My triplet opens the door, taking the lead for the first time. We breathe in spicy warmth after the emptiness outside. The place is crowded, noisy with chatter and steam. I smell coffee, milk, detergents, sugar, humans and something else. One small child pulls away from his mother, and then stops in front of us, eyes round and the same blue as today’s sky. I don’t want to think of the fight under that terrible sky.
I swing the glass door back to its frame, there is no one behind us. Heads are turning. More eye colours, different shades of brown, grey, green, no pair matching another. Cups are put down. One tilts, spills onto an empty chair. Conversation drops, the machinery behind the counter hisses loud. Two young adults are still intent on their levers, liquids and jugs. A man stands in front of them, square and alert, surely the boss.
To our left, a dog - now that furry scent is identified - looks up, nostrils busy. Surprising, to find such an animal in an eating establishment, we should update the travel guide. My sibling has not noticed, is pawing through our bag.
I wait, and watch the boss man, and the dog. Neither moves yet. I’m grateful to be trusted as guard, now there are only two of us. At last, my sister has her aroma analyser switched on and connected. She gazes around the silence.
“Clearly, dear twin, they are not used to space travellers.” She hooks a claw under her face mask.
“Breathable,” she says, and nods towards the nearest table. “Also edible”.
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft. You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say. I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes. The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup. “I can’t breathe,” you say. The little dog cries all night. You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. Yo…