Here, we have yet another modern-day Phil chapter to be added to the beginning of the novel. In these Phil chapters, you’ll start noticing that I’m beginning to work on Phil’s wife Claire, giving her some context and complexity. This will be important toward the end of the novel.
“Don’t tell me, Cummings,” said Phil. “You robbed the museum gift shop.”
“Very funny, Owens,” Vic returned, shaking the black velvet pouch to finish releasing a myriad of small semi-precious stones onto Redmond’s desk. The medley of crystals, gems, and stones, freed from the depths of Vic’s pocket, glimmered in the lamplight alongside Redmond’s amber. “These babies have been collected on my many parallel quests for multi-layered meaning.”
“Right,” Phil said with a sniff.
In recent months, Vic’s language had changed. He no longer used the word ‘trip’ like everybody else. The word ‘trip’ wasn’t good enough anymore. Oh no. Anytime Vic travelled anywhere beyond the Heath, he was embarking on an ‘inner-outer’ journey, a simultaneous exploration of environment and self. Every trip, therefore, was now a ‘parallel quest’ because, according to Vic, as he moved forward physically, often in his electric car, he was moving on a parallel course within the soulscape of himself. And come to think of it, one of the bones Phil had to pick with Vic (although he never did) was the way in which Vic plunked the most obnoxious terms like ‘these babies’ into what were meant to be enlightening explanations.
“Scoff away, Owens,” Vic said, shaking his head. “Scoff away, but I kid you not, when it comes to manifestation and attracting what you want, these bad boys have got your back 24/7.”
‘These bad boys’, often used by chefs in cooking shows as a queue of sizzling burgers slid from spatula to bun, was another term which drove Phil mad. Not to mention that that specific expression had caused a lot of trouble at 17 Sorely Lane when, whilst following Claire’s all-inclusive guidelines for the Owens’ family language, Phil had referred to the sausages he’d been barbecuing as ‘naughty girls’ and, in doing so, had sent Claire over the edge. Claire’s ‘How Dare You Compare Us to Meat?’ lecture had ensued with the boys quickly contesting that victims of human savagery should be left out of such discussions and that, as long as Phil and Claire were eating the flesh of divine creatures, they’d missed the entire point.
“They’re rocks, for Christ’s sake,” Phil said to Vic, shooing the family episode from his mind. “They’re nice to look at – I’ll give them that. But at the end of the day, they’re just rocks.”
Phil watched uncomfortably as Vic closed his eyes and breathed deeply, massaging the stones apart, forming a bumpy little mosaic in the copper halo emanating from the amber. When Vic pulled his palm away from the mosaic, the glow from Redmond’s amber seemed to overpower the tiny dollops of colour radiating from Vic’s stones.
“These bad boys are not just rocks,” Vic said indignantly, opening his eyes, raising his hands, and hooking air quotes around the word ‘just’. “They are porous entities, receiving and emitting energies of all sorts, giving them incredible powers.”
“Like what?” asked Phil, peering down at the collection.
“Allow me to enlighten you,” Vic returned, leaning in, and plucking the first stone, a mauve one, up. “This one is an amethyst,” he explained. “It absorbs negativity and wards off all evil. And this one,” – the mauve stone was down, a pale orange one picked up in its place – “is citrine. It converts negative energy to positive energy and fuels self-expression. This one,” Vic continued, setting the citrine down and picking up a marbleized stone, “is tiger’s eye, another rock to ward off evil. Oh, and this one,” Vic carried on excitedly, putting the tiger’s eye down and pinching up a pretty aqua-coloured stone, “is turquoise which has potent healing properties and staves off viral infections.”
“How about STD’s,” Phil scoffed dourly. “Does turquoise stave off those?”
“My homemade flavoured condoms are for that,” said Vic as if it were the most natural thing in the world for anyone to say. “But I’ll tell you all about that in a minute.”
“Bloody hell,” Phil muttered in disbelief, instantly fending off images of Vic’s glass ‘flavour bowls’ lined up along his kitchen counter with the condoms, closed with clothes’ pegs, hanging from contraptions and steeping in a variety of flavoured glazes.
“This one is jade,” Vic continued nonchalantly, holding up a green stone. “For mysticism. This one is rose quartz,” he added, setting down the jade and fingering a pink stone. “Great for love and self esteem. And then – just a tick, Owens –”
Phil watched in awe as Vic got up, unzipped his money belt, and retrieved another velvet pouch, opening it up and adding two more pieces – a white one and a red one – to the mix.
“These – oh my God, Owens – these ones? How can I even begin to tell you the magic powers they have? These ones, my friend, are the Rolls Royce of rocks, the be-all and bling-all of semi-precious stones. Moonstone.” He lifted the white piece up from the desk and held it under the desk lamp, showing off its milky shimmer. “And –” He put the moonstone down and raised the red stone to the light. “Red jasper. For sexual energy and virility.”
“Conveniently carried close to your balls,” quipped Phil, rolling his eyes.
“Exactly!” Vic exclaimed, oblivious to Phil’s sarcasm. “Proximity is key for maximum absorption. As far as I’m concerned, this combo here?” Vic paused to scoop up both stones and shake them in his palm. “This combo here is the geologist’s answer to Viagra and Ecstasy all rolled into one. I swear to God, carry around this duo for a fortnight and you’ll be ready to rock-a-bye-babes like there’s no tomorrow –”
“Christ, Vic. Really? Rock-a-bye-babes?”
“You betcha.” And Vic, as obnoxious as all get-out, kissed the red/white combo and plunked it on the open manuscript, rubbing his hands together as if he already had a couple of women on standby for a romp in the Polaroid Room.
“That’s all very well, Cummings,” Phil responded, quickly moving Vic’s moonstone and red jasper from the pages of Aubrey’s masterpiece. “But what good is it if you’re the only one experiencing the effects. It’s not like everyone you’re with is going to have warmed themselves up beforehand with your magic stones. They won’t even know about that sort of stuff.”
“Ah-ha,” said Vic, slapping his bright green thigh. “They won’t need to. And they won’t need to because I entreat them to a rock massage first. It’s a thing, Owens.” Christ. There it was.
Yet another expression pilfered from the young and innocent. Why, for the love of God, why did Vic insist on talking like an American teen?
“You lay your partner down,” Vic carried on in an all-wise tone. “And then, to the light of a hundred soy candles and to Peruvian pan-flute music (which works best for me), you rub the rocks all over their bodies. The rocks take care of the foreplay for you. They radiate their erotic vibes into the receivers’ pores, creating lust-waves like you’ve never imagined.”
“And then what?” scoffed Phil. “You whip out your homemade condoms?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Vic indignantly. “I’m in the process of getting them patented.”
“I’m surprised you don’t have a lawsuit on your hands as flavours have already been done.”
“Not on my flavour scale,” returned Vic. “I happen to be a pioneer with my healthy flavour line. Gogi Berry. Seaweed. Cocoa-Hemp. Honey-Kale. I’m still at the testing stage, mind you. But I kid you not, Owens, they’re 100% fool proof as well as being delicious.”
“And how do you know they’re delicious?” Phil asked, immediately sorry he’d asked.
“It’s like anything, isn’t it?” Vic returned. “You can’t really send something out into the world until you’ve tried it yourself. So, I always taste one. It’s not good enough to sip the glaze. I have to taste the way it interacts with Latex, so I have this shoehorn – used to belong to –”
“That’s enough,” Phil interrupted. “I don’t need to hear any more.”
“Fair enough, Owens,” Vic said with a sigh. “But from what I’ve been seeing in you these days, you could do with a bit of a rock-rub yourself. Don’t take offense to what I’m saying because I only want to help but you’ve been so – so – so closed off these days, you’re going to snap. I feel it, mate. Something is up with you. The change is coming. And I’m here to give you all the tools I can to help you through.”
“I don’t need any of your tools,” retaliated Phil. “Especially not your rock collection. And have you ever stopped to think, Cummings, that your rocks have conflicting powers? For instance, you’re mixing calming rocks with energising ones, romantic ones with lustful ones. What if they all start shooting off vibe at once? I mean seriously, you’ll be so pumped, you’ll lose control of yourself.”
“What’s wrong with losing control of yourself?” Vic said, gathering up his stones and returning them to their pouches. “Judging by your behaviour lately, you could do with letting your hair down.”
“I don’t have any hair to let down if you hadn’t noticed,” Phil huffed.
“Suit yourself,” returned Vic. “But it’s coming, Owens. Your time is coming.”
Once Vic had stretched his way out the door and out of sight, Phil looked at the amber which, to be honest, was far more impressive than Vic’s bloody rock collection. Plus, it had a history to it, as well as a scorpion forever locked in its sheen. Holding his mobile down on his lap as if he didn’t want to be seen, Phil jabbed ‘HEALING PROPERTIES OF AMBER’ into the search bar on the screen, taken aback at the overwhelming amount of information that came up.
“Well, aren’t you the rock of all rocks,” Phil muttered, tapping on one of the titles and scanning the article. “Cleansing power – strength generator – but just a tick – what’s this?”
‘Amber is the ultimate manifestation stone,’ the article read. ‘Renowned for clarity of thought and enhancing creativity, amber is revered for leading its bearers to their innate talents and inspiring them to live up to their full, creative potential.’
Erasing his browsing history and returning to his home page, Phil thought about that for a moment, deciding that if there were any truth to Vic’s rock theory at all (which Phil doubted there were), amber was by far superior to all the other rocks put together. For if – and that was a big if – amber had the power to unlock one’s hidden talents and unleash one’s creative potential, then all the other powers would hop on the bandwagon by osmosis. If, with a little help from some amber, one was creatively liberated, clearly one would be healthier, more relaxed, more open to love, more sexually invigorated, stronger, more immune to evil, more able to throw off bad vibes. And while Phil didn’t really believe in such malarkey, just in case said malarkey happened to be true, he swiped Redmond’s amber from the lamplight and slipped it into his pocket. Not forever, mind. He’d put it back eventually, once he’d survived his reading assignment and things had got sorted with Aubrey at the mortuary before Redmond returned from Broadstairs. Consider it a little test, Phil thought to himself. If by the end of this task, you’ve discovered your innate talents and unleashed your creative potential, then Vic’s rock theory is true.
Turning back to the manuscript, Phil suddenly felt a tinge of sadness.
It had to do with Claire.
Phil closed his eyes to picture her more clearly. And there she was, leaning over the dressing table and donning the bracelet that she always wore, a multi-band affair with tiny pale pink beads. Upon seeing those beads, Phil realised they were identical to the rose quartz bead he’d seen in Vic’s collection.
And what was rose quartz for?
To beckon love.
Christ, Phil thought.
Did Claire need love?
Was that what she was out there searching for?
How could she need anything at all when he’d been by her side for more than thirty years, through thick and thin and in-between? How could she not know that his way of showing love was by lugging the weight of the world on his shoulders in the daily grind so she could rest in peace? And why those words? Rest in peace? Had the old Claire died in the comfort he’d provided, giving way to a new Claire he hardly recognised?
Shaking his head, Phil didn’t know about that. He just knew that Claire was somewhere else these days, even when she was sitting right beside him on the sofa. And thanks to bloody Vic, now Phil knew she was wearing that rose quartz bracelet every fucking day, casting out her suave rose call for love and not just in the Heath, but in a gazillion glowing tiles on Instagram.
What was next?
Thanks to Vic and Rockworks 101, now Phil knew the answer.
Moonstone necklaces and earrings made of red jasper, that’s what!
It was just a matter of time before Claire upped the power-rock ante, sending out her cryptic call for sexual love for cyber creeps of all sorts to pick up with their radar. Phil knew those creepers were about, kinked from picturing their own privates. Claire would never fall for any of that.
But even so, Claire was in search of something and he knew it wasn’t him. At least not anymore. Because she was – and Christ, it was startling – wearing a love-pleading amulet on a bloody daily basis. Could it be more obvious? That piece of desperation was screaming emotional loneliness to everyone who saw it on-line or glimpsed it resting against her steering wheel at a red light.
Rose quartz? Really? How dare she?
As Phil came to this realisation, he laughed sadly because he was coming to see that he and Claire were – fuck it – really? – on the rocks – them? How could that be possible? He needed a song, goddamn it, a song to wallow for a moment before he got back to his reading.
Depeche Mode. Somebody.
It had to be.
And as the song played, Phil hurt like crazy because he saw Claire lit up by her phone screen on any given night while he was telling her about his ‘any given day’. And he was wondering if she remembered when they shared their last cigarette and their first kiss behind the old school wall. And when he came around and saw her phone screen from behind, she was looking at her photographs, filtering her 50-year-old self through light from 1975, retrofying herself into a Polaroidish realm, into a version a far cry from the woman curled up on the sofa in his mind.