Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Visitors

Jenny Palmer

a blueberry smoothie 


There were two of them last time. My house is just about the right size for one visitor at a time. When there are two, it is a bit of a tight squeeze.  Trips to the bathroom are difficult. Timing is all important. I usually give up my bedroom and sleep in the spare room, which doubles up as a study. It is full of books. There are so many ideas floating around in there, that I find it difficult to switch off.  In the mornings, I feel shattered but still feel duty-bound to ask the visitors how they have slept even though I already know the answer. They have got the best room in the house. 

I first started doing Air B& B for a bit of extra cash. Then I found I liked the company. You can get lonely living out here, with only the sheep to talk to and the birds. I don’t usually get involved with the guests. I prefer to leave them to their own devices.  I told them to be sure and bring their walking shoes. I live out in the sticks, five miles from the nearest town. The bus service is poor.  To go anywhere, they have to walk. I prefer it if the visitors go out during the day. But the weather was against them. It rained all week and the ground was too muddy to walk on. 

It would have been a struggle for them to buy in food.  There was no way they would be have been able to carry it home. The bus stop is at least half an hour away. So, they came with me when I went shopping. In the end, we decided to cook together. I enjoy trying out new recipes. They were fond of using superfoods like quinoa and blueberries. It made a change from my normal diet.     
  
They said it was overcrowded where they came from. You couldn’t move without bumping into people. They were looking for a place with more space.  They wanted to know what it was like living in the countryside. They were interested in the history of the place.   So, one day, I suggested we visit the local museum. It has been done up recently with lottery money and gone all touchy-feely with sound recordings of bird calls and local accents. But there are some good displays and, if you follow it through, you can trace the history of mankind from pre-historic times right to the present.
Another day I took them to a textile museum, where they could see the original machines working, just as they had done during the industrial revolution. The noise was deafening but they loved it. They had never seen anything like it and took video footage to show back home. On the strength of that, I took them to the nearby abbey, where Cistercian monks had once laboured, cultivating crops, rearing sheep, re-routing the water courses to take away their sewage. The visitors were impressed by the self-sufficiency of the monks in previous centuries.   
‘You never know,’ they commented. ’It may come to that one day.’  

The highlight was our trip to the Yorkshire Dales. We visited Gordale Scar with its gigantic stone structures and on the hills above Malham we spotted evidence of Neolithic life in the form of stone cairns, where ancient man had lived alongside woolly mammoths, using their tusks to fashion tools. The visitors were curious and wanted to know why these ancient people had preferred to live up on the rock terraces rather than down in the valley.  

‘It must have been warmer on the hills then,’ I said, guessing. ‘I expect it was to avoid the retreating ice flows.’
‘So, the climate was different then,’ they said.

I was surprised they hadn’t realised that.  

Their visit coincided with the American elections. They joined me in watching some of the coverage on television. It was the usual story. The two rival candidates were slogging it out, taking chunks out of each other. 

‘The stakes are high.’  I explained. ’They are fighting over who will be the next leader of the free world.’
‘Why do they call it free?  And why can’t they decide by consensus, like we do?’ One of them asked. 

‘I suppose it’s just human nature to want to be top dog,’ I said. 

‘Hasn’t that sort of behaviour been consigned to the animal kingdom yet?’ the other one said. 

 ‘Unfortunately, not,’ I said. I felt myself getting defensive although there really was nothing to defend. It was despicable behaviour.  

‘One of the candidates thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax. He says is going to reverse all previous policies. Is that wise when it will lead inevitably to the extinction of life? What exactly is his appeal?’ they asked. 

I wondered where they had been for the past year and a half. It was all anyone had been talking about. I said that his appeal lay with people who felt left behind, people who had worked in coal mining and steel production in what they called the rustbelt. Their jobs had disappeared due to global capitalism because those industries had moved to other countries where the labour was cheaper. The previous government hadn’t been paying enough attention to them so now they wanted to change the government. 

The visitors looked disconcerted, as if they were hearing it all for the first time. 

‘But it’s a global phenomenon,’ I said, ‘this shift to the right. We had it here first, with Brexit.’ 

 They stared at me as if they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I wondered where they had been all their lives.

‘But can’t people see that nations of the world need to work together and forge common policies,’ they said.  ‘That that it is their only hope, if they are not to destroy each other.’ 

They were getting agitated. I hadn’t noticed it before but when I looked at them this time, they had a glazed, transparent quality. It was otherworldly.  I put it down to tiredness. It was clearly time for bed. 

‘Our work is done here,’ they said, as they left the next day.  I couldn’t understand why they had left so quickly. Then a letter came and everything fell into place. They thanked me for my hospitality.  They explained they came from a planet in a far-away galaxy.   They had used up its resources and the planet was fast becoming uninhabitable. They were on a mission to explore the possibility of re-settlement elsewhere. Earth had appealed to them at first but when faced with this new reality, they had changed their minds. They were sorry but they couldn’t stay. 

At this very minute, they will be hot-footing it to some other planet. I wait with trepidation for my next visitors to come.

About the author 

Jenny Palmer has self-publshed two memoirs and a family history book and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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