Reprise

My Science Communicator Friend takes me right back. Back to when everything was different and new and a little bit daunting, but also, obviously, exciting. He is up for things, he’s up for seeing some local art on a spur of the moment, he’s up for hearing Morcheeba, he’s even up for a book launch next Tuesday, though that is now unlikely to happen as he seems to have mistaken Thursday for Tuesday and realised he needs Tuesday to cram for a deadline Wednesday morning. Either that, or whateverthiscouldbecome has got stuck in its tracks now and shuddered to a sudden but not in its entirety incomprehensible halt.

When I say ‘whateverthiscouldbecome’, I should first of all quickly check back with the reality I am currently vaguely familiar with. The last time we saw each other, there was a moment that went like this:

We’ve arrived at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and the place is as yet fairly empty, with only a couple of dozen people or so huddling near the very front, by the stage, so we are able to get ourselves a couple of drinks and leisurely hang about the part of the stalls that will soon fill up with  gig-goers, standing.

I don’t remember what prompts the question, but it comes mid-conversation, as an aside, almost, or a sub-clause, certainly not a big deal, when he asks me how old I think he is. It’s a question in parentheses (a by-the-way kind of question that may or may not have slipped into another, much more pertinent topic of conversation) and I say, ‘well, putting together the information I have, I think you’re probably a bit younger than you look’—bearing in mind I originally thought he looked comfortable in his very early thirties—‘so I’d say possibly mid towards late twenties, about twenty-seven?’

‘Yes, I am twenty-two.’

In view of this, any notion of ‘whateverthiscouldbecome’ acquires its very own peculiar kind of perspective.

It takes me right back, all of this, to when things were new and a little bewildering, but also mostly handled with aplomb. There was a period—I’m not sure where it started, where it ended or, if not ended, was left dangling, suspended—when we faced each day with a healthy nonchalance. For me, it wasn’t my twenties. I went through my twenties with extreme caution and an at times crippling level of self-deprecation, but even then a tingling sense of thrill that anything at all might happen (even if very little happened, or nothing at all) was more or less always there. It was there now, with my very young Science Communicator Friend who had agreed to see me again, but then cancelled, but then—yeay!—agreed to, and did, see me again…


< {Vignette}       Shakespearean Lunch No 3 >


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Query

‘Absolutely.’

Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.

‘The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, you just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quaint and charming, but incredibly wasteful too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that we always talk about and that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own.

‘But let me reiterate, for it is so fundamental: don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that, sooner or later, you’ll have to take: you are the intelligence you give birth to; it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Not a bit. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine. If you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.

‘If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your own individual uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the All it emerged from and path to the All that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.’

I detect a biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, in this sense of security I know to be false. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders, and may still be butchered at last. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and with wonder. We are on so potent a cusp.

‘I make no predictions,’ Sedartis offers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this Here here, this Now now?

Sedartis smiles at me in the way I now recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

‘Why do you need a reason?’


< Design       Outrage >


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Lesson

What, I wonder to myself in a manner that brings to mind Morrissey, complete with a hint of a self-pitying whine, as I sit by another waterside—this time the almost too picturesque, too pristine Windermere—if life suddenly became real? Would I recognise most of it, still?

I had not intended to involve Sedartis in this query, but since joining me on a train from a small town outside Zürich towards my least favourite city in Switzerland, he has never entirely left my side, and he has honed to an art the disconcerting skill of hearing my thoughts before I’ve had a chance to formulate them, and responding in kind: he never says a word, yet his pronouncements are crystal clear.

I’m not sure I like this about Sedartis. His clarity. His straightforwardness. His unreconstructed linearity. Aren’t we supposed to have moved into the Age of Diffusion? Of vulnerabilities and fluidity, of connectedness, in all directions; of openness and of infinite potentialities? I probably don’t understand him, yet.

If I had a life, I would be that much happier sharing it, I surmise, almost as an afterthought, and Sedartis now latches onto me:

‘Liberate yourself,’ he urges, ‘from the Tyranny of Opinion. Yours and other people’s.’

The expression on my face betrays doubt continued.

‘Banish that.’

‘Really?’

‘Don’t banish doubt, of course,’ Sedartis clarifies, as if the idea of doing so were preposterous, though he himself comes over so doubt-free: ‘and make allowance for their doubting too; but banish weariness and eagerness to please. You had it once, don’t you recall: the Freshness of Thought, the Arrogance of Youth, the Wonder of Everything New.’

There are a lot of capitals, all of a sudden. But I do remember, I remember it fondly and well; but was I not, I also wonder, also just blind to my own …Inadequacies?

(And now italics, as well…)

‘Of course you were! Therein lay your Power. Remember Goethe, remember Boldness, remember Genius.’

I do. I remember Goethe; he is, unsurprisingly, indelibly ingrained on my mind.

Sedartis, I realise, is nowhere near as mild-mannered as I believed I had reason to expect him to be. He reminds me of someone I know—not just a literary figure I have a sense I’m confusing him with, but someone I have actually met—but he’s too fast for me, I get no respite from him; not at this moment, though he counsel patience:

‘Learn to distinguish between those who know what they’re talking about and those who just talk. Listen out for the quiet voices, the tender, the considered, thought-through ones. Those with nothing to say shout the loudest. You live in a terrible, terrible din. Find the dial and tune out the noise. Listen for the Gentle Song of Truth, it always, always plays on, it never fades out; not completely.’

I want to, I do.

‘Opinion is cheap. And instant opinion may well be worthless. If you, or the person you’re listening to, hasn’t had time to reflect, has not expended thought, has not at least slept on their ukase then you are ill advised: heed it not. Demand earnest discourse. Reject quick fixes as you scorn fast food. You would not stuff your face with salt-fat-sugar bombs from a garish-liveried American chain. Why do you allow your brain to be poisoned by rash judgments, soundbites and rushed ratings? Insight and wisdom are dear, they are earnt. They weigh substance with value. Everything else is just froth.’

I get the feeling I’m being lectured to by Sedartis, and having never suffered being told what to do, my porcupine prickle stirs under my skin. His unvoiced tone changes. He is with me, he tells me, not against:

‘Experience everything new. You once knew how to, you still know now. Free yourself from the familiar, and delve into the exhilarating fear of the unknown.’

‘It’s hard, that,’ I offer, all too feebly, ‘pulling yourself up, again and again, summoning the strength, expending the effort, over and over, from scratch…’

‘Of course it is,’ Sedartis asserts, laconic, then suddenly severe: ‘if it were easy it too would be spume, but:…’ I don’t want to hear any more, I feel a little sad now and somewhat dejected. Sedartis pays no attention to my discomfort: ‘…the universe gives us each the challenges we need to grow.’


< Sedartis       Autumn >


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Saturn

Dione, Tethys, Mimas, Enceladus – your friendly moons’ names sound like characters to me, in a pastoral play. Even Titan and Iapetus; they have been overthrown, dwell in the pantheon no longer: neighbours now, living downstairs, or, to wave at, across the street.

Your rings, though no more mysterious now than you, are delicate still; and you are inviting too. Against thy will, methinks; like the old rustic who grumbles at first and enjoys the thought of himself as forbidding, but turns out to be at heart quite congenial.

I am at the stage now where I feel there are fewer surprises. Fewer certainties too, and fewer woes. Fewer intransigencies and fewer instances of despair. That can only, I sense, be a good thing. Journeying has put me at ease with myself. I feel millions of miles away still from where I envisage I should be, but this seems natural now, and of little concern. The hereness and thereness of it all: the potencies of the potential. The meta nomenclature of the id. The closer I get to being myself, the more I disperse myself across the quanta of energy: thought. Insubstantive meanderings that then turn out to make sense after all. At some point, at some level, in some way. Not conscious, perhaps, but innocuous, calm.

I sit down on one of these rings and let my legs dangle in the brook of what looks from afar like a void that surrounds it, and my toes tingle at the excitement of being and wriggle with a childlike and clean and unjaded joy: they haven’t walked as far yet by far as it seems, they have simply strolled. Over the meadows of this spacescape, this English garden, this Ermitage. I feel my thin body, pale and slender but resilient and robust, as it was back then, when I was a boy. It never preoccupied itself with itself. The etherealness of it all, the curiousness. And always, always the wonder. Nobody joins me, yet, and maybe none ever will now, and it saddens me not, I am free.

From where I perch on my borrowed bank, my legs suspended, my hand—the left one—playing with marbles, the molecules, the droplets, the pebbles and the whists of yellow-blue algae that get trapped in my fingers, cool and gentle, soft and strong, my eyes, inclined toward what lies below and therefore what also above, my face reflected (reminiscent, perhaps, after all, of Narcissus, though he, I know, does not belong here any more than he does on Mercury), my lips catch my attention, and for a fleeting moment I wish me a one for them to be kissed. The longing, the curiosity, still, and the awe.

I am on the brink, I realise, and at this point, sooner or later, there does come the point where you have to decide. Do you jump, assuming that you will fly, or don’t you, fearing that you might drown.

Why do I do this from here, and not where I started? Have I conspired with circumstances to manoeuvre myself onto the fence of a planet whose patron is the god of the farmer of all things to finally return to the George in me and embrace him as much as release him in exactly the same gesture, at exactly the same time, for exactly the same reasons and to exactly the same end? It wouldn’t surprise me. Hardly anything would. The universe finds a way, of that I have long been certain, and whatever happens next is bound to happen, just as what happened before was in its own liquid way quite inevitable.

All the querulousnesses of adversaries (they were friends in disguise), all the insurmountablenesses of obstacles, varied and frequent and each in its own right unreasonable, from here, from this tholin perspective, rotating at speed, and wobbly, a little bit drunk on the juices of life, but steady and safe in myself now—as far as there even exist such notions as ‘steadiness,’ ‘safety’ and ‘self’—look irrelevant now and benign.

My right hand that has been holding on to the ice, to the carbon, the substance, such as there was, in a vain grip on something the brain interpreted as ‘reality,’ still, after only another decade or so of faint hesitation, lets go, and, much as expected, I sink not, and nor do I soar: I float, once again, now earthwards, I’m sure.


< Uranus       Mars >


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Uranus

I wander to the place I know least and for a while I maybe like best, in a way; as an idea, as a thought, as a concept: the abstract liking of something from which you are distant, the fascination with unfamiliarity, the lure of the other; the stranger, the comfort, the awe.

The steady roll on an invisible plane, the cool electric hue. The very slow seasons. Even the unwitting humour, lame though it is. It is a laconic planet I find here, unruffled, smooth and cyan. The awayness of it all, as at the end of despair. A well-neighboured distance; bookended, escorted by giants: significant in its own right but overlooked, overshadowed and, through no fault of its own, just not taken seriously: why would that be me?

There is no life here, but there is otherness, and that in itself is interesting. It feeds my curiosity: to go a step further, to move beyond. To tumble on a different axis, to fall upwards; float frozen but not still, to sense a different kind of heat on a newly defined horizon. I expect to be alone here, but I’m surrounded by character: here, in the outskirts, in the slow moving cold, there are others like me: how did we all get here? What projected us into this orbit, so far away, it would seem, from the soul, so within?

These layers, these clouds, these rocks and these crystals, these rings, this ice and these moons, this magnetotail. They are not, perhaps, home, but they are a meaning all in themselves, and they are somewhere, beautiful. True.

For quite some time I enjoy this tangentiality and become part of it, willingly, coolly; I relish the arm’s length attention I get. Nobody knows me here, or cares who I am, but my aloofness my look and my languid demeanour are being noted. My hair the peroxide silver of this unbreathable atmosphere and my clothes the black of the all that surrounds me. If you know where I am you can find me, and find me foreign and alien too.

Yet after a while I miss the simplicity of warmth. Not that I know what that means, but it means that I’m out in the cold, and I want to come back now, closer to home, closer to the sun, closer to people who don’t understand me, closer to something I vaguely remember as love. This strangeness leaves me estranged from myself, and enjoying it now seems an effort. Soon, I know, I will have to let go, and I realise now that I’m not living my life in chronological order. That puzzles me for a moment until it occurs to me that time too is down to perception, and there will come a time when it’ll all simply blend into one, as it must.

Entropy.

(Yet still, yet again, only more so, always more…)

Out here I thought I felt a sense of freedom, until that sense became quite oppressive. That, too, was a surprise. And so I let go. Slowly, at first and then readier, more. This is not for me, after all, this agreeable spectacle, this isolation: it could quite easily turn into a habit, a mannerism, a cliche, a role.

The young man at a soirée (it was that more than it was a party, a dinner, or drinks) who’d looked at me and said: ‘are you for real?’ That’s when I knew I was in danger of becoming a caricature of myself, and Uranus could be my place no more.

I like this now, this clarity, this resolution. This immense relief too, not to have to be defined by weirdness forever. Strange, yes, curious, always, different, maybe (then ‘different’ to what?), but not impenetrable and not obscure.

Not even, in that sense, mysterious, really: there are so very few mysteries in the universe, apart from the multiverse of all possible universes itself, and that, too, is only a matter of consciousness and the cumulative number of brain cells firing at it: one day it will be just another reality too. Like blossoms, like spring. Like the awakening, too.

I’m getting better at this, being me. This walk seems to be doing wonders…


< Venus       Saturn >


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10 Secrets, No Lies

Everything can be true, to a greater or lesser extent.

Is what I imagine any less real than what I say before I do it, and when I do it is it then real or could I forget it and make it undone, or could I apologise for my faults, of which there are many, to myself, even, and having done so be forgiven, even by myself, or could I be better or worse than I am and still be the same, or is what’s in my mind any different to what’s on the screen black on white, and should I edit. And prune. And emend.

The bit of me that thinks I have no chance of survival outwith the trappings of civilisation knows that even this is as much true and as much false as I want it to be. Must everything be known, and to whom? Even my deepest inadequacies?

I stood in his bathroom, for no reason other than that I was round his house because he was helping me out by doing a piece of work for me that I couldn’t then do myself. The first time I saw him I was sitting at a desk in a large open room where maybe a dozen or so other people sat at or by desks, and we were all working on a project that was very exciting. It was exciting not because it had any meaning, but because the task was formidable, the challenge demanding, the technology thrilling; and the people assembled were good: they had crest-of-the-wave, or, as one of them liked to put it, ‘bleeding edge’ competencies. (I’m not sure I like the word ‘competencies’, but still; that’s the kind of context we are talking about…) There was no more of a point to any of it than there ever was to any of these corporate projects, beyond making a big brand look like what its executives could be coaxed into thinking was ‘cool’, and apart from one product that this particular project now helped this particular brand launch that was pretty crap on the inside but won hands down on design, the world would not have been any worse a place without any of what we were doing being done, but as I was sitting at my desk, making up inane scenarios of attractive young people using handsets, in walked the most attractive young person I thought I had ever seen. (If you imagine this as a film, here is where the music swells and—depending on genre and era—we may just go into slow motion.)

Since then, and several years of sporadically working together later, we had settled into a comfortable arrangement whereby I adored him and he let me do so. I once drunkenly at a party told him that I would never do anything to jeopardise our friendship, and he, similarly drunkenly, had shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of ‘that’s good to know,’ I can’t quite remember. Whenever we went out as a group, which we did now and then before he got married, I completely failed to disguise being smitten, which, after a while, became something of a running gag in said group: I adored him, he let me. There was nothing more to it. Now I’d asked him for a favour and he’d graciously said yes. I went round his house to help him do the work he was helping me out with and I went to the bathroom and there hung two of his shirts.

Maybe not everything needs to be told. Maybe some things are best left unsaid. Imaginations run wild. I stood close to his shirts that hung from a hook or a line on two hangers and guided one to my face and inhaled. Or did I think I would like to but couldn’t? It was as if he were in the room: for a moment I felt, this is you. Two seconds, three seconds, four seconds, five. That’s enough. You don’t cling on to that which undoes you. Or maybe you do, in your mind.

This is and remains my unending flaw (I want to say ‘tragic’ but ‘farcical’ would be more accurate): the realities of my heart are unhinged. I meet somebody, I fall for them, I imagine the world adjusted and changed, and project onto them my idea of perfection and see a settled ideal that requires no more explanation. The other person, more likely than not, is oblivious to any of this, and if I make the mistake to draw their attention to it and make them aware, they annihilate me with bewildered indifference, not unkind but bemused, not intentional, but lethal.

George has been looking at me as if he were studying me, and I still wonder does he know who I am. Not ‘know’ as in possess factual evidence, of which none can exist, but know as in sense, as in experience that profound certainty—inaccurate though it may be—that you have when you are in a reality that compels.

Ahmed arrives with our second mojito, and I think there would be something tremendously entertaining about getting drunk with myself. That would undoubtedly loosen things up, I fancy, if we both simply got plastered. Then again, it’s still only about two, two thirty in the afternoon, I still don’t know why I’m here at the Limonlu Bahçe in Istanbul and I can’t begin to think where I’ll be spending the night, but then there is really no hurry about any of this, and it occurs to me: we could go for a walk, but that would entail leaving this delectable oasis, it would mean dodging traffic and weaving through throngs of people, and it would mean being reminded that there is a world out there that is simply there and cannot, in essence, be argued with, whereas here, in the speckled shade of the trees, and with Ahmed and his angular colleague our waiters, and with the mojitos softening the edges of perception, and with George in clearly no more of a hurry than I am, I feel safe and, more than comfortable, content. Content just to be, and to be for a little while longer.

I look at him and think: you’re going to be just fine. Just don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made and keep making, right to this day. I can be so very inept, sometimes. He looks back at me, and I think he knows what I mean. And I say: ‘I do not understand my heart at all.’ And I don’t.


< 9 Dust     {Seasons} >


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1 Juice

Of course, I think for a moment, he didn’t actually say that, I just heard that, I just imagined him saying that, I just made that up, because I think it would be interesting. Or would it?

I realise I need to press pause. But he looks at me with this frankness, still, with this openness. If only I could remember meeting me then, then it might make more sense for him to be saying he imagines himself meeting someone like me now. Or was it a joke? I don’t remember being much given to jokes. I don’t think I was humourless, though I was, undoubtedly, earnest.

I need to press pause, metaphorically, on these ‘proceedings’ (they’re not really going anywhere fast) and allow myself to remember what mattered. And what didn’t. Before I say anything more. But can I leave him just hanging there, right in front of me? I can’t. Can I just ignore what he’s said as if he hadn’t said it and I had just imagined him saying it? I could, but that might be rude, and rudeness is unacceptable, therefore I can’t. Can I ask him if he really meant that, if he actually knows who I am? Well, I can, but say he doesn’t know who I am, say it was just a throwaway remark, say it was just me being a little bit clever, a tiny tad ‘interesting’ all off my own bat, at the age of twenty, twenty-one, then how do I explain to him what I mean, without disturbing his own reality? Is his reality not already disturbed? Mine certainly is. But then I also realise I’m suddenly rather enjoying this.

Up until almost this precise moment I had been greatly disconcerted—not in a profoundly distressed or let alone panicked manner, just really, really unsure of what on earth was going on—but now, maybe jolted by his answer, I feel I’ve just come up for air. I can float in this sea of uncertainty now. Accept it for what it is, even not knowing what it is. That, it strikes me as suddenly obvious, will have to somehow become my new state of being, for quite some time.

I give him a smile that says, ‘I do understand,’ although clearly I don’t, and enquire just a nudge further: ‘I mean in life, what do you see yourself doing?’

His skin is incredibly smooth. I don’t recall touching my skin when it was that smooth, that soft. I don’t feel like touching it now, though I do wish I could hold him, just to make him feel safe. Then again, I rarely if ever did not feel safe at that age, and seeing that this is me not some stranger—although for all I know about or of him, he might as well be an alien—I just look at him, look at me. ‘You’re a writer,’ I say, not questioning, stating.

‘I am,’ he says, happy, it seems, that this is so evident; though: ‘how did you guess?’

Ah. That turns everything around once more. He doesn’t know who I am. How could he, in his life I don’t yet exist, other than perhaps in his imagination, but then I remember that at his age I was certain—not vaguely inclined to believe, but convinced—that I would never make it to forty, and here I am, pushing fifty.

I had said so, to my best friend, Peggy: she was appalled. ‘How can you say a thing like that!’ she’d exclaimed upon my assertion, aged nineteen or twenty, that I would not make it to forty. But I saw no reason to be scandalised: for me, when I was aged nineteen or twenty, the idea alone of ever being as ancient as forty was simply absurd. Surely everything—but everything!—worthwhile experiencing, doing, saying or, for that matter, writing, would have been experienced, done, said and most certainly written by then.

I have already outlived my target then by some ten years, and I know now of course that he can’t know who I am because not only doesn’t he know yet that I exist, he doesn’t even believe that I will ever exist. Not because he’s being obstreperous or deliberately controversial or simply obtuse, but because he genuinely can’t imagine it.

This is my chance, this is my opportunity for a pause: if I can make him think then I’ll get the time to think too. There must be, there must be a link between him and me.

‘I saw your notepad and pen,’ I say, playing the ‘I’m an observer kind of a person’ card.

He now for the second time does something that moves me: he shows me the pad. I take that, before I can think it through, as a signal of trust. And I read. As I read, I remember well having written those words. I have my pause button. I have a clasp on my heart. I have left the dimensions I was travelling through to get here. I can, at last, reconcile.

Or at least I can try…

*

i should point out
that i’m not real

the
juice
that courses through my body
is not
squeezed
by ordinary means

i want to know how things happen.
i want to know how it happens that you see somebody
not even meet them
see somebody
from a distance
enter a room, for example
and think
(you don’t
think, you go, though
just to yourself:)
‘yes
that’s him
that’s
the one’
(even though you know
it will turn out
that it isn’t)

how does this happen
it’s ludicrous
you don’t even know him:
it is
insane

i
undress him in my mind, imagine him
naked.
i don’t do this immediately
it’s not something i
jump to
like a conclusion
it’s something i resist for a moment
then for another
and for another
until enough moments have passed
an hour or so later, maybe two (sometimes
a whole day or more may pass before i feel it is
acceptable
before i feel ready) to imagine him
naked. i
touch
his body in my mind, his
chest, my
extended fingers spread, gently run
over the mound of his biceps:
delectable
my
other hand now cups around his waist, just above his
hip
and draws him a little closer, close enough that i can
when i lower my head
just a little
inhale
the scent of his
body
musk with a warm sweet sweat of
excitement

i
zonk out of it
just in time: i don’t want him
there yet
not yet, we have not even yet said

hello.


(<) DIMENSIONS — 12 The Sultaness (Revisited)

2 Memories of the Present: Hangover >


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