. Jack spent many an hour inadvertently listening to a late night western, which he had not chosen to watch and even less, listen to.
In the past he had had never really had the heart to tell them to knock it off.
Jack's body was complaining at the pounding he had given it last night.
Jack drunk a bit, now and then, but he was quite fit, he played baseball for a local side and so was not given to excess on account of his need, even near obsession, with fitness. Leisure was fitness and fitness leisure to Jack.
Jack had recollections of bowling last night but not much else. Judging from his head and dreamy state he suspected he had taken drugs but had no idea what or how. It had been a long, long time since he had taken any drugs. Occasionally even a healthy man had to take drugs to remind him of how bad it felt to feel unhealthy or you end up taking that healthiness for granted.
Jack reckoned he might have taken what was known as MT, or mile trips to use its street name. These were seriously amazing drugs. They were often used by psychiatrists to help with regression therapy.
If you took a tiny bit more they allowed you to experience a long, long, drug induced dream. Normally it enhanced your ego. There was a side effect for some: it made them very aggressive. MT was well known to massively boost adrenaline levels and the body's natural painkillers.
"Shit," said Jack aloud.
He vaguely remembered some dream he had been having before he woke up. All that money he guessed he had spent on drugs and he had dreamt he had been Vordor, wielding an axe, defending children against evil tyranny. The dream had then transmogrified into Jack delivering his nemesis against people he didn't like.
'Where had he got the drugs from exactly? How had he got home?' he pondered.
His big boots a good half meter out of the end of the bed and the whole bed frame moved when he did, shuddering under his weight.
Jack rolled over to glance at his old clock on the bedside table. In his Spartan room the clock was the only thing he really cherished, the only thing he had left of his family. His mother and his father had died when he was relatively young but the clock always reminded him they had been around. It had an annoying habit of ticking out of time with the second hand moving. The clock told him it was three o'clock. He was due to pick up Elsee from the Anderton's at five so he had better get going.
Jack wasn't very good with women. Sure, he had plenty of women who fancied him but when it came down to it he was quite shy. It was an odd sight to see this male icon talking to a woman. His body language became ungainly and for such a big man he looked ridiculously timid. He had a few relationships along the way but nothing very serious. He had seen Elsee around and he had liked her but he had never had the pluck to ask her out on a date. Luckily for him, Tony had known Elsee, which had made the whole thing easier but he had still felt like a fifteen year old when he had asked her out on a date.
Jack stumbled out of bed and went to inspect himself in the mirror. Apart his skin's transpicuous quality around the eyes, he looked okay.
His eyes looked reasonably clear, which was amazing considering.
Jack poured himself a glass of water from the bathroom tap drank it and then proceeded to urinate. He always had to aim straight, since he was so tall.
It dawned on him that he was still dressed in the clothes he had been wearing the night before. His boots had brown little flecks on them.
The last droplets of water dribbled into the toilet and he bent over to inspect the little crusted specks on his boots. Blood? He looked at his shirt. More blood.
In the mirror he checked his face for cuts. None. Jack felt the vaguest glimmer of a memory that submerged before he could grab it. It disappeared like a slippery fish into his subconscious.
Jack shivered. It was slightly cold in his room today. Or maybe it was the drugs. Where had the blood come from? He vaguely remembered being thrown out of the bowling alley and Tom had a cut on his forehead. Tom maybe had bled a little onto his shirt.
“One of my best shirts too. Wonder how Tom is?' he said aloud.
He grabbed an instant coffee pack from the cupboard and put it into the microwave.
He felt in a strange, disconnected mood. He had no job to go to on Monday and nothing at all lined up. He felt anxious and he knew that he would have to sort something out; his redundancy money wouldn't last forever. At the same time he felt thoroughly irresponsible.
“That's it!" he boomed out loud.
He had always wanted to go to a restaurant called Poseidon. He had always wanted to have a chauffeured car for the day. Today was the day.
He went over to his viewcom and searched for chauffeur services. There was only one in town and he punched in the number. He listened to the tone purring as the line connected.
Welcome to Mercury, your local chauffeur services. Please see the menu below and we will take you through selection."
“With or without escort."
“Without" said Jack, " I've got one." "Without escort."
“Automated or human conducted vehicle." "Human conducted."
‘Time to boss someone else around' thought Jack. "Male or female driver?"
Jack paused. "Male"
“African American, Asian or White American or no preference?" "No preference."
“Surprised you are allowed to ask that," barked Jack at the screen. “With or without communications?"
‘At this rate, I'll miss my date' thought Jack. "With or without alcohol?"
“Don’t care,” barked Jack at the increasingly annoying and stupid selection choice.
“When would you like the car? Please type in your requested time."
“Within half an hour," Jack typed in hitting the keyboard. Maybe I will get a new one. It often only worked if it was hit.
“Payment method?" "Card," said Jack.
“Please insert your card in the swipe at the side of your screen." "Where the fuck else am I going to put it?"
The dumb screen flickered at him, unresponsive and unknowing that Jack had just insulted it.
“Thank you," chimed the screen. "We will be with you in half an hour, thank you for using Mercury services, we look forward to seeing you and have a nice day. We have noted your address at: Flat 4, Block 12, Montana Avenue. Is this correct?"
“Thank you and good day."
Jack knew it would take an hour and a half to get to Poseidon. Jack started muttering to himself, as he got dressed.
"Now which suit is sir going to wear? The one and only? Yep that'll have to do. And which of our two ties, with dolphins or plain old stripes? Dolphins I think, seems more you sir...”
Jack fiddled, muttering, around his apartment. He shaved, asprined, changed his shoes and started to feel nervous.
He called Poseidon.
“Reservation for two, isolated bubble please."
"Fine, what time would sir like this for?"
“Seven thirty today."
“And in the name of?”
“Thank you, we look forward to seeing you."-
If he had thought about it he would have booked Poseidon first as it was always booked up. He was lucky he had got in.
The car pulled up on the dot. A man with a cap with the figure of Mercury on it opened the door of the limousine without saying a word and they seamlessly drifted off to pick up Elsee.
“Stop here," said Jack from the back. "Certainly sir."
Jack jumped out of the limousine and ran into the garage plucking a bunch of flowers from the selection. He was tempted by roses but he thought that was just a little bit intimate just now.
The car rolled up to the gates of the Mayor's house. The driver had a word into the intercom and they slid inside.
Jack couldn't believe how massive the house was: acres of manicured lawns and ornate themed garden, swimming pools, perfect drives and tennis court.
'So this was how the seriously rich live.’ His own flat was half the size of one of the windows.
They approached a small little house within the grounds next to a modest manmade lake. Jack could see Elsee peering out of a window. When she saw the car approaching he watched the surprise flicker across her face, then she recovered her composure. She was obviously as impressed as he was with this limo.
Jack smiled. His stomach felt like the home to the entire moth and butterfly collection of the United States. He was having second thoughts about the flowers; he hid them in a compartment in the door.
They drew to a halt. Jack got out and rang the doorbell. Cute little door.
He would have only just managed to fit through it. Jack could hear scufflings behind the door.
Elsee opened the door wide open and was beaming. "Hi, Jack, how are you doing?"
Jack stood on the doorstep unsure whether to come in or go out. "Hey, Jack, anyone there? How are you doing? "
"Oh fine," Jack said with as little tension in his voice as he could muster.
“D’you wanna come in? I've just gotta finish getting ready, I'll not be long.”
She was wearing a long red velvet dress that hugged her body. The front of the dress plunged to the middle of her generous cleavage and she wore a small silver pendant around her neck with, what looked like a water droplet at the end of it.
Jack suddenly became painfully aware he was staring quite obviously at Elsee's cleavage. He felt his face flush.
Elsee's eyes sparkled.
“Well come in Jack, don't just stand there! Go and make yourself comfortable in the living room. There's some fresh coffee made in the kitchen if you want some."
Jack watched Elsee's veritably curvaceous buttocks dancing in time as she wandered down the corridor towards her bedroom.
“Thanks. Coffee smells nice," he stammered.
Jack started to sniff at the percolator. The strong aroma perfused the house. It was an interesting cocktail of smells - perfume and coffee.
Jack looked around the kitchen. 'Neat but not too neat' he thought admiringly. There was a picture on the sideboard next to the cooker, presumably Elsee's Mom and children but no father.
Jack sat down on a high seat at the breakfast table. His eyes were darting around the room furtively. He did not want to appear too nosy but he was.
Elsee strode into the room, her long flowing coat billowing after her. "Well, I'm ready,"
“Uh, huh, well let's go."
Jack followed Elsee out of the house. Elsee's dainty fingers rummaging around inside her bag for her keys.
'She still has keys ' thought Jack with admiration. 'That's nice.'
The Mercury man held the door open for them. Elsee was trying very hard to appear cool about all this, but not doing quite as well as she hoped.
Jack watched her look around with excited agitation. "Can we have a drink?" she said chirpily.
“Sure, what would you like?"
“Is that a bottle of champagne I see there?"
“Shall we," she said her eyes meeting Jack's. They looked at each other for a moment. Neither of them knowing quite how to act. They sensed that the driver was watching them. They knew that he knew that this was a huge novelty for them both. He knew that they weren't big shots but he was treating them all the same anyway.
“Yeah ...why the hell not? Let's have some champagne. "
Jack could just make out the slightest grin on the driver's face in the mirror. 'So hell, I'm excited, I can't be bothered being all cool about this,' he thought.
Jack opened the bottle, the top fizzing and dribbling champagne onto the ample carpet. Elsee put her slender hands out and stroked the carpet admiringly.
“Change of plan. We’re not going to The Fish Shack.'' "Oh." Elsee uttered with a hint of disappointment.
“We are going somewhere else. Better. I reckon it's probably a once in a lifetime experience for us. Hope so anyhow."
“So where are we going exactly?"
“Surprise. I'm not telling you.''
Elsee had a puppy faced pleading look with her eyes. Jack returned the gesture with the shake of his head.
"Nope, won't work."
They could feel the car accelerate; they were out of the town now. The world started blurring past them.
The journey passed relatively quickly. The two passengers seemed to savour each moment of luxury like a child with new Christmas toys. They drank their champagne and felt strangely comfortable saying very little.
Elsee knew Jack was not much of a talker and had anticipated having to prize conversation out of him like a reticent clam shell. She was actually just enjoying the journey and enjoying not bothering to prize conversation out of him. 'Let it come,' she thought. 'If I force him he really will clam up which will make the evening awkward.'
So they sat there idly looking out of the window. Elsee’s champagne twinkling as the red evening light flooded through it. The sky was brazen copper. Elsee slipped her shoe off. She picked the shoe up with her big toe, extending her leg and teasing the shoe like a kitten. She could, out of the corner of her eye, see Jack looking at her long bronze legs.
In the distance they could see Poseidon streaking into the sky, a vast turquoise spire of water and glass streaming up into the heavens. A unique and awe inspiring place. At the bottom of the mile high spire the water was at such pressure that deep sea life existed, preserved in this inland haven and shielded from the sun by vast steel reflectors which streamed light out for miles around. A
Miniature slice of an oceanic ecosystem in the middle of Middle America.
At the top of the spire lay a vast, complex network of glass tubes
Immersed in water - the Poseidon restaurant. The webs of glass resembled a drunken spider’s web. There was some sense of order in them, but it was not clinical orderliness.
It was an Aladdin’s cave, a maze of walkways surrounded by graceful aquatic life. A place where people could marvel at a shark eating a passing tuna fish, whilst munching on their own freshly caught calamari. A thriving vibrant nature reserve and home of one of the most celebrated gastronomic centres of excellence in the world.
As they drew closer the sheer scale of the spire imposed itself on them. Approaching its base the car looked like a human grovelling for forgiveness at the base of God's finger.
They entered into the cineritious twilight of a tunnel, a tunnel that led into one of the lifts, which took the car to the top .of the spire.
As they drew deeper into the tunnel the speck of light that was the entrance receded into the distance.
They emerged into a dimly lit atrium surrounding the base of the spire, buried beneath the ground. The tenebrous atrium swept upwards, so big that the roof was not even visible.
“Time to take the lift," said the driver.
“I hope you guys aren't scared of heights."
Jack and Elsee, shook their heads in a dumbstruck state.
'This was even better than I could ever have imagined' mused Jack.
They felt a slight shudder and a hiss as clamps held onto the wheels of the car and then almost imperceptible acceleration.
Suddenly they emerged from the gloom into auspicious bronze light. On their left they could see the flat landscape reaching out to the horizon, to the right the deep, vital, elemental waters shimmering and teaming with multifarious forms of life. This was nature improved, nature perfected. At each level the environment was attuned to its tenants and the labile waters tweaked to perfection allowing them and their predators to thrive.
The car was but a speck on the surface of this tower as the lift wound its way spiralling around the outside of the spire.
It took some ten minutes to get to the top. Ten minutes which felt like ten hours.
The lift stopped and they emerged onto one of the many upper parking platforms set in the sky, held away from the main structure.
"This really is parking in the sky," said Jack dreamily.
They thanked the driver and, following the holograms of different sea creatures indicating the way, wandered to the entrance. Two doorwomen clad in black suits stood by the marbled portico. On either side of the doorway were two vast goldfish bowls presented by sea serpents wrapped around the outside in filigree. Exotic fish swam indolently around inside each bowl, through what appeared to be a Chinese garden complete with floating orchids on the top.
The two doorwomen nodded discretely, almost imperceptibly, at them. Elsee's coat was trailing behind it her like a long wedding train, except that it was black and she was not getting married.
Inside, plush black velvet benches were scattered around. In the centre of the entrance, a gold railing ensnared a pool of water, where piranhas were feeding on the remains of, what looked like an otter. Gentle, ushered chatter mixed with whale music added a certain relaxed solemnity to the scene.
A midget appeared from nowhere.
“Good evening, would you like a drink before we take you down?"
Jack looked at Elsee. He could see she was far too excited to hang around.
“No, thanks. I think we would like to move on down."
“Fine, Mr. Robinson, would you both like to follow me?" Jack wondered how he knew his name but let it go.
They followed the midget across the hall and through a small portal into a round bubble of glass, which is the best way to describe the transport provided for exploring and moving within Poseidon. It was some form of submersible craft, each one looking like a different type of fish.
The midget sat them down and the bubble majestically undocked from the main entrance, its propellers started to sing mellifluously. Large bubbles trickled up from the depths far below. Jack and Elsee watched them as they hit the floor of the craft and went around it, accelerating as they did so. In the distance they could make out the dancing lights of other craft gliding through the emerald water. All around them shoals of exotic fish flashed silver, blue and orange colours through the water and vast hands of verdant seaweed reached up from the depths, as if seeking the surface, their fronds waving in the gentle currents.
They were about ten feet below the surface now. The water here was still and they could just make out the central atrium, the colours of people's clothes were blurred but reds and blacks were just perceptible. As they drew closer the definition became clearer and a huge banquet came into view. People were smiling, laughing, cajoling, joking, merry making. An older woman with regal grey hair tied in a bun inspected some fish with a silver fork, pushing it inquisitively around her plate.
A whole swordfish lay across the medley of seafood in the center of long straight table, its black eyes staring at the miscreants treating themselves to steaks from its very own carcass. Live crabs sizzled on the barbecue in the corner and a live eel was trying to escape the hot surface but was failing to do so, it flailed hopelessly, twisting and turning in circles. All around the central table waiters danced the merry dance of service, weaving, ducking and diving with silver platters held high above their heads. Huge ribbons of fine silk in blue, emerald, turquoise and olive green streamed in a fan from the central point of the atrium.
The bubble turned away and left the feasters to indulge in their feasting. They followed a fine spindling offshoot of glass, another tunnel in the labyrinth, out towards the edge of the artificial sea.
All along its length were little bubbles of glass, where groups of two, three or four could be seen chattering and pointing out into the world around them. The people all looked fit, well and healthy. Jack felt an aching jealousy envelop him as the reality of his situation came home. He tried to block it out.
Lights had just been turned on as the daylight was fading; they sent spears of white into the darkening crystal sea.
There, at the end of the glass tunnel lay a lonely bubble of glass. As it came into view they could see the huge and beautiful array of flowers in the middle of the table, the fine crockery and silver sparkling in the light.
Their 'fish' approached the main glass access tunnel. It had what looked like a navel on its side which turned out to be a docking bay. The craft slowed to a halt, pneumatic whistlings and hissings accompanied the docking and the door opened into the main tubeway.
The midget stood up from the controls. "If you would like to follow me please."
The midget strolled down the tube towards the last secluded bubble seat and settled them down in the plush, soft chairs.
“You may choose to have a waiter, or if you press here your orders will appear and you will not be interrupted. All the food is fresh of course. If you look behind you now, you can see one of the fishing bubbles chasing some tuna. The midget suddenly opened his hands like a flower "fresh fish today," he said genially and smiled.
“I will leave you now. The menu as you can see is inscribed on the walls.
Jack turned around. Indeed it was, he could make out where the glass was etched.
“If I lower the lighting in here, you will see the menu appear around the roof and side of the bubble. If you wish me to return, please press this button just here, on the table. Yes the one shaped like a fish.”
Elsee gasped as the yellow soft letters emerged onto the wall as the lighting was dimmed. A vast menu unfurling before them like stars on a clear night.
The midget disappeared.
"Thank you," whispered Elsee, "This is wonderful."
“I wouldn't bet on that," said Jack pointing.
They watched the incisive fin of a shark drifting off into the depths, its gills expanding and contracting with mechanical precision.