LONWEB PARALLEL TEXTS
Crystal Jones © 2011
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was raining cats and dogs and Opal’s windscreen wiper was working overtime.
“Rain wasn’t forecast at all,”
reminded herself. Then suddenly the torrent stopped just as she arrived at
the market place.
“Sorry Opal, but there’s been a burst drain pipe near your stall and it’s
“Oh no!” Opal exclaimed in dismay. “What am I going to do now?”
“Sorry, but I’ve got nowhere to put you, the market’s full today!” replied
“Excuse me,” called out a rather bedraggled tired-looking red-headed man
behind the stall opposite Opal’s usual place. “If you don’t mind sharing, I
can give you half my space - I haven’t got a lot of merchandise anyway!”
“That’s very kind of you. I’d be glad to,” replied Opal. “You’re new here,
aren’t you?” she asked him.
“Yes. It’s my first day. I’ve never had a market stall before."
“You’ll soon get used to it. As soon as I get settled, I’ll pull out my
thermos and we can have a hot drink of tea, if you like. It’s still pretty
cold even though it isn’t raining any more. By the way, my name’s Opal.”
“And mine is Ross Karenowski. Very pleased to meet you.”
Soon Opal and Ross were sipping hot tea and munching jam tart. “My
mother prepares my packed lunch and puts in a bit of everything she has
in the house.”
“If you need more room for your books I can put some of my records back
in the van if you like.”
“No, don’t worry. How come you decided to sell vintage LPs, Ross?” asked
“Well, when my parents wanted to downsize their home, they thought of
throwing out their old records but I had the idea of selling them at the
market instead. I managed to find some other people who wanted to get
rid of stuff and - here we are!”
“How much are you going to charge for them, Ross?”
“Honestly I haven’t the faintest idea. See what happens,” replied Ross
who seemed to be a bit more animated than before. “You see, I’m an ex
SAS and I had no idea what work I wanted to do.” Ross was beginning to
open up. “I went through a bit of therapy as I was feeling depressed and
it was suggested that I should try to communicate with people in a new
sort of way. I’d never done any selling or anything like that, so I
thought of starting off with something uncomplicated. A market stall
seemed to be a good option.”
“Well, you are right," Opal commented. “I’ve made all sorts of new
friends since I started selling books - and it’s brought me luck too!”
“Well,” said Ross thoughtfully, “if I make enough money to pay for my
expenses today I can count myself lucky. You know, you feel differently
about things when you’ve done what I did. Fighting in a country you
didn’t know much about before. Well, I was living a different sort of
existence, it felt like a parallel existence, really. Or maybe this
is a parallel existence, I still don’t know.”
“How very interesting. Mm... parallel...” Opal remained silent for a
Shazia, who had a vegetable and fruit stall, dropped by for a few
minutes to take Opal’s order.
“The usual things, please, Shazia, new potatoes if you’ve still got
some, broccoli, turnip tops, beetroot and fresh salad. Do you need some
fresh vegetables or fruit, Ross?”
“Yes, why not? I’ll pop over to your stall, Shazia, and see what you’ve
got!” replied a more cheered up Ross.
People seemed to be disappearing from the market-place and Opal got out
her sketch book and began drawing some strange shapes. “Er..., I wonder
if it would work,” she mumbled to herself. “Yes, I think so. I’ll have
to try that tomorrow!”
“What do you think, Brendan?” asked Opal. She had brought down a picture
she had been painting for the last three days.
“Oh, there are no upside-down people this time!” exclaimed Brendan.
“Mm... it looks like a good composition to me but, as you know, I’m no
“Do you like it?” insisted Opal.
“Yes, I do, but it’s rather... unusual!” commented Brendan.
“You know what Bren, I’ll call Ed Hundersford and ask him to come over
and give me his opinion.”
“Well Opal, you’ve done it again! This is splendid. Quite Giottoish in
“Really? Er... perhaps," murmured Opal.
“Yes, soft reds and browns and beiges. You’ve got these miniature
paintings all connecting to other paintings through a system of painted
craquelures. Brilliant. It represents parallel universes of course!” Ed
“Yes, it does,” confirmed Opal.
“This painting here in the centre at the bottom is us humans looking at
the moon and wondering what life is all about,” continued Ed explaining
what he saw to himself. “It leads through a single craquelure to
another miniature painting which is in a balloon sort of shape where we
can see some strange human-like beings with huge lungs who have just
come out of the sea.”
“It’s a bit too complex perhaps?” asked Opal.
“No, no, I wouldn’t say that at all. Ah," Ed paused a while, then he
nodded, “this miniature at the top shows us beings who live on another
planet, maybe, who all have breathing masks or are carrying them ready
to put on. Anyway, all the miniatures flow and blend into other
miniatures and seem to swirl around these parallel universes. Some seem
to be in a vortex blending its colours, therefore camouflaging itself.
They can’t see each other but, occasionally, there is a link where a
particle of one universe slides, or creeps into another parallel
The sun was shining as though it had been doing so for months on end.
“It’s just the sort of weather to enjoy at the seaside, isn't it?” Opal
remarked to Becky, as she cellotaped the usual photos of her paintings
up on the stall.
“It certainly is,” replied the nurse. No sooner had she said this when
the sky seemed to darken over a little and they heard the sound of
thunder in the distance.
“Well, we couldn’t expect it to last for long. I’d better hurry up and
choose some more books for next week. I’m on nights.”
“Ross,” called out Opal as she saw him leaving his stall. “I’d like to
have a word with you!”
“All right. I just have to take this pile of records to a customer’s car
which is parked along the street. I’ll be right back.”
Ross was looking much better and seemed to enjoy chatting to the various
types of people who inquired after his records. “Look, Ross, I told
Brendan about you and we had an idea. As you’ve been in the SAS you can
“Yes, of course,” replied the surprised Ross.
Opal continued, “Well, as you know, Brendan has still got his leg in
plaster and can’t get out yet, so he was wondering if you’d like to
substitute him for the time being. The car is lying there idle. If
you’re interested, you could take people to the airport and do jobs like
that at the beginning.”
“I think I’d like that. Can I come over and have a chat with Brendan?”
The next morning Opal was simultaneously loading the washing machine,
clearing up after breakfast and preparing lunch when the phone rang.
“Opal,” it was Ed Hundersford. “Look, I was speaking to a client of
mine, Lindon Chappel Gore. He’s the founder of a new charity which will
help homeless people to find somewhere to stay. Well, he’s probably
interested in buying one of your pictures.”
“You’re not thinking of reselling Common Sense, are you?”
“No, no Opal. I’m not going to sell Common Sense to anybody, it’s mine
for keeps! Anyway, Chappel Gore came into my shop to look for something
he wants to put in the entrance hall of his first home for the
“I see, what sort of building is it?” asked Opal.
“It used to be an old cinema and has just been refurbished. It will be
opening shortly and he wants something suitable to complement what he is
trying to do, but he’s not quite sure what exactly! Well, to cut a long
story short, I took him up to my flat to show him Common Sense, which he
liked, and told him you had a new painting which could be exactly what
he is looking for. He’ll be popping in on Wednesday morning to see a
beautiful polished table I’ve lined up for him and at the same time we
could show him your picture, if you like.”
“If I like? I’ll be there as soon as the cock crows!” joked Opal.
“I must say it’s very impressive!" remarked Mr. Chappel Gore. Opal
smiled happily at the thought that her painting was understood and
Mr. Chappell Gore continued, “I feel this picture has something which
resonates with what we are trying to express about our Parallel
Homes. That’s what we’ll call them.”
“What a coincidence, my painting is called Parallel Universes!”
Chappel Gore breathed in deeply and said, “It’s not a mere coincidence,
Opal. You see, that’s what happens when something is right. Two people
think in the same way!”
Ed butted in, “This is intriguing, Mr. Chappel Gore. Why did you call
them Parallel Homes? I thought that homeless people just needed a home.”
Chappel Gore answered quietly, “You know, people don’t understand that
the street can be someone’s actual home. It’s not always hell on earth.
It’s not always something that others impose on them. Sometimes it’s
something people themselves choose and feel is their new home, what I
like to call a parallel home. All places can be a parallel home,
even an open space, but it must meet one’s needs, which may be safety,
an identity or where bonds are made.”
“I see what you mean,” broke in Opal. “After all, not all peoples live
in brick houses - the Bedouins live under the stars, many poor people in
India live permanently on the pavement, and quite a lot of Orientals
live on boats. When Man was born, the forest was his home and, later on,
a cave. In my painting I too was trying to represent the fact that
people have different ways of living all the world over, and that we
must understand this and even try to embrace it!”
“Exactly,” said Chappel Gore. “I couldn’t agree more. I also think that
“homeless” people, even though I don’t like this definition at all, are
entitled to their dignity. If you rob someone of his dignity he is
rendered helpless, lost, he has no future. Here at Parallel Homes we are
simply offering an alternative - a closed space where one can rest, wash
oneself, have a meal and feel safe.”
Ed felt he needed a further explanation. “I like the concept of the
street being called a parallel home, but why exactly did you call this
house a parallel home as well?”
“Because when two lines are parallel, you can’t say that one is parallel
and the other is not, they are both parallel!”
After the family had all gathered round to hear the good news, Jane
cornered Opal, “Mum, what are you going to wear to the inauguration of
“I really don’t know yet, dear."
“Also, we’d better overhaul your make-up for the occasion,” Jane added.
“How about a gothic look, mum? I think purple streaks in your hair would
Opal decided to accept Jane’s offer of borrowing her newly acquired
leggings and tunic to make her look more trendy, but stopped short at a
too eccentric make-over.
“Now let me introduce you to Mrs. Applegate, who is the institution’s
secretary, and other members of the staff: Ms. Raj and Mr. Nandobe, who
are also looking after Parallel Homes,” said Chappel Gore taking Opal by
There was a pleasant atmosphere: journalists took photographs and asked
questions about the purpose of this safe house for the homeless and one
of them interviewed Opal briefly about her painting.
After a while a sturdy bearded man who seemed to be in charge of the
inauguration came over to Opal.
“Congratulations on your painting! It’s very original indeed!” he
remarked. “My name’s Angus and I work for Mr. Chappel Gore. We’ve been
on this project for the last two years, and now we’ve got it going at
last!" He had a strong Glaswegian accent.
“Excuse me Angus - I need to have a word with you," said Mr. Chappel
Gore beckoning him, “Could you just come into the office? While I think
of it, don’t forget to...” as they disappeared into the office.
“Have you tried these canapés, Opal? They’re delicious,” said Mrs.
Applegate. “And what about a glass of white wine? I think we both
deserve one, don’t we?” and seeing Angus returning to the party, “I bet
you won’t refuse a smoked salmon appetiser?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Applegate. My stomach, you know...” said Angus
“Oh Ed,” said Opal seeing her friend. “Thanks for getting it right -
your frame is absolutely perfect for my picture!”
“Well, actually I was a little in doubt between two alternatives but
Sally recommended this one and I saw she was right. You know she’s got
very good taste. Ah, here she is!” said Ed seeing his wife approaching.
The next morning at the market Ross came over to speak to Opal.
“You know I started working for Brendan yesterday. I took a chap to
Luton airport!" he said proudly.
“Oh, that’s lovely. Did everything go all right?"
“Yes. At first I was a bit panic-stricken but then the client, an
American, started chatting to me and I felt much better. He told me that
he was an army man as well. I think I’m going to enjoy doing this!”
“I’m so glad,” said Opal. “I too had quite a day at the inauguration of
Parallel Homes. A journalist even interviewed me when he discovered I
had painted the picture hanging up in the hall. It was all very
“Good for you, Opal!”
“Oh,” she remarked, “I must have forgotten to charge my mobile - it’s
“We’ve got the same type of mobile, Opal. I’ll go and see if I’ve got
another battery in the boot of my car.” Then lowering his voice Ross
murmured, “Opal, there’s a chap looking very keenly at the photos of
Opal turned round and asked the man politely, “Can I help you?”
The young man started, ”Er... are you the artist Opal?”
“Yes, but how do you know my name?" she replied.
“Because... because I’m interested in art - and I like these paintings,”
he said hesitatingly.
Opal sensed something wasn’t quite right. “And do you like the style I
paint in? I was inspired by the school of Ernst Brakkenem, of course.
You are familiar with it, I imagine?”
”Of course... er... I am!” he replied.
”Strange, there is no Ernst Brakkenem school, nor a painter, as far as I
know. I just invented the name!” Opal quipped.
rather unpleasant and ruthless young man
knew he was defeated and suddenly pointed a smartphone in Opal’s face
ready to record.
“All right, I am an investigative journalist for The Daily Portal,
my name is Clay Brooks and I just want to ask you a few questions. How
come your picture was in the entrance hall of Parallel Homes? And how
much were you paid for it?”
“Whatever’s going on? Why are you asking me all these questions?” asked
the amazed Opal.
“Because of the theft of your painting last night!” he retorted.
“What - my painting has been stolen?” replied Opal completely taken
aback. “Are you sure?”
“Come on, Opal,” replied Clay Brooks. “You must know about it. It’s in
all the newspapers. Parallel Homes was burgled last night and your
picture was spirited away. Look!” He thrust into Opal’s hand a copy of
the Daily Portal open at an article entitled ‘Burglary at
“In fact it’s a very strange thing that only your picture was stolen!”
he went on. “Are you sure you don’t know anything about it? Maybe you
regretted selling it and wanted it back?” The man became more and more
Opal was confused, “Did I want it back? Well, I missed it, er..., but I
was happy to sell it too. My husband - everybody knows... er...,”
replied Opal rather incoherently.
“Oh yes, your husband Brendan, I interviewed him before coming here.”
The young man continued in his persecution. “Your husband said that he
felt the picture was part of the family. Did he have Parallel Homes
burgled to get it back for you?”
“You’re really talking nonsense, you know. Please go away.” Now Opal was
“By the way, how did you come to meet Lindon Chappel Gore?”
“I'm not telling you anything else. Go away, or I’ll call the police.”
said Opal decisively.
“Actually, I already know everything,“ Clay Brooks said unpleasantly.
“Need any help, Opal?” it was Ross who had come over. He looked even
taller than usual and had a frightening expression on his face.
“All right, all right. I’m just doing my job...” pleaded the journalist
when he saw the ex SAS arriving.
“And I’ll be doing mine, if you don’t just disappear,” Ross menaced.
Clay Brooks decided the odds were against him and made himself scarce.
Opal sat down behind her stall to read the article in The Daily
Portal. “What on earth is happening?” she said to herself. “I can’t
believe that a painting of mine has been actually stolen. I can’t
imagine who could want to steal it. It’s not as though it’s worth a lot
She had always had problems like everybody else and was usually
moderately confident that they could be solved in one way or another.
Now, the mention of the theft of her picture hit her where she was
weakest. Her pictures were still part of herself and not yet objects
meant to be sold to the public. Yes, she deemed herself lucky that her
first painting had been purchased by someone who sincerely appreciated
it and that the second was destined to become a symbol of parallel
Then a thought really shook her. Ed was an ex-burglar! Could it be that
it was Ed who had stolen the picture? She knew he was in sincere
admiration of Parallel Universes. Had he liked it so much that he stole
it away for himself?
Opal began to tremble and tears came to her eyes. “I couldn’t bear
that,” she thought. Then, thinking more rationally, she said to herself,
“No, Opal, don’t be stupid! You know you don’t really feel that at all.
You’re just panicking!”
Now another frightening thought came to her mind. That horrible
journalist might even be able to find out that Ed had once been a
burglar and start dragging his name in the mud. Opal decided to drive
over to his shop straight away and warn him.
When Opal arrived, she found the antiques shop closed. As Ed lived above
it, she rang the bell to see if he was at home. “Won’t be a minute,
Opal,” replied Ed over the doorphone.
He came down to his shop and invited Opal inside. “I was just preparing
a spot of lunch because my wife’s gone over to Kingsmart court. Sally’s
a magistrate, you know."
Opal tried not to show her surprise that Ed’s past as a burglar hadn’t
stopped his marrying a magistrate. She explained why she was there in
“I see..." reflected Ed. ”You must be feeling terrible. I know you put
everything into your art. Anyway, don’t worry about this Clay Brooks -
if he comes here, I’ll be ready for him."
Just then someone banged on the door.
“Opal - go into the back room just in case it’s the reporter!”
Ed went to the door and unlocked it.
It was Clay Brooks. “May I have a look around?”
“Er... you can’t hear a sound?” replied Ed raising his voice in
the way of people who are deaf.
“No... er... my name is Clay Brooks....” the journalist replied.
No, I don’t deal in books,” shouted Ed.
“I’m looking for a nice chair,” said the reporter after cursing under
“You’re looking for something rare...? Well, what for instance?"
Clay was starting to get nervous.
“Come on, young man, do you want to buy something or not? I haven’t got
Clay Brooks gave up and made his way out of the shop. Ed and Opal, happy
their ruse had worked, went out to buy some newspapers and returned to
the shop. Shortly after Sally arrived and they all went up to the flat
to have a sandwich and look at the papers.
“It’s such an incredible story,” remarked Sally. “It just goes to show,
someone must have realised the value of your picture!”
“That may well be,” intervened Ed, “but selling it is not going to be so
easy, especially now that the papers have got hold of the story!”
“That’s strange, I can‘t find anything about it in any other newspaper
other than The Daily Portal” said Sally. “I hope this reporter
didn‘t steal the picture himself just to make up a story for his paper!”
“I think we should have a word with the staff at Parallel Homes and see
if we can find out something concrete.” said Opal.
“Good idea,” agreed Ed. “Why don’t we all pop up there now?” He fetched
his car and they all drove up to Parallel Homes. It was nearly five
o’clock before they got there and rang the doorbell.
“Opal! So you’ve heard the news?” exclaimed Mrs. Applegate, the
“Unfortunately Mrs. Applegate, a very unpleasant journalist informed me
about it!” answered Opal.
“Oh, he must be the same one I spoke to this morning as soon as I
arrived, a very aggressive chap. A police constable came to write a
report after that but he didn’t comment on the matter.”
“I suppose you have informed Mr. Chappel Gore?” asked Opal.
“No, I haven’t, because he left for Australia before I arrived this
morning. His son is getting married there. In fact the inauguration of
Parallel Homes was put forward as he knew he had to go away.”
“That’s right,” Ed confirmed, “I had to finish making a frame for your
picture very quickly Opal, otherwise it wouldn’t have been shown at the
Mrs. Applegate looked at her watch. “I should be off home now, but I’m
waiting for Angus to arrive - he stays here all night to look after the
She looked at her watch again, “Oh my goodness, he really is late.
That’s funny, usually he’s extremely punctual!” she said as she dialled
his telephone number.
Opal whispered to Ed, “Do you think he’s involved in the burglary and
has just slipped away?”
“From what I saw of him I wouldn’t judge him to be the type at all...
but one never knows,” he whispered back.
“He’s not answering, I think I’d better phone Mr. Nandobi to ask him to
come and stay the night here,” decided Mrs. Applegate. Just then someone
rang the door bell.
Mrs. Applegate pressed the buzzer on her desk and in walked two men with
toolboxes and coils of wire and other equipment in their hands.
“Pearson Electrics. We’ve come to install the burglar alarm for the
painting,” one of them announced.
“Well, it’s a bit late for that, to be sure,” said Mrs. Applegate. “The
painting isn’t here any more!”
“Not here? Look, I don’t think you understand. Angus phoned us yesterday
to have a burglar alarm put in. As we couldn’t come immediately we made
an appointment for about six o’clock this evening! He said he’d be
“Funny, he didn’t tell anybody about it!” replied Mrs. Applegate.
Suddenly the phone rang, “Is that Mrs. Applegate I’m speaking to?” the
“This is Heartfield’s Hospice. I’m Nurse Collins. We’ve got a patient
here, Angus McKenzie.”
“Oh my goodness! Angus... what’s wrong, has he had an accident?”
At this point Mrs. Applegate switched on the speakerphone so that all
could here the telephone conversation.
“He’s asked me to inform you he’s had an emergency operation, an
“Oh no! poor Angus... but how is he now?”
“He’s still recovering. The operation went well but he had a bit of a
reaction to the anaesthetic. Do you think you could come and see him as
he said he’s got a very important message for you..."
Voices could be heard giving out orders and hospital trolleys
being wheeled about the ward.
“Mr. McKenzie, what are you doing? Get back to bed immediately!”
In the background Angus could be heard begging the nurse to let him use
the phone as it was an emergency. Finally the nurse gave in. “All right,
as a special exception to the rule. Just one minute though - no longer!”
“Thank you, nurse," replied Angus in a weak voice. “Mrs. Applegate!” Now
he sounded breathless. “I must tell you something. Mr. Chappel Gore...
had asked me... to have a burglar alarm... installed for the painting as
soon as possible... and to take it home for safety’s sake if they
couldn’t come immediately.”
Opal felt relieved, “That means the picture is safe!” she thought. “It
was all a storm in a teacup!”
“So the painting is at your home now?” asked Mrs. Applegate.
“Yes... no! You see... I soon began to feel ill again... do you
remember... I had a terrible pain in my stomach during the inauguration?
The pain got worse... and I knew I’d never be able... to get the picture
to my home... so I decided to put it... oh... my head’s swimming," Angus
faltered. “I can’t remember... where I put it. Please look for it!”
His voice broke off and the line went dead.
“Well, what shall we do now?" asked the bewildered Mrs. Applegate, “The
electricians are still waiting.”
“Why don’t we just all go off in different directions and search for
it!” Opal suggested. Sally and Opal went to explore the rooms upstairs
while Ed and Mrs. Applegate looked in the basement and on the ground
After about twenty minutes Opal and Sally came down the stairs
empty-handed. “No luck," commented Opal looking down in the mouth. The
two electricians were still there wondering how much longer they would
be kept waiting.
Opal was now wandering around the entrance hall searching for
inspiration. She felt dismayed. Mrs. Applegate, lost in thought,
unlocked a door leading onto the office.
“Mrs. Applegate, what’s in there?” asked Opal not having noticed there
was a room there before.
“It’s the locker room, I’m just going to fetch my cardigan as it‘s
getting quite chilly,” replied Mrs. Applegate.
Opal and the others followed her into the room as she opened her locker.
“Hello, what’s this?" Ed said fingering a tiny piece of dark blue and
silver wrapping paper sticking out of the locked door of the closet
right next to Mrs. Applegate’s. “When I brought Parallel Universes here,
I wrapped it up in blue and silver paper exactly like this!”
“That’s Angus’s locker!”
“Can we open it? The picture could be in there!” urged Opal.
“There’s a master key, Opal, but it wouldn’t be right to... Ok, I'll go
and fetch it," said Mrs. Applegate understanding the necessity.
Opal turned to Sally, “I can‘t stand the suspence.”
When Mrs. Applegate came back she put the key in the lock but it was of
no use. “I can’t open it," she said. “The lock must have been changed.”
Opal exclaimed, “Oh no!"
“Let’s have a look,” said Ed pulling out a bunch of keys and a small
screwdriver from his inside pocket. He then inserted a key into the lock
and then another and then another.
“Ed used to work for security, Mrs. Applegate,” explained Sally. “He’s
such a handyman about the house. He can mend pretty much anything!”
Opal wondered if Sally was being economical with the truth or if, in
fact, she actually knew about Ed’s past as a burglar and was just trying
to protect him.
Ed finally managed to open Angus’s locker.
“Right! and here’s the blanket I used as a cover to protect Parallel
Universes when I brought it here,” he said pulling the blanket away and
revealing Opal’s picture.
“Here’s the loot!” he added, laughing heartily.
Opal had her usual appointment at the market the next morning but
arrived rather late. Ross looked perplexed.
“What’s up, Ross?” asked Opal.
“Er... I was just looking at The Daily Portal... there’s another
article about your picture,” he said handing Opal the newspaper.
‘Undisclosed sources have revealed that the stolen picture from Parallel
Homes was mysteriously found somewhere near the building last night.
What is the explanation behind this incredible story? Did the burglar’s
evil deed prick his conscience so much that he brought the picture back?
Or did he feel that the police was closing in on him? Probably we shall
“Oh Ross, I‘m so glad that‘s the end of the story and that it really was
a storm in a teacup. Now I’m just going to relax and get on with my
When Opal arrived home that evening she opened a letter which informed
her of jury service the following week.
E E N D