Written today and first published here
She was a Victorian lady turned by the designer museum into a model of the 21st century, with anachronistic props such as swish half-moon eye-shades that she sported on her nose and an over-large plastic hoop that she tried – in an ungainly pose – to spin around her bustle-skirted middle.
“Stand there!” shouted the queue-guide, as he paraded a small party of adults in jeans and T-shirts past the Victorian lady’s clumsy attempts to be both herself and a model of a modernity that she did not yet understand – hence these mis-choreographed cavortings labelled: “Welcome the missing back”.
The self-conscious audience stood ‘there’ as instructed and looked up at the epitome of an art ‘happening’ or ‘installation’: the biggest selling-point of which was that the lady was a real Victorian, still wearing the clothes she was wearing when snatched by a latter-day Time Machine and planted here today. Her spoken English was so quaint that it needed translation. With no evidence to the contrary, nobody had before realised that people must have used phonetics differently then.
Suddenly, unseen by the queue-guide and the rest of the audience-party, a little girl (just woken from bed judging by her appearance) passed along the edge of the gallery slowly bowling a hoop – a hoop smaller than the Victorian lady’s and made of wood.
The Victorian lady alone spotted this small plaintive figure and shouted with enormous passion a few sounds that could be configured into: “Petite Madeleine!”
And with an unlikely Proustian grasp of the Portuguese language shaped into an alien tongue, memories flooded back all skewed and warped. A Time Machine was evidently not a very efficient method to heal injustice or pardon guilt or secure innocence or order the correct course of events. Time Machines were the cause of their own non-existence. Once you had sufficient scientific know-how to create one, you simply knew that you would never believe that one could be created at all because disbelief in Time Machines would be suddenly inbred rather than learnt. Self-evidently.
The small girl was no longer to be seen.
The gallery was quickly emptied by the queue-guide, leaving the Victorian lady 'installation' alone with dislodged shades revealing a real blood-smeared teardrop streaking the white of one eye from within the eyeball rather than from outside it. The saddest sight of all. Tears that didn’t need tear-ducts to become tears.
The over-large plastic hoop later fell to the empty floor and rolled towards where the small girl had seemed to have stood by the wall, but toppled over with an echoey clatter before reaching.