Looking at me on the far side of the room, he waved the white feather. “It is a tragedy,” he said.
It was my turn to sigh. “Your play or the fact I’m stuck here watching you denude the geese of England?”
“Why cannot Richard III cry out on Bosworth Field: ‘Sod the horse, get me the hell out of here!’?”
“Bill, I haven’t got time to workshop this. Richard must cowboy-the-hell-up and battle Henry Tudor’s lads. Just write: ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!’”
Shakespeare’s Italian lace collar bobbed in time with his nodding head. Hefting a goblet of sack, he drained it in a gulp. “I am too tired to argue but I shall despair. There is no creature loves me.”
“Park that thought. We might be able to whisk it into this histrionic soufflé.”
An alarm beeped in my jacket pocket. Midnight. I had to leave 1592. “I’ll be back in a week. Please put a purse of gold on the chimneypiece.”
The EzyTimehopper (pat. pending) was parked where I’d left it with alley rats sniffing at its black casing. Inside, I went straight to a gleaming loo. Call me a fussbudget, but the 16th Century’s approach to sanitation was somewhat cavalier. Time Traveller’s tip: avoid shaking hands before the 20th Century.
Within an hour I was standing in a dreary room with all the charm of a morgue, straightening a quilt on Wilde’s bed. The November cold seeped through the window cracks, bringing with it the sounds of the Parisienne streets below. Wilde’s skin had a waxworks sheen. He looked ill and wary. He knew why I was there.
“Oscar, there’s the delicate matter of my fees.”
“Well deserved fees. As soon as I am well, I will see they are paid in full. I cannot afford to die.”
I heard myself say: “Hmmm.”
With difficulty, he turned his head towards the shabby wall. “I am not Wilde about the wallpaper.”
Patting him on the shoulder, I said: “Here’s a thought: drop that line. Instead, when the next person comes into this room, say: ‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.’”
“I will. Please put the remark on my bill.”
Farewell to Oscar and 1900.
Thankfully, there was only one more client appointment on this shift. Travelling backwards and forwards through time pimping up the works of writers who’d otherwise be struggling may sound glamorous, but you try rushing home to remove Elizabethan lice from your nether regions.
After the gloom of Paris, the Cuban sun was blinding. I could smell cats. He had a thing about them. Mostly strays, I soon saw them dotted along Finca Vigia’s balcony, soaking up the heat.
Being greeted at the front door by Hemingway in an unbuttoned shirt was like confronting a wall of hair. “Ever considered depilatories?” I asked as he led me into a casually decorated room.
If he heard me, he ignored the question. Instead he fixed us Montgomery Martinis. I was on my second before I spoke again: “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilised.”
“Now you are quoting me to me.” He seemed pleased.
“Technically, I think you’ll find I penned that.”
“It’s been – what? – twenty years. Tomorrow is what counts. I am checking into a hotel in Havana to start a book. It will be the best I can write ever for all of my life.”
“Have you got a working title?”
“The Young Boy and The Sea.”
I helped myself to another martini. “Let me stop you right there, Papa. I’ve got an idea.”
Copyright © 2013 GREG FLYNN